Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 24 min.
Release Date: July 2nd, 1986 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker, Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener Actors: Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Susanne Pollatschek
e-released under the name “The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective,” but now edited back to the original theatrical title for home video offerings as simply “The Great Mouse Detective” (a name disliked by those preferring the source material’s “Basil of Baker Street”), Disney’s twenty-sixth animated feature is an often overlooked production. Refusing to cater too much to young children, the characters engage in adventuresome sleuthing and wind up in particularly serious predicaments – capable of entertaining much older audiences. Notable for its use of a suspenseful computer animated finale amongst the inner workings of Big Ben, and humorous parodies of cinema’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes (the premise is based on Eve Titus’ book series), this delightful film is a high point leading up to Disney’s most impressive run of animated features – a renaissance that started with “The Little Mermaid” (1989) – and certainly a comeback after the previously obscure and unpopular “The Black Cauldron.”
Dr. David Dawson (Val Bettin), returning from duty in Afghanistan to London, is an overweight and kindhearted mouse (and also the narrator) who stumbles upon young Olivia Flaversham (Susanne Pollatschek), a frightened girl who has just witnessed the kidnapping of her toymaker father. Dawson takes her to the home of reputable detective Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham, doing his best take of Leslie Howard’s Henry Higgins), an incomparably intelligent mouse who, in a brilliant twist, lives below the flat of the real Sherlock Holmes. Basil is certain that twisted genius and arch-nemesis Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price) is behind it all. Ratigan, a towering rodent who refuses to be called a rat, is the Napoleon of crime, keeper of Felicia the blimpish cat, employer of the blackguard Fidget (a peg-legged bat), and expected mastermind of a scheme to overthrow the mouse queen (Eve Brenner) of London.
The characters are all very well devised and the plot is enormously unique. Attributed chiefly to the children’s stories of “Basil of Baker Street” (the first of which was published in the ‘50s), the concept of alternate mouse counterparts to each of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes characters is ingenious (in the ‘80s, renowned artist Hayao Miyazaki would work on “Sherlock Hound,” an animated television series with anthropomorphic dogs taking over key roles). Subtler references include Toby the dog (used to sniff out Fidget’s escape), a dog referenced in one of Doyle’s stories; voice clips of Basil Rathbone (perhaps the most popular actor to portray the legendary sleuth) in conjunction with the brief appearance of Holmes shadow; and, of course, the primary antagonist serving as the equivalent of Moriarty.
The design of Ratigan is a classic villain visual formula (a large upper body with tiny legs) that bests the softened Disney evildoers found in “Robin Hood” (1973) and “The Aristocats” (1970) and even much of the later slew of severer human baddies. Voiced by the unmistakable Vincent Price, Ratigan carries a balanced blend of likeability and dastardly scumminess, toting a bloated cigar and leaving a trail of smoke around him like the deliciously wicked Cruella De Vil. At first, the voice doesn’t seem to match the bulky design, but by the end, his seemingly mismatched vocalization is entirely unforgettable. Henchman Fidget (Candy Candido) is also noteworthy for his inhuman-sounding utterances and a strangely split portrayal with both frightening and comedic qualities. Every character smartly supplements the markedly caper-toned adventures, booby trap-laden undercover endeavors, and energetically brisk score by Henry Mancini. Undeservedly, “The Great Mouse Detective” remains one of the few Disney animated features never to receive a sequel (theatrical or straight-to-video).
– Mike Massie