Thursday, July 9, 2015

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Here's another "Blast from the Past" movie review for a movie that I have never actually seen before, but watched it as part of my friend Nick's podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. This time, it was The Great Mouse Detective, also known as the one where Sherlock Holmes is a mouse. Here's the podcast. And now for the review.

The Plot

Basil of Baker Street, the world's greatest (mouse) detective, is called to help when Olivia, the daughter of a missing toymaker, appeals for his help. It turns out her father has been kidnapped by the villainous Professor Ratigan, who has an evil plot involving mouse version of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. Now Basil and his new friend Dr. Dawson have got to crack the case, braving human toy stores, mouse burlesque shows (I kid you not), and more to foil Ratigan's plan.

The Good

*The movie starts out with a bang, with toymaker Hiram Flaversham's abduction by the bat Fidget. The movie moves along fairly quickly and is never boring.

*Basil, Sherlock Holmes' mouse analogue, matches up with his human counterpart very well. He's got the "anti-social insufferable genius with a heart of gold" thing down. He's able to deduce all sorts of facts about various characters based on observing things most people would miss, just like Holmes.

*Although his Villain Song comes off as a bit forced in a movie with only three songs (one of which is a recording on a record), Ratigan is an entertaining villain. He's a sewer rat who pretends to be a mouse and sometimes the mask slips. The fact he's voiced by Vincent Price (yes, THE Vincent Price) is pretty cool. And he's a rat that's got a cat trained as a disposal for minions who fail him and his enemies.

*Speaking of the cat, the cat is introduced in the same vein as the Jurassic Park T-Rex, which is pretty well-done given how, to a mouse, a cat is a T-Rex.

*Fidget, who's a henchman of Ratigan, is a well-done character. He's horrifying enough to be a threat to smaller, weaker characters like Hiram and Olivia but physically small enough to be sympathetic when he's mistreated by Ratigan. And he's got some character development, like singing a song from the burlesque show to himself as he flees Basil and Dawson.

*The final confrontation between Basil and Ratigan atop Big Ben is very well-done. For starters, the whole thing is a homage to Holmes' confrontation with the villainous Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls, which is a good riff on the source material. Furthermore, I'm guessing that's where much of the animation budget went. The rotating gears are extremely impressive and are a good example of meshing early CGI with traditional hand-drawn animation. And that's when Ratigan finally unleashes his rat side on Basil, who is significantly smaller than he, and spends most of the scene absolutely destroying him.

*Flaversham is clearly supposed to be Scottish, and they give him some good dialect, including the use of the word bairn for his daughter.

*Disney used Basil Rathbone, who had played Sherlock Holmes on many occasions, to voice Holmes in a scene where he and Watson are seeing discussing something (according to TVTropes it's the case of the Red-Headed League). Rathbone died in 1967, so they had to use recorded clips. That's pretty cool.

The Bad

*Much of the animation is cheap-looking, especially at the beginning. The initial view of the city looks rather washed-out and although that might partially be due to the fog, you could have better-drawn buildings and what-not and then have the fog obscure them. The cheapness is especially blatant in the trashy mouse bar, where the background characters don't move at all (except for on occasion smoke from their cigarettes). I once interviewed former Disney animator turned rival Don Bluth for a news story and this kind of thing is why he left Disney.

*Hiram at one point rebels against Ratigan, destroys the robot he was building for him, and announces his refusal to participate in the plan. Given how he's in a room with only one door and Ratigan between him and said door, that wasn't very smart. It would've been more interesting if he had the robot attack Ratigan to allow him to escape, only for Ratigan to smash the robot (showing early on Ratigan's physical power) and knock him around some. Ratigan can then escalate his threats by threatening to kidnap Olivia like he does in the film.

The Verdict

A pretty good movie, especially for kids interested in Sherlock Holmes for whom the current television adaptations (or many older productions for that matter) might not be age appropriate due to content or attention span. It seems I'm not the only one who thinks that. 8.0 out of 10.0.


  1. I loved The Great Mouse Detective, it's been one of my favorites since I was a kid. Glad you're covering it, I agree with most of your points, though I disagree on the age appropriateness. I watched it several times as a small child and though Ratigan was frightening, I wasn't bored or frightened by most of the film.

    (This is Zioneer from by the way)

  2. I wasn't saying the movie itself wasn't appropriate for little kids. I was saying that if kids are interested in Holmes adaptations that parents think aren't appropriate for them (think a preschooler wanting to watch THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES or one of the current TV series based on the character), they could watch this instead.

    1. Oh, I misunderstood (or misread) your comments then, my mistake. I definitely agree with you then.

      And interestingly enough, Vincent Price died on the same day, month, and year that I was born.