Alright, on to the first of Disney’s churned out movies strictly to make money! Just kidding. This one probably had some residual from the Dark Ages of Disney. In fact, I know it does. The Little Mermaid is technically the official beginning of the Disney Renaissance, (aka, my childhood), so by default this one and the next are in the “Dark Ages.”
There were lots of Mice in the 80s. Between the two rescuers movies (ok, one of them was in the 70s), this one, and Don Bluth’s Secret of Nimh and An American Tail, there was some sort of public love for seeing the little critters dressed up like people. The funniest part is that most of these movies are actually pretty good. Of all of them my least favorite is The Rescuers. The Great Mouse Detective, in my mind, is another one of Disney’s under appreciated treasures.
This movie is based on the book Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus. The main character Basil, and his sidekick Dr. Dawson are based on the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In fact, Basil lives below the human counterpart in 221b.
There are still a lot of people who don’t even know this movie exists. Well I’m here to tell you something: With all the Sherlock adaptations out in the past few years (movies and tv), this movie deserves a watch if you like any of those. I myself am a BBC Sherlock fan, and upon watching this again for the first time in years, found it SO much more enjoyable. That’s probably because now I’m familiar with the story. Lord knows I never read any of the books.
This movie follows our Titular mouse, Basil, as he attempts to locate a little girl’s (Olivia Flaversham) father, a toy maker. He’s been kidnapped, and the only clues we have were that he was kidnapped by a peg-legged bat. Luckily for Olivia, Basil knows exactly who this bat is and who he works for. It is his arch-nemesis, Ratigan. Basil wonders why Ratigan would want a toymaker, and they’re off tracking down things and following clues to find not only Olivia’s father, but figuring out what Ratigan’s plan is and thwarting that as well.
This movie, like anything Sherlock Holmes-y, is fun. It’s a change of pace for Disney, seeing as they’ve never really done a mystery before. And they do it well. It’s still actually a pretty dark movie, as were a lot of them in the 70s and 80s, but it’s not nearly as dark as The Black Cauldron or even the Rescuers. We’re back to fun, funny characters, crazy hijinks, and killer villains. The only thing missing really are the Disney songs.
The characters in this movie are great. Basil is great. He’s quirky but good at his job, with an almost innate hatred of people but a love of solving crimes. He’s fast talking and arguably insane, but incredibly smart with an almost instinctual skill for picking out clues. he’s not the most social, but through the movie he learns to trust and almost count on Dr. Dawson, at the end asking him to stay on and live with him and solve crimes. He’s everything you’d want in a Sherlock Holmes character shy of Benedict Cumberbatch.
Our supporting characters are good as well. Dr. Dawson is a war veteran with a want to help people. He can’t help but help Olivia seek out Basil, then gets coerced into staying and helping, only to find out he loves it. He doesn’t freak out if he’s in trouble, and actually remains relatively calm. Olivia is a sweet girl, and for once we have a kid who’s not at all annoying. She just wants nothing but to find her father. She is a bit talky and wants to be included instead of staying and letting the adults do the investigating. While this does get her in trouble, it’s nice to see a girl with a good head on her shoulders that doesn’t cause our other characters too many problems. She also has an affinity for Basil’s dog (actually he’s Sherlock’s dog), Toby. He acts as their tracker and transportation. Sure he’s just there for the really little kids, but he’s cute. As a really supporting character we have Olivia’s father, Hiram, who I mention strictly because he’s voiced by the same guy who does Scrooge McDuck. That’s right. It’s awesome.
On the villain side we have our sidekick character, Fidget the peg-legged bat. his character design is unique and definitely makes you think of something scary, but as a character he’s a bit of a crazy henchman. he has a job to do but seems a little skatter-brained, which is enjoyable. Then we have Ratigan, voiced by Vincent Price. I LOVE Ratigan. This villain is just so cool with everything! He holds everything together, is arrogant beyond all belief, but he has a reason to be. He’s a total bad-ass. I mean, he feeds anyone who disagrees with him or gets on his nerves to his pet cat Felicia. We see that in the movie. He’s calm, cool and collected, but a completely smart criminal mastermind with his heart set on ruling the world. It’s a thing in the movie that he gets mad when people point out he’s a rat, but at the end seems to embrace that this is why he’s insane and goes all Dr. Jeckyl/Mr Hyde on Basil’s ass inside Big Ben. I just love him. Plus, he gets the best villain song we’ve had in a LONG while (and one that will get stuck in your head. “To Ratigan! you’re one of a kind!). I mean. He’s freaking awesome. Just look at all the crazy awesomeness:
They drew this guy in such a way that you can just feel the evilness dripping off of him. His smile is one of underlying deception. You can never tell what he’s thinking. He’s just great.
I don’t really have much else to say about this movie. I don’t really want to give a ton away because if it’s a movie you haven’t seen, you really should. It’s not my favorite underrated Disney movie (yeah, I have disney lists inside of lists), but in my mind it certainly is under appreciated. The characters are great, the action is great, the characters are great. And props again for Disney using CGI for the gears inside of Big Ben. The ending is GREAT, btw. Very intense!
My only qualms with this movie is that if you don’t know anything about sherlock holmes or old style mysteries, you might find it a bit boring. I know I did until I had watched Sherlock on the BBC. In fact, I was surprised how much more I liked it. Not that it’s exactly like a Sherlock episode, but there are hints here or there that I think you just have to be familiar with to thoroughly understand.
Go check it out. You won’t be disappointed.
I give The Great Mouse Detective (1986) a 3.5 out of 5. Not perfect, but great fun!
Up Next: Oliver & Company (1988)