Title: The Great Mouse Detective
Year of Release: 1986
Date Viewed: July 23rd, 2011
MPAA Rating: G
"I only hope we never lose sight of one thing. That it was all started with a mouse."
- Walt Disney
In the past few weeks, sales of mouse traps have increased at the department store I'm employed at. The surge occurred right around the time of my viewing of The Great Mouse Detective; Disney's adaptation of Eve Titus and Paul Galdone's children's book Basil of Baker Street. Just a funny coincidence I'm sure. But for the conspiracy enthusiasts, here's some food for thought. Perhaps the Disney animators were trying to warn us of a coming rodent apocalypse through the subtle guise of a kid's detective story. Consider for a moment that the movie is scientifically accurate. That means for every human that resides in a living space, there is a mouse counterpart hiding somewhere within the interior, imitating the lifestyle of the larger being. If you're a chef, there's a creature that makes his own specialty dishes using the food that spills off your table. If you're an accountant, something is auditing your grocery receipts as we speak. As for what could reside in my home, there's probably a mouse sitting in our attic somewhere typing movie reviews on a smart phone while munching on gummy soda bottles.
The title character is the mouse counterpart to the one and only Sherlock Holmes. Basil of Baker Street's (voice of Barrie Ingham) reputation of crime-fighting case-solving exploits reaches every corner of underground London. His most fateful mission begins when a scary yet clumsy bat creature kidnaps a local toymaker, orphaning his young daughter Olivia (voice of Susanne Pollatschek). The somber opening is quickly counterbalanced with Henry Mancini's catchy and uplifting music, reassuring us that a fun ride awaits.
Following a fortunate meeting with off-duty military doctor David Dawson (voice of Val Bettin), the pair inquires Basil to help them reunite Olivia with her father. Basil is an eccentric personality and barely even acknowledges his clients' presence on the first meeting. But he devotes himself to the case upon realizing that it's masterminded by his hated nemesis Professor Ratigan (voice of the legendary Vincent Price); the city's biggest crime boss. This villain doesn't act all that intimidating, but those who make the mistake of underestimating him or point out that he's a rat will end up as food for his pet
rancor cat. Ratigan is not the most inspired villain created from the Disney studios but that doesn't stop Vincent Price from having the time of his life. Someone with that level of talent can transit charisma without any layover. Price owns this show like a tycoon.
Even for something conceived to be Sherlock Holmes-lite, the plot is disappointingly too straight forward. The "clues" don't really add up to anything since the heroes end up locating most important things by accident anyway. Basil's genius can only be appreciated in a single scene which also happens to be one of the best. He and Dawson are stuck in the most unnecessarily elaborate death trap. Basil considers each possible component for weaknesses all while trying to fight back his depressed mind. At the last possible moment, he supports one of my favorite personal thesis' which states that sometimes the hardest problems have the easiest solutions.
Today's youth may overlook the fact that The Great Mouse Detective was a technical leap forward for animated films. While the majority of the illustrations result from traditional hand-drawn two dimensional pictures, the best sequences could stand beside those of the twenty-first century. How did they do it? ("It's elementary, my dear Dawson.") By using a computer generated background, it became possible to sequence events like how live-action directors could shoot things from multiple angles. The technique helps bridge the gap that we the audience have from observing the animated subjects within their own line of sight. The final clock tower chase is a masterpiece because of how credibly lifelike the setting becomes.
The music fare is far lower in quantity that what was typical in 1980s animation. The World's Greatest Criminal Mind is a simple and fitting anthem for Ratigan. I'd love to visit a dueling piano bar that plays that song for a spirited crowd, if any such wonderful venue exists. Let Me Be Good To You is an out of place tune for an out of place scene. The movie ends with a brief number titled Goodbye So Soon which pretty much sums up my reaction to this seventy-four minute long treat. I enjoyed what I've seen, but would an encore be too much trouble?