The Great Mouse Detective: Mystery in the Mist Edition
April 12, 2010
Based on the series of children’s books entitled Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus, The Great Mouse Detective (1986) came out at a time when Disney was at one of its lowest ebbs, both creatively and commercially. They were a directionless studio in desperate need of a hit. This animated film, along with The Black Cauldron (1985), were considered expensive failures. However, now that much time has passed, it’s time to reassess these films. Were they really that bad?
Set in London, 1897, the film begins with the kidnapping of a kind toymaker mouse by a nasty bat (Candido), leaving his young daughter Olivia (Pollatschek) all alone. Meanwhile, Dr. Dawson (Bettin) has recently arrived in London after living abroad for some time. He meets the distraught Olivia who has taken refuge in a discarded shoe in a rainy alleyway. She’s trying to find Basil (Ingham) of Baker Street, the famous mouse detective. Moved by her plight, Dawson decides to help her.
They soon find Basil, a whirlwind of energy and movement. He’s a master of disguise and very intelligent – within seconds he’s able to deduce Dawson’s past with his powers of perception and deduction. Olivia tells Basil about what happened to her father and we learn that the bat is in the employ of the mouse detective’s arch-nemesis, Professor Ratigan (Price), “a Napoleon of crime.” And so, Basil decides to help out Olivia with Dawson’s help.
The great Vincent Price lends his distinctive voice to the character of Ratigan and sounds like he’s having a blast playing a larger than life villain. Ratigan’s not afraid to punish his underlings, feeding one of them to an obese cat for calling him a rat. The actor has certainly played his share of criminal masterminds and so this was inspired casting – he even gets to sing!
The animation is excellent, blending computer with hand-drawn, and certainly up to the high standards of Disney. It’s very fluid in nature with beautifully rendered backgrounds that are rich in detail. For example, London is presented as a gloomy place with all sorts of nooks and crannies for danger to lurk. The scene where Basil and Dawson track the bat henchman through a toy store where the toys suddenly come to life is not only atmospheric but also exciting and one of the film’s highlights. This rather foreboding setting is tempered by a lot of broad humour as Basil is a bit of a goofball and Dawson his bumbling sidekick.
The film’s conceit – reimagining Sherlock Holmes and Watson as mice – is an inspired one and the filmmakers offer a few glimpses of how the mouse world mirrors the human one. The Great Mouse Detective is a good film but not a great one what with so-so musical numbers (including one sung by Melissa Manchester – remember her?) tempered with a memorable performance by Vincent Price.
There’s not too much difference from the previous DVD release for this film. New to this edition is a pretty superficial featurette entitled, “So You Think You Can Sleuth?” It gives a brief history of detectives and highlights some of the most famous in history. It also gives a brief example of a mystery for you to solve.
Ported over from the previous release is all-too brief “The Making of The Great Mouse Detective” which traces the origins of the film. It took more than four years to make blended computer animation with hand-drawn characters for the first time in Disney’s history. We see footage of the voice actors giving line readings while Vincent Price speaks highly of his character, expressing his joy at being able to appear in a Disney film.
Finally, there is “’The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind’ Sing-Along Song” which allows you to sing along with Professor Ratigan’s song and dance number.