In 1986, after the 1985 release of The Black Cauldron and before the 1988 release of Oliver & Company, Disney debuted the modest mystery adventure, The Great Mouse Detective, an animated nod to the tales of Sherlock Holmes. I have a distinct memory of seeing the film in theaters as a young boy, but I feel like it was one of those movies that seemed to slip through the cracks when it came to repeat viewings through the years. Yet, even up until revisiting this movie in my adult years, I have fond memories of this title, its characters, and a couple moments in the movie that made a lasting impression. But sometimes revisiting things you have fond memories of might not live up to those grand previous perceptions.
Now as a father myself of a two-year-old little boy, I tend to instinctively watch animated and family films with a new perspective. My son loves the Toy Story films, especially the two sequels, but I've noticed that he can be sensitive to the strangest things as being perceived as scary, even in a seemingly innocuous VeggieTales episode. So watching something like the G-rated The Great Mouse Detective now, with my parental goggles, I'm surprised at some of the film's content. Granted, seeing cartoon mice smoke and drink isn't really a huge surprise (although I'd expect it more from a Disney cartoon from the 50s or 60s than the 80s for some reason), but there were a couple blatantly terrifying moments in The Great Mouse Detective that made me really question what in the world the animators and filmmakers were thinking. I suppose we can point out many moments in animated film history of unnecessary scary moments being thrown in for good measure, but in all honesty, they are usually part of the general story (whether it's Scar in The Lion King being a true baddie or, heck, any of the Disney villains, for that matter), but The Great Mouse Detective contained some very intentionally scary moments just for the sake of shocking the audience. For example, in the opening scene we meet Hiram Flaversham, a toy maker, and his daughter Olivia sharing a sweet little moment between the two of them. But soon they're interrupted by a terrifying creature who pops out at the screen and then kidnaps Hiram, leaving Olivia alone and distraught. Later on in the movie, Olivia approaches a baby carriage in a closed toy store and, in true horror movie fashion, we see the carriage from her perspective as she approaches it slowly. Suddenly, the creature from before--who we've learned by now is a villainous, peglegged bat named Fidget--bursts out from underneath a blanket in the carriage right at the screen to frighten the viewers. Finally, the main villain in the movie, voiced by horror legend Vincent Price, is the evil Professor Ratigan who tends to break into maniacal facial expressions at different times, especially in the intense film finale. It's all fine for older viewers, but even watching it as an adult, I'm reminded of how I first felt as a six-year-old watching this movie and you have to wonder what Disney was thinking.
All that aside, The Great Mouse Detective is still a good story. If there's a theme or lesson to be found here, it's perseverance and not giving up, along with an importance on family and working together. In this tale, Olivia meets Dr. Dawson who helps her locate and hire Basil of Bakerstreet to find her father. The unlikely trio then set out to find Hiram Flaversham while Basil continues to follow the tracks of his nemesis, Professor Ratigan. Ratigan himself is a ruthless and violent villain. He even feeds one of his mouse henchman to a large cat when the mouse calls him a "rat" while intoxicated on punch (or champagne). He's bad to the bone without anything redeemable about him and, with that established, it does make the lines between good and evil unmistakable. Basil is a clever sleuth who is a bit cocky at times, but he does learn about persistance and working with others. The story all builds up to a pretty intense yet exciting encounter on Big Ben, the famous clock tower in London, and it makes for an unforgettable encounter in the movie.
The voice cast is a solid one. Vincent Price is almost unrecognizable as he hams it up a bit as Professor Ratigan, but his voice is ever so fitting for the villain. Because Ratigan is SO evil, the slight goofiness Price lends to the voice brings some needed humor to the character. Barrie Ingham is fantastic as Basil of Baskerstreet, too, and captures that Sherlock Holmes vibe really well. Val Bettin is endearing as Dr. Dawson, as well as Susanne Pollatschek as Olivia. And while I just love Alan Young's voice from his years of contributing to DuckTales, it's tough not to watch this movie (which predates the cartoon show) and not think that the toymaking mouse sounds exactly like the web-footed Uncle Scrooge. But that's super minor, obviously, as Young does a great job making Hiram a warm character that you feel bad for and want to see reunited with Olivia.
The Great Mouse Detective might not be one of Disney's best, but it's a unique animated entry in Disney's celebrated film history. As for who the target audience is, I'd have to say older children (and younger children not easily spooked) and Holmes fans will especially enjoy this mousey adventure film. It's fun and clever, but not nearly as timeless as some of the most lauded Disney tales. It is cool to note, however, that The Great Mouse Detective was the very first animated film to blend computer animation with hand-drawn animation in the same shot (the clock gears scene at the end). It looks great here and it's neat to see the humble beginnings of a such a prominent technology in today's animation. The Great Mouse Detective has a classic feel to it, even if it's not exactly for all ages, and worth revisiting as a fun Disney adventure.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/7/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Blu-Ray debut of The Great Mouse Detective offers a DVD along with it and three bonus features. Only one of them is brand new ("So You Think You Can Sleuth"), which provides a little history about "sleuthing," while the others are archival featurettes that make a great addition to this set. The film looks really good in HD, although the film cells probably aren't as crisp as some of the newer films or even the more classic Disney tales that they probably spent a mint to restore. However, just by watching the standard definition extras on this disc, you can really see how much better the high definition transfer of this movie looks.
"So You Think You Can Sleuth?" (4:41) - This kids-centric special feature focuses on the history of cases and mysteries (and even makes an appreciated reference to Adam & Eve). It then ends with a silly mystery about a stolen batch of cookies from the cookie jar and we're presented with suspects and clues and given the chance to guess. It's cute and great for kids.
"The World's Greatest Criminal Mind" Sing A-Long Song (2:00) - This is a sing a-long presentation of the Professor Ragitan song from the film. It's taken from a previous presentation, though, as it has a "Disney Songbook" intro and all of it is presented in standard definition and in cropped, fullscreen format as opposed to widescreen. The only really neat thing about this version is it offers the song uninterrupted while the theatrical version pauses for Ratigan to execute one of his mouse henchmen.
The Making Of The Great Mouse Detective (7:53) - Like the sing a-long, this is a standard definition, fullscreen old school featurette about the film. While it'd be nice to have a newer featurette, we get to hear from the late Vincent Price, as well as the other main cast, who obviously couldn't do a new featurette today. So it works more in-depth in that sense. It's also neat to learn here that this is the first-ever merger of computer animation and hand-drawn animation in one scene. Of course, it's kind of amusing in 2012 to hear people in 1986 talking about how innovative the technology is, but it's still really cool to hear them talk about it back when this technology was first being realized.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/6/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: A mouse kisses the air toward a busty waitress mouse and she backhands him across the face; A leggy female mouse takes off her skirt while dancing revealing her legs and a garter on one of them.
Alcohol/Drugs: A mouse who falls into a champagne or punch fountain appears drunk afterwards; We see the mice holding up glasses of champagne in toast to Ratigan; We see mice drinking mugs of ale in a seedy pub.
Violence: A scary bat's face bursts through a door at the screen and then there's a struggle between it and a mouse. When it's all over, both of them are gone; Basil loads a gun and shoots a pillow, sending feathers all around the room; Professor Ratigan squeezes a doll really hard, popping its head off; Ratigan rubs a burning cigarette into a newspaper, burning it; Ratigan rings a bell, calling a huge cat out to eat one of the mice. We then see a shadow of the cat dropping the mouse in its mouth. We hear him singing while intoxicated and then the singing ceases. The other mice take off their hats in memory of their late friend. We then see the cat burp; Fidget jumps out at the screen from within a baby basket and nabs Olivia; A doll falls over and its head shatters, leaving one creepy eye open; Ratigan has his cat friend try to eat Fidget and we see him fighting inside the cat's mouth before Ratigan lets him out; A mouse kisses the air toward a cleavagy waitress mouse and she backhands him across the face; Mice in a bar throw knives and fruit at a dancing act on stage; A mouse swings a club at Dawson and misses, hitting another mouse in the back of the head. It then starts a brutal bar room brawl that has characters throwing bottles, chairs, and choking each other. We even see two mice struggle over a gun and hear it go off, shooting out a lightbulb; Basil and Dawson are strapped to a mouse trap with a gun, anvil, arrow and ax all pointing at them, poised to execute them in an over-the-top fashion when a trap goes off; A queen is hustled away by Ratigan's goons; Basil sets off the traps, but gets away; Fidget carries a tied-up queen to the cat to throw her in its mouth but the queen is rescued at the last second; Ratigan takes away a crippled man's crutch, so he falls over and then he breaks the crutch in his hands; A robot/toy bites Ratigan on the nose; Toby chases the cat over a wall; A fight breaks out in the royal palace; Ratigan pushes Olivia, who slides across the floor and hits a wall; Ratigan's ship crashes into the face of Big Ben; Ratigan backhands Basil across the face. Olivia bites Ratigan's hand and then is kicked and falls a distance onto some clock gears. Basil saves her in the nick of time from being crushed; Basil and Ratigan fall down the face of the clock and fight on the hands of the clock face. Ratigan slashes at Basil with his claws and knocks him off the clock. Basil catches onto the wreck of Ratigan's ship but when Ratigan then falls, he pulls Basil with him (luckily Basil survives).
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.