Movie Review: The Great Mouse Detective

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When her father is kidnapped, a little girl seeks the help of Basil, the most noted detective in London.

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Ron Clements, Burny Mattison, Dave Michener & John Musker, 1986

The little girl in question, Olivia Flaversham (Susanne Pollatschek), watches her inventor father get kidnapped by a bat with a wooden leg named Fidget (what’s the name of his other leg?) (Candy Candido) late one night. She takes it upon herself to find the great mouse detective Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham), and bumps into Dr. Dawson (Val Bettin) on the way. With the help of the brilliant detective, they uncover a plot concocted by the evil genius Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price), the orchestrator of Flaversham’s (Alan Young) kidnapping in order to force the inventor to help him. Using chemistry, physics, incredibly clever disguises and a lack of social skills, Basil detects his way to a confrontation with mean old Ratigan.

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This film is a not-at-all-veiled Sherlock Holmes story, with all the characters renamed but completely recognisable as being from the Holmes canon (aside from the fact that they’re all, you know, mice). Both roles are based on the traditional Holmes movies rather than the novels, it seems, although there were moments when you could see Cumberbatch’s Holmes in the rather brilliant Basil. He’s quick-thinking to a degree that you can only really get away with in animation, but he’s also funny and intelligent, arrogant and short-tempered. The movie also presents some character development that’s genuinely quite sweet, with Basil questioning his own abilities and befriending the spunky young Olivia (who gets kidnapped a lot). Vincent Price puts in an alternately menacing and hilarious performance as the dastardly Ratigan, who feeds failed minions to his cat in a pretty darkly comic scene that’s mostly for adults. His version of Moriarty is one who actually comes close to outwitting our hero, and there’s a subtle nod to the Reichenbach fall at the end of the film.

The animation style is pretty basic – they were doing some better stuff by around 1986, and the simplistic animation and short runtime are probably partly responsible for this film’s relegation to the Disney back catalogue. It’s a fun film for Holmes fans, though, and it moves fast enough that I think kids would be engaged. It might be a little bit too scary for younger ones, though – the kidnapping at the start and Ratigan’s tendency to have his minions eaten would probably disturb tiny tots. The foggy late-19th century London setting lends itself to a certain moodiness that fits Basil/Holmes in a way modern updates can’t quite manage. Fidget the bat was particularly hilarious, with his raspy voice and constant outrage (“No! Mah foot! Mah only foot!” has been quoted frequently in this house since we watched the film). It’s a short film, with the sense that Basil rushed through this case with all the energy and whimsy he could muster before moving on to something more challenging, but it’s definitely fun and a good one for Disney (and Holmes) completionists to check out.

The Great Mouse Detective on IMDb

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