One of the most pleasant surprises of the Disney animation canon is 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective. Coming off The Black Cauldron, their weakest animated feature by far, Disney delivers an impressive and entertaining jaunt through the story of Basil of Baker Street.
Perhaps it my recent interest in the Sherlock Holmes mythology that made me love The Great Mouse Detective so much on this viewing, but nonetheless I really loved it. I found the characters incredibly engaging and entertaining, the humor was delightful, and the story was a lot of fun.
I was especially taken by the protagonist, Basil, who is a clear parody of Sherlock Holmes. But unlike Holmes, Basil is a mouse. No matter how whip smart his mind is, his physical limitations are still there. However, Basil is the funniest character with the best dialogue. He is heroic and exciting and fun. Basil is a truly wonderful Disney hero and carries the film with ease.
The other characters are a joy as well. Dr. Dawson is especially fun as Basil’s unwitting assistant. But the true highlight is Professor Ratigan, the self-proclaimed world’s greatest criminal mind. Ratigan is an impressive villain for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is due to his voice artist: the legendary and brilliant Vincent Price. Price is clearly having a blast voicing Ratigan and giving him such an interesting personality. Ratigan is insecure, dastardly, and downright cruel, but all the while he has the air of an actor about him. He’s wonderful.
The animation in The Great Mouse Detective is also incredibly good. The fluidity and beauty with which the characters move is certainly up to par with Disney’s other great work. It seems all of the great Disney animators worked on Mouse Detective while the less talented were situated on The Black Cauldron. The climactic fight scene inside Big Ben between Ratigan and Basil is astoundingly good. The animation here transcends the rest of the film thanks to the aid of computer technology. It’s simply stunning.
Not everything in the film is spectacular, unfortunately. The music is largely forgettable (save for Ratigan’s theme song), and the story has a few weak points. We spend a lot of time getting to know Ratigan near the beginning, which would have been better saved for act two. There are also some characters who never feel as fleshed out as they should, such as Dr. Flaversham, who has a wonderful voice (provided by Alan Young, voice of Scrooge McDuck) but no real character to him.
On the whole, though, The Great Mouse Detective is a blast. It harkens back to the great Sherlock Holmes stories in all the best ways. Basil is a terrific character who makes the film so much fun to watch. When you pair him with such a spectacular adversary as Ratigan, you know it is bound to be a good time.
I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Great Mouse Detective this time around. I’ve never been much of a fan of it before now. Maybe it was just because I watched it so soon after The Black Cauldron that I was ready to enjoy anything remotely entertaining… or maybe it is because The Great Mouse Detective is a fun, funny, charming adventure worthy of its title as a Disney classic—albeit a very under appreciated one.
3.5/5 Robotic Queens