This excellent Disney film from 1986 takes place in 1897, London. It is a very short feature…approximately one hour and 14 minutes; however, this is guaranteed to cause smiles, laughs, and a tear or two just like any amazing Disney film should. Obviously, not everyone will feel the same way I do. There are no princesses or princes, and there is definitely a lack of castles. In the grand scheme of things, this is actually quite simple. The simplicity is what I love about it.
The atmosphere is damp and foggy. I personally love how the film opens. The background is rather fuzzy but soon comes into focus as we see Flaversham’s toy shop. The toymaker mouse Hiram Flaversham presents his daughter Olivia with a gift, which is a musical ballerina mouse figurine. A large shadow with oversized ears is shown outside of the shop, and soon after Olivia hides while some yelling and loud noises are heard. When she comes out of her hiding place, both her father and the kidnapper have disappeared. Luckily, she has seen that it is a bat who has entered the shop.
Soon after, she is discovered by Dr. David Q Dawson, who helps her find Basil of Baker Street, the best mouse detective in the city. With the assistance of Basil’s awesome dog Toby, they go on a desperate search to track down Olivia’s father. The blossoming relationship between Basil and Olivia is quite precious; at first, he does not want much to do with her, as deciphering is his main game so he has little need for children and their activities. However, the compassion she has for her father in addition to her determination soon wins a place in his heart and they form a kind friendship.
The villain of the film is named Ratigan, who is persistent in believing he is not a rat. At one point in the film, there is a drunken mouse who outwardly calls him a rat, to which he calls for his beloved cat to eat him. Ratigan’s sidekick Fidget, who sounds much like an exaggerated version of Peter Lorre, is the peg legged bat who has kidnapped Mr. Flaversham for Ratigan’s use. His plan is to overtake the mouse queen of England and to be in control himself. The plot unrolls in an insanely comical but touching way.
I would like to say that one of the reasons I love this film so much may be because of the various nods to Sherlock Holmes. I grew up admiring Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of Holmes, and the tribute to him in this film is awe inspiring for me. The lead mouse detective is named Basil, an obvious nod to said actor Basil Rathbone. His assistant is Dr. Dawson, a name change from Dr. Watson, Holmes’ right hand man. In fact, there are a couple scenes where Basil actually says things such as “It’s elementary, my dear Dawson” and “All in a day’s work, Doctor.” There are many moments throughout this where we see the love and respect Disney has for Rathbone’s amazing character Sherlock Holmes during the 1939-1946 timeframe. The dedication to him makes my heart a happy one.
Barrie Ingham voices Basil of Baker Street. Ingham has appeared in many TV shows and films of the British variety including the original 1960s Doctor Who series. The fantastic Vincent Prince voices Ratigan. Price is well known for his chilling voice and disturbing roles in horror films, such as 1959’s House on Haunted Hill (one of my favorite films to watch during Halloween). Dawson is voiced by Val Bettin. Bettin has voiced the Sultan of Agrabah in The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves, including voicing the roles of Sultan and Hamed in the 1994 & 1995 Aladdin animated television series. Fidget is voiced by Candy Candido. Candido has given us the Captain of the Guards in 1973’s Disney classic Robin Hood, as well as the Indian Chief in Peter Pan and an uncredited performance as the angry apple tree in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz (you may or may not be familiar with that film for it is not well known…ahem). Alan Young voices Hiram Flaversham. Young, a brilliant actor both through self and voice portrayals, is well known for playing Wilbur and Angus Post in the 1960s television show Mister Ed. His voice is unmistakenly heard in Disney’s various animated shows/films as Scrooge McDuck. AND he portrayed the roles of David and James Filby in my favorite science fiction film, The Time Machine from 1960. Also, the archive sound voice of Sherlock Holmes is given to us by the one and only Basil Rathbone. Appropriate, no?
The Great Mouse Detective is directed by Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, David Michener, and John Musker. Clements and Musker are known for their wonderful talent as they have given us The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, and The Princess and the Frog. Mattinson and Michener have written for The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound among many others.
As promised in my Ratatouille blog post, here are five pieces of interesting information about this week’s film…
1.) As we all know, Vincent Price was not shy when it came to acting. During his recording sessions for the voice of Ratigan, his exaggerated “Shakespearean” hand/arm gestures were worked into the animated poses of Ratigan’s character.
2.) In the toy shop, there is a music box of fireman musicians. This is a dedication to the Disney animator Ward Kimball, as he had a Dixieland jazz group called The Firehouse Five, Plus Two. They performed at Disneyland and on The Mickey Mouse Club television show.
3.) During a moment when Basil of Baker Street is looking for a map, he unrolls one which is supposed to be a treasure map but one of the locations claims to be Downtown Burbank.
4.) The clock tower scene toward the end of the film is the first advanced use of computer animation in any feature length animated piece (mainly the use of clock gears).
5.) This film helped to achieve a dream which Vincent Price had – that was to voice a character in a Disney film.
My favorite part is when we first meet Toby, Basil’s villain-sniffing dog. Toby is the mode of transportation that Basil takes advantage of to get to places he cannot go to by himself. By utilizing Toby’s services the first time in the film, he attaches Toby’s collar and as Toby begins his sprint, Basil gets whisked away as he flies through the air. The best part about this is that Basil is yelling “Tally hooooooo!” during the flee. Not only does this add to the hilarity of the scene, but it is heart-warming to see Toby representing the horse of the film. Also, it is comical how Toby dislikes Dawson throughout the duration of this, but seems to somehow warm up to him during the latter portion. My favorite character is Olivia Flaversham. She is adorable and her motivation throughout the film is endearing. She has a heart of a gold and a voice which will melt the soul of the most critical animated film viewer. Also, she has a fantastic name and if I were to ever become British that would be my new alias.
A couple of quick, additional comments here. I love how Basil repeatedly mispronounces Olivia’s last name, including calling her by the last name of Flamhammer at one point. Also, another scene which I absolutely love involves Olivia spotting Fidget hanging upside down outside of a window. She screams causing him to scream and fall. I actually rewound the DVD to watch this scene a few times, leaving me in hysterics. Lastly, in one of the toy shop scenes, I saw a toy elephant which bore a striking resemblance to Dumbo. I may be wrong but it was quite the spitting image.
The Great Mouse Detective has a lot of heart through its characters. I know I may sound cliché with certain blog posts, but despite being animated, the characters must have a blend of chemistry and be able to form a concentrated universe of understanding. Thankfully, this film achieves that and so much more. The blending connection of the characters form into a unifying sense of loss, betrayal, and relief. I highly recommend this film and it is one which I look forward to seeing again in the near future.
My Rating: 4/5
Remember, Dawson, we’re low-life ruffians.