51 Days of Disney (Day 26): The Great Mouse Detective

The year is 1986 and the now renamed Walt Disney Company has been both saved and possibly ruined. Michael Eisner came in and said that if there isn’t some sort of change that allows the animated features to become financially successful again after the commercial failure of the Black Cauldron, the animation studio would be shut down and the studio built on animation would just create live action films and programs for the newly created Disney Channel.

In comes the smartest mouse ever to live, and I’m not talking about Mickey. Basil of Baker Street is the animal kingdom’s equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, and he is tasked to find the inventor father, Hiram Flaversham (Uncle Scrooge himself, Alan Young), of the young Olivia. The year is 1897, and Dr. David Q. Dawson finds the young Olivia and brings her to the resident of the eccentric Basil in order to get his help in finding her father. Basil deduces that the man behind the kidnapping is the criminal mastermind, Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price).

Ratigan is forcing Hiram to build him a robot to replace the Mouse Queen and make Ratigan into the King. He threatens to hurt Olivia if the robot isn’t completed on time. Basil decides to use his friend, and Sherlock Holmes’ pet, Toby to help find Ratigan. Toby leads them to a human toy shop where Fidget, Ratigan’s crippled bat henchman, is collecting items for the evil plot, including Olivia. Basil and Dawson deduce the location of Ratigan’s lair, only to be caught in an elaborate death trap. Ratigan springs his evil plot and it’s up to Basil, Dawson, and Olivia to stop him.

The Great Mouse Detective harkens back more to the style of the 60’s Disney films rather than the Rescuers or the 40’s ones. The tone is distinctly more light-hearted, but there is still some very dramatic moments and even some scary ones. Basil’s eccentricities are mostly played for laughs, but it doesn’t make him a weaker character. He his fully able to handle the numerous situations that are presented to him logically and even manages to make everything look easy. Some things do really fluster him, and that brings out his anger, but he is quick to realize that getting angry is not going to help anything. Dawson is mostly a sympathetic character, there to ground the general oddness of Basil and also to assist him.

The real reason to watch this movie is Vincent Price’s portrayal of Professor Ratigan. The consistent deranged look of happiness on his face is brilliantly portrayed and the character is fantastically animated. He desperately tries to be regal and dignified, which is perfectly shown in his flowing and exaggerated movements. His ticks are just so perfect and overdramatic. He is the kind of character that is surprisingly hard to do well, Ratigan is the Snidely Whiplash, moustache-twirling, James Bond-esque super villain. He even has an obscenely complicated death machine and insists on leaving Basil to die without waiting about to see the machine succeed at it’s simple goal. Vincent Price’s voice just works so perfectly with the character that it is surprising to find out that he was not the original choice for the role.

Even the music is back at a previous level. The score by Henry Mancini is big and boisterous which heavily reflects the larger than life characters. The main theme is obscenely catchy and something that will easily get stuck in your head. Even the songs are at a higher level, this movie follows the general rule of Disney movies in that the best song in the movie is almost always the villain song, this time that best song is “The World’s Most Villainous Mind.” The song reflects the egocentric nature of Ratigan and is a just plain fun song.

Luckily for the newly rechristened Walt Disney Feature Animation and the field of animation as a whole, the Great Mouse Detective was a critical and financial success (but not nearly on the same level of commercial success as Disney’s last mouse starring feature, the Rescuers), receiving generally good reviews and made back it’s 14 million dollar budget and then some. The film took in around 25 million dollars at the box office and not only saved Disney animation, but also set the stage for the upcoming Disney Renaissance.

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