The Great Mouse
By 1986, the famed Disney animation studio was pretty much considered to be
a dire straits. Pricy failures like The Black Cauldron and quickly
forgotten trifles like The Fox & the Hound and The Rescuers
had rendered the studio somewhat obsolete. In fact, The Great Mouse
Detective was only the third animated film from the venerable studio in
the 1980s. In the meantime, former Disney animator Don Bluth had jumped
ship and actually seemed to be leading the curve in popular animation after
breaking free from the studio confines with his hits The Last Unicorn,
The Land Before Time, An American Tale and the popular video game
These were pretty much deemed the dog days of Disney animation.
It would only be three years and two more features until Disney regained its
stature with The Little Mermaid and started on a run of classics such
as Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.
In the last year or so, both of the films which led up to this renaissance (The
Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company) have been
re-released on video, making you realize with hindsight that while the
studio hadn’t quite gotten its groove back yet, they were making strides
towards regaining their classic status.
Both of those films employed a similar template – take classic British
literature and play it out with animals. The next film, Oliver & Co.
played out Dicken’s Oliver Twist with cats and dogs. This one took
on Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries with mice, rats and a weird
While both fell way short of the heights that the studio would hit regularly
a mere few years later, both movies have more to recommend than you may have
been led to believe.
The Great Mouse
takes place in an alternate world of Victorian London – a little world of
animals who live in the shadows of the humans.
Our hero is Basil (undoubtedly named after Holmes movie star Basil Rathbone)
– a mystery-solving mouse who lives in a little mouse hole under Sherlock
Holmes’ famous 221 Baker Street flat. (In a nice touch, there is a
voiceover of the famed detective taken from one of the classic 1940s films
The Great Mouse
is sort of a genesis story for Basil. He meets his co-hort, a helpful mouse
named Dr. Dawson (blatantly patterned after Dr. Watson). Basil takes on his
nemesis, an evil rat named Professor Ratigan (any similarity to Professor
Moriarty is, again, totally intended.)
The case involves the kidnapping of a masterful mouse toymaker. While the
mystery itself isn’t all that intriguing (what children’s mystery really
is?) and a robot subplot falls flat, there are enough interesting flights of
fancy to recommend The Great Mouse Detective.
This may be partially explained by the fact that The Great Mouse
Detective was the directing debut of Ron Clements and John Musker, who
would go on to make The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Princess
and the Frog. Honestly, the pair would later come to do better work,
but The Great Mouse Detective is a fascinating look at the early
potential of two men who are greatly responsible for putting Disney
animation back on the map.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: April 13, 2010.