When Times Are Tough, a Mouse is Always There to Help
Originally Released: 1986
Just one year before the release of The Great Mouse Detective, Walt Disney Animation almost did itself in with the overly ambitious, poorly executed The Black Cauldron. There didn’t seem to be much hope for the studios. The executives kicked the animation department out of Burbank and moved them to what they considered “the warehouse.” When this happened, the folks at the animation department thought they would soon lose their jobs. But they were given another chance when they got the green light to continue production of Basil of Baker Street, based on the book series of the same name.
However, the new project certainly wasn’t going to have the ambition and bloated excess of Disney’s prior two releases. No, they were going back to the basics, putting the focus on creating a simple-but-good, well-paced story with fun characters. Historically characters and great storytelling were two of Disney’s greatest strengths.
Of course, there was one other thing they could do that was as good a guarantee as you can get when you are Disney: make the story involve a mouse.
It may seem like a joke (OK, maybe it is a little bit), and I don’t know if the storytellers at Disney were consciously thinking this when they made this film, but if we take a look at some Disney history then we can see that a mouse has almost always pulled them out of ruin. First, think of Dumbo. Disney was on the brink, but thanks to Dumbo and Timothy, they made enough money to continue on. Fast forward to Cinderella. If it failed, the studio would have shut down. And what was a major part of Cinderalla’s story? Jaq, Gus and the cohort of mice. A few more years later, mice Bernard and Bianca proved to the world that Disney could survive without Walt watching over things.
So whenever Disney needed to reset and work its magic, it is only natural to go back to what gave the company its start. And it worked again this time. The Great Mouse Detective (management decided they liked this title better) turned out well and was a financial success, albeit a moderate one. Still, it was just what the studio needed to carry on.
The story itself is indeed simple and to-the-point, but it moves along at a snappy pace and is an effective little mystery movie. Basil and Dawson are the mice versions of Sherlock and Watson, while villain professor Ratigan takes a nod from Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis Professor Moriarty. Basil tries to discover why the evil professor has abducted little Olivia’s toy-maker father (voiced by Scrooge McDuck) and learns that Ratigan is up to his most nefarious scheme of all. With the help of his new friends, Basil saves the day, but only after a few close calls.
I tend to enjoy Sherlock-style mysteries when I watch them, and The Great Mouse Detective is no exception. It is a fun movie. It has good voice work as well, including Vincent Price as the villain. (As a neat little side, check this out. I looked up Vincent Price on Youtube where I found the following chain of funny videos that amazingly led back to a Sherlock-themed clip. Click here first, then do this one, and lastly have a look at this one. Sometimes Youtube really impresses me. But back to the film). The Great Mouse Detective isn’t as complex as some adult mysteries can be, but it still manages to tell a good story, work at a good pace, and give us more great Disney mice friends.