by D.W. Lundberg

Monday, October 3, 2011


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: The Great Mouse Detective (1986; based on the book series Basil Of Baker Street by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone)

The Plot: In Victorian London, a mouse with renowned deductive skills battles his arch-nemesis, a sewer rat intent on kidnapping the Queen.

The Songs: "The World's Greatest Criminal Mind," "Let Me Be Good To You," "Goodbye So Soon"

A Little History: Co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements hoped to adapt Eve Titus' Basil Of Baker Street as their debut picture at Disney, but The Black Cauldron's beleaguered production landed the project in doubt. Newly-appointed chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg agreed to fund The Great Mouse Detective on the condition that Musker and Clements finish the film under-schedule and under-budget. They did so, at a budget of $14 million, and the movie's initial $25 million run at the box office bolstered Katzenberg's faith in Disney Animation (and helped pave the way for the Disney Renaissance three years later). A voice cameo from the actual Sherlock Holmes is taken from a 1966 recording of "The Adventure Of The Red-Headed League" – performed by none other than Basil Rathbone, who played Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic creation in a series of films from 1939 to 1946. Characters and plot elements are also taken from previous stories written by Doyle, including Toby the dog ("The Sign Of Four"), and the death of Professor Ratigan/Moriarty ("The Final Solution"). Disney also repeats itself: In a second-act sequence set inside a toy shop, Dumbo makes a cameo as one of the toys; the lizard in Ratigan's gang returns from Alice In Wonderland (1951); and a horse-drawn carriage appearing late in the movie is recycled from Lady And The Tramp (1955). In 1992, the film was re-released as The Adventures Of The Great Mouse Detective; it would retain this title until 2010, when it was changed back to The Great Mouse Detective.

How It Broke New Ground: Though Disney's The Black Cauldron is credited as the first feature-length animated title to use CGI animation, The Great Mouse Detective's climactic sequence (set within the bowels of Big Ben) is the first to place traditionally-animated characters inside a  computer-generated environment. The clock gears were created as wire-frame graphics on a computer, then traced and painted onto animated cels.

How It Holds Up Today: I don't have a problem with this one, to tell you the truth – it's energetic and smart, it's reasonably well-plotted, and the animation is a definite improvement over The Rescuers and Fox And The Hound, despite the appropriately dreary and fog-bound London setting. I like that it plays out against an actual Sherlock Holmes adventure, and Vincent Price's Professor Ratigan is splendidly flamboyant and scary. In retrospect, though, The Great Mouse Detective feels like a stepping stone to bigger and better things - the songs (two by Henry Mancini of Pink Panther fame, the other by Melissa Manchester) are robustly performed but don't have much of a bite, and the colors bear too many signs of de-saturation and smudging when seen in close up. (It would take another three years for Disney to reach the meteoric heights of The Little Mermaid, also directed by Musker and Clements). Paired with The Black Cauldron, Detective caps what is possibly the most significant one-two punch in Disney history: an unmitigated commercial disaster followed by a sudden, corrective step in the right direction. For a moment there, it seemed as if Disney's animation renaissance was actually afoot.

Grade: B


Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The RescuersThe Fox And The Hound, and The Black Cauldron. Please comment! Let me know you're following along!

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