The Good: Generally fine animation
The Bad: Unmemorable music, Dull story, Bland characters
The Basics: Arguably one of the worst Disney ever produced, The Great Mouse Detective is a fairly generic reimagining of Sherlock Holmes as a fable.
My wife has been on a Disney kick. The latest in her long string of classic Disney animated films that she’s introduced me to is The Great Mouse Detective. Interestingly, The Great Mouse Detective was released when I was a kid and was age appropriate for going to see it. To the best of my knowledge, I did not and I had no interest in it. In fact, as one of Disney’s more lackluster (at the box office) films, it is somewhat unsurprising that it has taken me almost thirty years to catch the film. Now that I have, I’m surprised that the movie had any impact on my wife. The Great Mouse Detective might well be one of the least interesting, least memorable, least worthwhile Disney animated films ever produced.
A rare Disney mystery, The Great Mouse Detective continues the trend Disney has of making somewhat familiar stories into fables by replacing human characters with animals. In the case of The Great Mouse Detective, the characters are mostly mice and they are part of a story that is enough steps removed from the stories of Sherlock Holmes that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is not even credited in the writing acknowledgments. Even so, The Great Mouse Detective owes a large debt to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and those who adapted the stories into films and television works. The Disney adaptation includes iconic aspects of Holmes such as his hat and his doctor sidekick.
As the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee approaches all of mousedom is thrown into chaos. Hiram Flaversham is kidnapped by a bat, Fidget, in front of his daughter, Olivia. Olivia meets Dr. David Q. Dawson in his search for the great mouse detective, Basil Of Baker Street. Basil is reluctant to take Olivia’s case until he learns that the bat was involved, as Basil knows that the bat works for his nemesis, Professor Ratigan. Ratigan is preparing his biggest, most destructive, plot yet for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Basil enlists Toby, the dog, to track down the bat and Ratigan with the idea of getting Flaversham back only secondary to his own agenda.
When Olivia is captured by Fidget, Basil recovers the bat’s “to do” list and has the chance to crack the case and find Ratigan. Basil uses the paper to track Fidget and Basil and Dawson head off to rescue Olivia from the villainous Ratigan. Heading off to the waterfront, Basil, Dawson and Toby go through a rousing song and dance number before they see Fidget and he leads them to Ratigan’s lair. There, Basil must outwit Ratigan and rescue Olivia and Flaversham.
What The Great Mouse Detective lacks entirely is charm. While Disney animated films cannot truly be accused of lacking originality (almost all of them are based upon works that are in the public domain), what they usually possess is charm and decent music. As one of the last underwhelming Disney films to precede the studio’s explosive rebirth that came with The Little Mermaid (reviewed here!), The Great Mouse Detective is lacking in the sense of magic, wonder, and catchy tunes.
Basil is a cheap knock-off of Sherlock Holmes as his elaborate experiment that ties the paper to the waterfront illustrates. Basil does not have any distinguishing characteristics or quirks that make him engaging to watch. Instead, he is a stiflingly generic detective. Even worse, Dawson is relegated to the status of pure sidekick with nothing that he brings to the investigative team. Unlike John Watson who both grounds and humanizes Sherlock Holmes in most of Doyle’s stories (and whose unique experiences make him an actual asset in the current BBC production Sherlock), Dawson is just a sidekick who bumbles around after Basil in The Great Mouse Detective.
Equally unimpressive is the adversary in The Great Mouse Detective. Ratigan is a somewhat ridiculous villain. Simply luring Basil to his lair leads the supposedly brilliant Ratigan to declare victory over the detective. Ratigan is not terribly smart; he trusts that Flavisham has constructed his killing machine without error and his motivation is not clear for the bulk of the movie. Instead, Ratigan is a generic enemy who wants to rule the world for no particular reason. The plot to replace the queen of mice is so flawed as to be laughable and that Basil is predictably able to thwart him is not a function of great detective work or impressive skill on Basil’s part as much as it is a plot inevitability. In other words, Ratigan is not so great as to enhance Basil’s stature and Basil’s mediocrity only makes Ratigan seem more ridiculous as a villain.
The animation in The Great Mouse Detective is adequate, but unexceptional. One of Disney’s first major motion pictures assisted by computers, The Great Mouse Detective illustrates early on how computers cannot save films that start with a weak script. In contrast, the voice talents employed in The Great Mouse Detective are universally good. Each of the performers is appropriately expressive. Barrie Ingham, however, does not speak in such a way that makes one believe that Basil is a mouse of superior intellect and that guts the premise of the film almost from the character’s introduction.
Ultimately, The Great Mouse Detective is a forgettable, dull fable that can be forgotten; when Disney puts it in the vault, one doubts there will ever be enough of a clamor for its release to warrant the studio to ever take it out again.
For other works with Eve Brenner, please visit my reviews of:
Walk Of Shame
“Remember” - Star Trek: Voyager
“Violations” - Star Trek: The Next Generation
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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