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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 16.13%
Average: 6.45%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 3.23%

2 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Great Mouse Detective, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A kid's introduction to detection."
5 stars

A new Sherlock Holmes movie comes out in a week and a half; a new animated film directed by John Musker & Ron Clements just opened in theaters. You'd think this would get "The Great Mouse Detective" a new home video release, as it's at the intersection of those two pop-culture phenomena, but it remains stubbornly out of print; Disney keeps their own schedule on these things. If you can find it at a local video store, though, it's well worth checking out.

It posits mice living in a miniature world beneath our own. In 1897, on the eve of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, a mouse toymaker by the name of Flaversham (voice of Alan Young) is kidnapped by Fidget (voice of Candy Candido), a bat with a peg leg. He had daughter Olivia (voice of Susanne Pollatschek) hide; she goes searching for for private consulting detective Basil of Baker Street (voice of Barrie Ingham), but she instead finds Doctor David Q. Dawson (voice of Val Bettin), who brings her to Basil. Basil soon deduces that her father has been taken by Professor Rattigan (voice of Vincent Price), his arch-nemesis - but what sort of evil plan requires the assistance of a toymaker?

Why, a mad one, of course, but one of devilish ingenuity. It's the sort that even a reasonably smart kid could probably find the flaw in, but neither this child nor his or her parents will be too worried about it because Rattigan has the voice of Vincent Price, with the animators taking cues from his gestures as her recorded the part. Price is the only thing close to a big star in the cast, and he brings exactly what is needed here: A veneer of charm and respectability over viciousness; he's a rat pretending to be a mouse - indeed, deluding himself that that's the case - and while the ultimate revelation of that is given to the animators, Price's unique ability to meld creepiness and sophistication gives them a solid base to work from.

Which isn't to sell the rest of the cast short. After Price, the most recognizable voice is that of Alan Young, who gives Flaversham a similar brogue to the one he gives Scrooge McDuck, though here as an anguished and worried father. Barrie Ingham and Val Bettin play the film's surrogate Holmes and Watson (the human pair are voiced by character actor Laurie Main and a clip of Basil Rathbone), and happily make them distinct characters. Ingham's Basil is youthful and energetic, a genius who doesn't quite fit in with ordinary society, but whose eccentricity seldom manifests as meanness. Bettin provides expression for Dawson's big heart and shows us how dizzying it must be to be thrown head-first into Basil's adventures. Susanne Pollatschek always finds the right combination of "kid on an exciting adventure" and "kid scared because someone took her dad".

That's voices, which is naturally just a small part of how the story is told. Compared to the films which Disney would soon have in production, The Great Mouse Detective is pretty simple, visually; the backgrounds and environments are fairly static, and the hand-painted coloring is flat, at least compared to the computer coloring that would be used beginning in The Rescuers Down Under. There's a charm to the film's look, though - a mystery to the fog-shrouded docks, unabashed cartooniness when slapstick is called for, cuteness in Olivia and Toby the dog that seems genuine as opposed to manufactured. That said, I won't completely say that this has soul that later Disney features lack - the filmmakers work well within their limitations, but there are definitely times when those limitations are shortcomings rather than challenges. And one of the more memorable scenes is achieved in large part due to well-placed early use of CGI.

Even with that Big Ben sequence, The Great Mouse Detective isn't flashy, but it is remarkably solid. Despite ten credited writers, the story flows smoothly, running at a zippy pace but also not seeming like the short movie that it is. Part of that is because it goes lighter on the musical numbers than many other animated Disney films; there are just three songs (one performed by Melissa Manchester, the other two by Price). The score by Henry Mancini is good, too, fun to listen to and hitting the occasional unexpected note.

The series of Disney animated features never actually stopped in the 1980s, even if the perception is that 1989's "The Little Mermaid" was a return of sorts. Though that was the big splash that the franchise needed to get back into the public eye, and much of their 1980s production wasn't exactly memorable, "The Great Mouse Detective" stands out among the films created in that period as being better than its reputation. And if it gets kids interested in Sherlock Holmes, so much the better.

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originally posted: 12/15/09 16:00:00
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User Comments

10/09/09 Dr.Lao Possibly the only 80's Disney movie worth watching 4 stars
5/23/08 Dominic The Great Mouse Detective came out in 1986 after 1985's The Black Cauldron. 5 stars
4/01/08 Quigley An extremely enjoyable film that deserves a Platinum Edition re-release. Here's hoping 5 stars
8/25/05 ES Ratigin, what a great villain, on par with Jafar and Scar 4 stars
2/27/04 hannah my all time favorite 5 stars
6/07/02 J One of the best Vincent Price films ever. 5 stars
1/10/02 Andrew Carden When I Was Younger, This Was My Favorite Cartoon Movie. 5 stars
10/13/01 winged_chimera Basil is my favorte character of all times! This movie is one of the best Disney movies yet 5 stars
10/13/01 Jessica Berry Great Movie, total classic! Amazing funny.....etc 5 stars
9/08/01 HL One of my favorite Disney movies-- Basil is one of my fave Disney characters! 5 stars
7/23/01 Marie A great family film...great animation for the mid 80's. Beyond cute! 5 stars
5/26/01 Stewart The ending was the best moment in this movie. Also check out Vincent Price's voice. 4 stars
1/22/01 Brett I LOVE THIS MOVIE! One of the best Disneys. Basil's my fave Disney Character. 5 stars
12/30/00 Chief The clock scene at the end was visually great. Best Disney film of the eigties. 4 stars
9/30/00 Jed Great movie especially for vincent price but I pretty much agree with TMC on this one. 4 stars
8/16/99 Stephanie Kauffman I love all the Disney animated features, but TGMD is my favorite. Two thumbs way up!!!!! 5 stars
7/11/99 Grace I realy liked the end, especialy where he kept Dawson from leaveing. 3 stars
9/29/98 katherine the kids i babysit were bored by it, but i sort of thought it was a good kiddie film. 3 stars
9/24/98 Milhouse Faqw Pretty bad 1 stars
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  02-Jul-1986 (G)
  DVD: 13-Apr-2010



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