Monday, June 24, 2013

Movie Review: The Great Mouse Detective

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good story and fun songs
Cons: Average animation, villains could scare kids
The Bottom Line:
Basil on the case
In this overlooked movie
From 80's Disney

Solving Crime in the Mouse World 

The 80’s are not known as a great time for Disney animation.  And that decade did bring us the worst Disney animated movie of all time.  But there are also some fun movies from that time that are often overlooked.  One of those is The Great Mouse Detective (rereleased as The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective.  Don’t be confused, it’s the same movie).

As with many Disney movies, this one is based on a book or series of books.  Those books follow the adventures of Basil of Baker Street, a mouse who just happens to live at 221 1/2 Baker Street.  While I have never read the books, this movie is fun.  The connections between Basil and his human neighbor Sherlock Holmes are quite striking, and any fan will be thrilled to notice them all.

The story opens as Dr. David Dawson (voiced by Val Bettin) is trying to find a place to stay after returning to London.  He happens to stumble across Olivia Flaversham (Susanne Pollatschek) who is trying to find Basil (Barrie Ingham).  Seems that her father, the toymaker Hiram (Alan Young) has been kidnapped.

Basil has no interest in the case until her figures out that Hiram was kidnapped by Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price), his arch nemesis.  And Ratigan’s plan is truly evil, involving a plot to kill the mouse queen at her diamond jubilee and take over mousedom.  Will Basil track him down in time to stop him?

Just in case there was any doubt about Basil’s inspiration, there are a couple of scenes where he takes the smallest clue and deduces correctly information from it.  There’s also a voice cameo by the late Basil Rathbone as the real Sherlock Holmes.

But this movie doesn’t forget that the primary audience is kids, so it features lots of action.  The plot follows logically from what came before.  It may not be the most complex mystery, but it works for the 75 minute movie.  It certainly keeps you entertained as you wonder just how Basil will save the day.

There are three songs here, two of them given to Ratigan.  Frankly, those are some of the greatest Disney villain songs.  You just can’t help but laugh at them.  The song in the bar is also fun.

Yes, you read that right.  In their quest to track down Ratigan, Basil and Dawson head to some of the bad parts of London.  While that may bother parents with very young kids, I think most everyone will get the implied lesson that this is a part of town you avoid.  Besides, apart from some drinking, nothing truly bad is portrayed.

On the other hand, parents might be more concerned with Fidget, the bat sidekick to Ratigan.  Both he and Ratigan can be a little frightening.  On the other hand, they can also be comic characters.  I think most kids will be okay with them, but parents might want to watch it first themselves.

Apart from Vincent Price and Alan Young, I don’t recognize any of the names in the main cast.  But everyone is great in bringing these characters to life.

The animation is mostly flat backgrounds and characters.  It’s still a few years away from the rebirth that would happen at the end of the decade.  But I quickly lose myself in the story and forget about that.  The opening shot of the fog in London is pretty impressive.  This movie is also notable because it features the first use of computer animation in a full length movie.  This happens in the climax as the hand drawn characters interact with computer generate gears.  It’s seamless, so you won’t know.

The Great Mouse Detective isn’t the best of Disney animation, but it certainly deserves to be better known than it is.  If you’ve missed this movie, track down a copy today.

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