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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Retro Review: The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

The Great Mouse Detective
Cast: Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Eve Brenner, Alan Young 
Genre: Animated Mystery
Total Lifetime Gross: $38.7 million 

Plot: When a young mouse Olivia sees her toy-maker father, Hiram, abducted by a peg-legged bat, she runs to find famous mouse detective, Basil of Baker Street. Basil takes the case & soon finds out that the rodent toy-maker was kidnapped by the evil Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price), who wants to use the toy-maker's skills in a fiendish plot to replace the Queen of England with a robotic clone that he can control  

'A Sherlock Holmes Tale Worth Every Weight In Gold'

I have heard of Sherlock Holmes, but never read the books, heard of the TV show with Benedict Cumberbatch, yet not watched the movie with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law; and yet this movie is easy to get into, and so it doesn't take thorough knowledge, understanding or previous exposure to the Sherlock Holmes books and movies to fully enjoy it. Rather than to base it on the original novels, it adapts certain elements from it, mixed in with an original plot and replacing human characters with animal ones. Or be it more specifically rodent ones.

The Great Mouse Detective
was Disney's 1986 follow-up to the financial flop, The Black Cauldron, which suffered so greatly, the company was in desperate need of a hit to put them back at the top. The Great Mouse Detective received positive reviews from critics and audiences that as such, well until An American Tail and 1992's Aladdin, it was heralded as the beginning of Disney's renaissance and revival.

For all the marvels of CGI and computer technology, I still love that traditional 2D hand-drawn style of the classic animated movies. It's the fact that you can see the lines and the art style that is brimming with tradition; it's colourful with terrific character designs and the animation is top notch. Although it does move at a pace that is a little too slow and the film is slightly too long.

And still, this movie is virtually unknown, no thanks in part to Disney's lack of marketing. Sadly, in the company's eyes, if the film doesn't attract astronomical figures, it gets shoved aside with little, or be it no mention. Which is what happens to movies like this one. The Great Mouse Detective has been written off and declared as a box office Disney flop; but in viewing this movie, it reveals itself to have quite some depth and vibrancy, not to mention charm and uniqueness that sadly has been forgotten about and outshone by the company's more familiar movies, as well as 3D efforts and lack of interest shown towards this film.

It still looks great 30 years on as I write this, despite the lack of star power in the voice casting, although Vincent Price was sort of well known in the 1980s (by virtue of the 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo cartoon and being the voice-over for Michael Jackson's Thriller music video). I think the reason being why this movie wasn't and still isn't as well- received as Snow White, Aladdin, Cinderella was because the story-line ventured into a different territory that audiences at the time were still not quite ready for, yet. They loved the sorcery, the magical fantasy element of those movies, but turned their noses up on The Great Mouse Detective because it had none of those things & was a standard detective -mystery fare.

One of the other complaints was the lack of character development of Basil, Dawson, Olivia and the villain; here in The Great Mouse Detective, we can let that slide by as Basil is already a smart-ass: he is a detective after all who solves cases with the help of his accomplice, Dawson. Basil also has an ever present-yet charismatic personality, whose humility offsets any showing of arrogance and pompous attitude on his part.

I also noticed that there are scenes of characters, including Basil smoking a cigarette in a bar, which makes me think this film is not out and out animated effort aimed at children only. I know this is children's animation and I don't want to beat around the bush, but it is not a scene I want my young niece and nephew to be exposed to.

Regarding the music, though unlike their latter efforts of the 1990s, the music doesn't overwhelm the movie and make it become a musical: this is truly a real and proper animated dramatic movie and whilst there is humour, unlike say Aladdin, it is not used to forward the story but it alleviates some of the tension.

One reoccurring theme throughout The Great Mouse Detective is that all the characters - but for the dog- are rodents. But the rodent incarnations of Holmes, Watson, known here as Dawson, are great, whilst little Olivia is the cutest and one of the sweetest looking female characters: even though she is young she is not naive, but rather strong-willed and not a damsel- in- distress. At one point, she was considered as Basil's love interest- which would have freaked me out, and so I'm relieved that Disney didn't go down that path. And though some people may not like that character, mainly because it is a child character, she didn't annoy me whatsoever; rather I actually found her to be endearing at times too. 

Final Verdict:

So what do I think of The Great Mouse Detective? It's good, the mouse theme was refreshing to have, the villain is good and the protagonist characters are very likeable and charming. I think this was a great way for Disney to introduce youngsters and newcomers to Sherlock Holmes and detective stories in general and it is a great pity that since this film, they don't seem to be the least bit inclined in revisiting these types of movies and making movies that have a similar theme, or follow the same path as The Great Mouse Detective. 

The film also gets a bonus point for the simple fact that the narrative and the characters have more of a resonance than say the music and of the movie that doesn't descend into a Broadway show tunes musical, although I wished the smoking scenes hadn't existed, given that this is a kids/family movie.

So in all, I was very satisfied with this effort: it didn't blow me away, but it certainly had some interesting scenes that garnered my attention and the characters were interesting and appealing. 

Disney today may not care much for it, yet nonetheless, The Great Mouse Detective is a commendable effort that pays tribute to the Sherlock Holmes franchise, very admirably.


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