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Toon Talk: The Great Mouse Detective DVD
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by Kirby C. Holt (archives)
August 5, 2002
Kirby reviews the recent Disney DVD release of The Great Mouse Detective.

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

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The Great Mouse Detective DVD
Elementary …?

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The Great Mouse Detective DVD

At the time of The Great Mouse Detective’s original release in 1986 (coincidentally, the same year as Steven Spielberg and Don Bluth’s An American Tail), yet another talking mouse film seemed all but … quaint. Hadn’t Disney just done this with The Rescuers, not even ten years before? But that wasn’t the only thing seemingly going against the 26th animated feature.

After the box office failure of another Spielberg film, Young Sherlock Holmes, the Disney marketing department deemed the title of the original source novel, Eve Titus’ Basil of Baker Street, as sounding too “British” for a so-called ‘kid’s movie’, and straddled it with probably the worst title ever given to a Disney animated film (at least until The Emperor’s New Groove …), the generic and unimaginative The Great Mouse Detective.

(Angry at what amounted to a slap in the face of their creativity and artistry, an anonymous animator posted a gag memo in the Studio at that time, claiming that all the previous animated features were going to be renamed with similar, simplistically ridiculous monikers, such as Seven Little Men Help a Girl, The Wooden Boy Who Became Real and my personal favorite, A Boy, A Bear and a Big Black Cat.)

Alas, one should never judge a book by its cover, nor a movie by its title, for The Great Mouse Detective is a charming, if often (not quite unjustly) overlooked, addition to the Disney animation slate, highlighted by a sly vocal turn by the master of movie menace himself, Vincent Price, as the oily rat Moriarty to Barrie Ingham’s mousified Holmes.

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Set in the London of 1897, or, to be more precise, the Kingdom of Mousedom located in the basements and cellars of the British capitol, the mystery begins when the kindly toy-maker Hiram Flaversham (Alan Young) is mouse-napped by peg-legged bat Fidget (Candy Candido), leaving his adorable daughter Olivia (the sweet-voiced Susanne Pollatschek) alone and afraid. With the help of the good-hearted Dr. Dawson (Val Bettin), she finds her way to 221 Baker Street in search of the mouse world’s greatest detective, Basil of Baker Street. At first stand-offish to Olivia’s pleas for help, Basil pounces on the case once he deduces that the villain behind the whole scheme is his long-time nemesis, the evil Ratigan.

Enlisting the unwitting Dawson as his assistant, with Olivia tagging along, Basil is soon hot on the trail of the sinister rat, in a series of adventures that lead them from the sewers of London (in the aptly named wharf-side bar, the Rat Trap) to Mousedom’s own miniature Buckingham Palace, all the way up to the storm-swept face of Big Ben itself.

Employing for one of the last times the time-honored animation style of its predecessors and, for one of the first times, the then brand-new technique of computer animation that would eventually become more and more commonplace, The Great Mouse Detective, like its follow-up, Oliver and Company, found itself on the cusp of the new wave in animated films, a position that it precariously teeters on but still manages to hang onto through pure determination to entertain.

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