Deneb does The Great Mouse Detective

“There’s always a chance, doctor – as long as one can think.” 

The Scoop: 1986 G, directed by Ron Clements and Burny Mattinson and starring Vincent Price, Barry Ingham, Val Bettin, Suzanne Pollatschek, Alan Young and Candy Candido.

Tagline: All new! All fun!

Summary Capsule: Sherlock Holmes meets the order rodentia, and a smashing good time is had by all.

Deneb’s Rating: Awesomeness with a side of extra awesome, and topped off by a little deerstalker hat.

Deneb’s Review: ‘Deneb’, voices are saying right now, kindly but firmly, ‘you have flipped your tiny mind. How could you bring a Disney movie – a mainstream Disney movie – a moderately successful Disney movie – into these hallowed halls of the oddball and obscure? This is a cult movie site, old boy, not a haven for sparkly singing princesses. We fear to inform you that you’re off your chump.’ Those voices are yours, dear readers. Don’t try to pretend that they aren’t.

Well, first off, this is not among the upper echelon of Disney flicks. It made them money and all, and they re-release it every few years or so like all their other movies, but it’s somehow never really mentioned when they’re talking about how nifty they are (a missed opportunity, I’d say). Despite this, it has a small but dedicated fan following – to my mind, that makes it ‘cult’ enough to qualify for a place here.

Second, Great Mouse Detective is one of my favorite Disney movies – and for that matter, favorite movies – of all time, and there was no way in a million years I was not going to review it once I got on here. Wild horses couldn’t stop me, if they tried with all four hooves. Don’t try and argue with me, I’ve got a gun! And it’s loaded! With water! You’ll get wet!

Er, hm. Yes. I suppose it’s about time I started explaining what it’s about, isn’t it?

The movie is based on the ‘Basil of Baker Street’ series, by Eve Titus. It’s set in London, circa 1897. It’s a familiar setting – foggy streets, hansom cabs clattering over cobblestones – this is the time of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper, of Victoria on the throne and Dickens scribbling away somewhere.

But forget those guys, we’re here for the Great Mouse Detective, right? Indeed – this story involves the mice and rats and associated critters of London, who, as we all know, live in a miniature version of our society just out of sight.

As our story opens, kindly toymaker Hiram Flaversham (Alan Young) is abducted from his shop by a creepy bat assailant, leaving behind his little daughter, Olivia (Suzanne Pollatschek). Figuring that Basil of Baker Street, the famous detective, is the only one who can help her, she goes out looking for him, and is found, lost and miserable, by the kindly Dr. Dawson (Val Bettin), who takes it upon himself to guide her safely to her goal.

Wait a minute… ‘Dr. Dawson’? That sounds vaguely familiar – and wait, a famous detective? Who lives in Baker Street? Now where have I heard that before…?

Yep, we are dealing with the Sherlock Holmes of the mouse world. Basil (Barry Ingham), in fact, lives right underneath Holmes’ pad, in an eccentric crime-solving laboratory of his very own. At first, he’s dismissive of Olivia’s case – he’s a famous detective, for Pete’s sake; he doesn’t do lost fathers – but when she happens to mention the bat who snatched him, that catches his interest.

You see, as befits a mouse in his position, Basil has an enemy, a criminal mastermind who he’s been crossing swords with for years. This is the sinister Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price), who just happens to employ a peg-legged bat named Fidget (Candy Candido), who happens to sound an awful lot like the guy who… well, you get the idea. Ratigan has spirited away the toymaker for some dastardly plan or other, and it’s up to Basil to get him back. Inevitably, Dawson gets roped into being the faithful sidekick, and the game’s afoot!

As you may have noticed, this doesn’t sound an awful lot like your typical Disney movie, does it? Well, in point of fact, it’s not. It’s kind of like ‘The Rescuers’, but that featured human/animal interaction as a key part of the story – in this one, while humans are obviously around, we rarely even see them. The focus is all on the mice, and that aside, we’re in pretty straightforward action-adventure territory, with nary a trace of magic or fantasy.

And as an action-adventure movie, it is awesome. Many movies have taken advantage of how epic the human world looks when you’re really teeny-tiny, but GMD really bats it out of the park. There are some mystery-solving sequences – it would hardly be a properly Holmesian flick without them – but the action sequences are the mainstay of the movie, and they’re terrific stuff. You will never look at a toy store the same way again, I promise you that, and as for the final climax – well, I won’t give away the details, but damn.

What really makes the movie sing, though, is the characters. They set the movie apart from its inspirations quite nicely, making it very much its own animal. Basil may look an awful lot like Holmes, what with the outfit and the pipe and the magnifying glass, but his character is actually quite different. Holmes was always described as very detached and methodical in his demeanor, with genuine human emotion as we know it being somewhat of an alien concept to him – and the Basil we see in the books is very much a pastiche of that. This Basil, on the other hand, is almost nothing but emotion – he’s a hyper-charged manic-depressive egotist, much given to theatrical flourishes and dramatic mood swings. As for Dawson, he pays tribute to many past depictions of Watson while thankfully averting them – he’s not an idiotic bumbler; he’s just very, very far out of his element. In fact, the plot hinges at several points on the fact that, in some ways, he’s more observant than Basil, and quickly comes to serve as his anchor to the real world. They make a good team.

Heroes are only as good as their villains, though, which in this case is good, because the villains are fantastic. Vincent Price was a genius at his craft, and he is obviously having the time of his life voicing Ratigan, who is just as gigantic a ham as Basil, if not more so. (OK – decidedly more so. And trust me, that ain’t easy.) The guy just oozes evil, and alternates between cultured sophistication and snarling rage at the drop of a hat. While this might come off as jarring if performed by a lesser actor, with Price, it works brilliantly – but really, this is Vincent Price; I could listen to him read the telephone directory and it’d work brilliantly. (Seriously, I had a lot of trouble selecting quotes for Ratigan, because everything he says, every single line, sounds awesome and will stick in your head like glue. It’s uncanny.) His lackey, Fidget, also deserves a mention – he’s the typical evil minion, yet he’s also strangely lovable. I wanted to be his friend as a kid, despite the fact that he scared the crap out of me – and from what I’ve heard, I’m not the only one.

Really, I could go on about this movie for days. It’s one of those flicks that never fails to suck you in, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, and I’ve seen it quite a few times. It may not be your particular cup of tea – everyone has different tastes, after all – but just remember, tea goes with crumpets, and Mrs. Judson makes delightful cheese crumpets, so if you’re too persnickety, no crumpets for you. (Yes, that means something. I’m not sure what, but… something. Crumpets! See this movie!)

"I want pastrami and cheese on rye, you hear me? JUST pastrami and cheese! You give-a me any onions on that, I slap-a you upside the head, you got that? I DON'T LIKE ONIONS!"

Intermission!

  • Voicing Ratigan was a life-long dream of Price’s, as he’d had a long-lasting ambition to voice a Disney character. It was one of his favorite roles (if not the favorite role) of his career.
  • If Flaversham’s voice sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because he’s played by Alan Young, who voices Scrooge McDuck.
  • GMD was one of the first animated movies to use computer animation. During the clock-tower sequence, the gears were animated in wireframe, and then drawn over.
  • During the climax of the toy store chase, where Basil lunges at Fidget and misses, some of the letter/number blocks he’s climbing on clearly spell out ‘NOOO’. (When even the scenery starts being melodramatic, you know you’ve got a good sequence!)
  • Note the toy Dumbo blowing bubbles. Anachronism, ho!
  • GMD is somewhat unique among Disney movies in that, while it does have songs, there are only three of them, and only one of them is the usual ‘let’s all sing ‘cause we just gotta’ musical number. Of the others, one is sung by a singer in a pub, and the other was pre-recorded as part of the plot. In short, this is one of the few Disney flicks where the musical numbers actually make sense. (This even applies to the aforementioned ‘let’s all sing’ number, really – it’s done by Ratigan and his hoods, and he’s got a big enough ego to have trained them to sing his praises like that.)
  • Candy Candido’s voice was so deep that they had to speed it up in the recording studio in order for it to sound right. (Yes, that voice is actually sped-up Chipmunk-style. Makes you appreciate how deep the original was, doesn’t it?)
  • In the movie, Ratigan is a rat claiming to be (and with severe issues about the fact that he’s not) a mouse. This is a direct reversal from the original Ratigan, who was a mouse masquerading as a rat.

Groovy Quotes: 

Dawson: Now, just a moment! How the deuce did you know I was a doctor?
Basil: A surgeon, to be exact. Just returned from military duty in Afghanistan. Am I right?
Dawson: Why, heh… uh, yes. Major David Q. Dawson. Uh… But how could you possibly…
Basil: Quite simple, really. You’ve sewn your torn cuff together with a Lambert stitch – which, of course, only a surgeon uses. And the thread is a unique form of catgut easily distinguished by its… peculiar pungency, found only in the Afghan provinces.
Dawson: Amazing!
Basil: Actually, it’s… elementary, my dear Dawson.

Ratigan: I AM NOT A RAT!
Thug 1: ‘Course you’re not! You’re a mouse!
Thug 2: Yeh, that’s right, ’s right, a mouse!
Thug 3: Yeah, a-a big mouse!
Ratigan: SILENCE!

Basil: (examining a clue) Yes… yes… NOOOOOO – CRUD!  Another dead end!

Dawson: Eh… ‘Ratigan’?
Basil: He’s a genius, Dawson! A genius twisted for evil – the Napoleon of crime!
Dawson: As bad as all that, eh?
Basil: Worse!

Ratigan: Oh, I love it when I’m nasty!

(Basil is egging Toby on)
Basil: Yes! You know his type – rrah! Villain – arrah, rrah! Scoundrel! Grnahh, grnahh! Low brow… close-set eyes… broken wing…
(Toby stops growling and looks confused)
…oh! He’s a peg-legged bat with a broken wing.

Ratigan: Oh, my dear Bartholomew – I’m afraid that you’ve gone and upset me. You know what happens when someone upsets me…
Basil: Ratigan, no one can have a higher opinion of you than I have – and I think you’re a slimy, contemptible sewer rat!

Basil: Miss Flanchester…
Dawson and Olivia: Flaversham!
Basil: Whatever. Your father is as good as found!

Ratigan: Oh, my dear Fidget – you have been hanging upside down too long!

Dawson: Upon my word… I’ve never seen so many toys…
Basil: Behind any of which could lurk a bloodthirsty assassin!

Dawson: What is it, Basil?
Basil: Isn’t it painfully obvious, doctor?

Fidget: (singing to himself) I got the gears, I got the tools, I got the uniforms… I got the girl, ha-ha-ha-ha-haa-ha-ha!

Basil: Heh… set it off now… Set it… off… now…? Ye… yes! Yes! Ha-ha ha! We’ll… we’ll set the trap off now!

Dawson: You’re… despicable!
Ratigan: (chuckles) Yes.

Basil: There’s always a chance, doctor – as long as one can think.

Fidget: OW! My foot, my only foot!

Ratigan: Fidget, you delightful little maniac!

Ratigan: I had so many ingenious ideas, I didn’t know which to choose! So I decided to use them all.

Ratigan: Oh, this is wicked – so delightfully wicked!

Basil: Smile, everyone!

Basil: You, professor, are none other than a foul ‘stenchus rodentius’, commonly known as a…
Ratigan: Don’t say it!
Basil: …sewer rat!
Ratigan: D’aaaaaaaaah!

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16 Comments

    • Yeah, that was a classic, all right. It’s one of those moments that demonstrates the sheer power of Basil’s brain – for him to have worked out EXACTLY how that sequence of events would play out, literally within seconds, with absolutely no margin for error – that’s pretty freakin’ impressive, right there.

    • I highly recommend seeing it again – it stands up remarkably well. I saw it on my 19th birthday while off at college, having not watched it for years, and was worrying that hey, maybe it won’t have aged well… Then I saw it, and I was like ‘HOLY CRAP, THIS IS STILL AWESOME, IT WAS THE PERFECT CHOICE!’ See it! I highly doubt you’ll regret it!

  1. I got this for my birthday when Disney re-released it on DVD last year and saw it in theaters as a kid. This is a favorite of mine, too – one of Disney’s most purely fun movies. In fact, my thought when I saw this review wasn’t “Are they crazy?” but “I’m surprised someone didn’t get to this sooner!” 😉

  2. Where I work we have kids’ movies playing on the iPod ’round the clock. This is the only one that, child or adult, we get asked the title of in a good way. We once had an entire family camp out in the kid room just so they could finish the second half.

    Great Mouse Detective. Still really awesome.

    • One could consider GMD one of the archetypical examples of the ‘family movie’ – it truly has something for everyone. Little kids can enjoy the slapstick and overacting and such, older ones can watch it for the awesome villains and adventure-movie stuff, while everyone else can appreciate how unusually dark and well-made and non-pandering it is (as well as those other things, of course). It’s really gratifying to be able to watch a movie multiple times over the years, and get something new out of it each time.

  3. I liked the GMD, but I’m sorry to say it didn’t have the same impact with me. Not sure why though. It might have been I never watched it as a child.

    I don’t think Disney films can’t be cult. Tron is the best example, but everyone has their favorites. A lot of what you wrote here about GMD is how I feel about Babes in Toyland.

    • Well, yes, seeing it as a kid definitely helped. It also didn’t hurt that I’m a big Vincent Price fan, and tend to enjoy ‘little creatures in big world’ stories and general cartoonish stuff. As you say, everyone has their favorites – ones individual interests inevitably shape how one reacts to things, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, so long as one isn’t pushy about inflicting said views on others.
      Never seen ‘Babes in Toyland’ – it’s one of those films I used to toy with renting, but never really got around to. I’ll add it to my ‘one of these days’ list, now that it’s gotten a recommendation.

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