Growing up, there were few things that I saw in TV or cinema that actually scared me. In fact, I think this only happened twice. There’s the 1999 version of The Mummy which my mum dragged me to see in the cinema… when I was 9. The other is The Great Mouse Detective, or more specifically the falling doll scene where the face cracks and spills on the floor. So, now that I’m watching this as an adult, is this film as dark as I remember?
Well, let’s start off with something that may be a bit controversial: with the exception of Fantasia, The Great Mouse Detective might well be the best Disney film I’ve seen so far. It’s a close run thing between this, Sleeping Beauty and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, but I had forgotten just how brilliant it was and (more importantly) how dark it was.
The Great Mouse Detective is an original story based on the Basil of Baker Street book series that saw mice engage in Sherlock Holmes style adventures. It would appear to be set in the same universe as The Rescuers given how intelligent mice live alongside humans, but this is set in Victorian London rather than (then present day) New York and American South.
Due to the universe similarities between these two mouse-centric films you can probably understand the initial reluctance to make this film. However, without The Great Mouse Detective it is quite possible that films like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin would not have come afterwards. I mean, not only did this film prove how good Ron Clements and John Musker were at directing animated movies (considering that this was their debut in the director’s chair), but it proved that the animation department could still be critically and commercially successful.
Given the films what followed soon after, it would appear that many forget how important and just how great The Great Mouse Detective was. It’s overshadowed by the bad/mediocre films that flank it, but this paved the way for the Disney Renaissance and allowed for The Little Mermaid to be green-lit for production.
Before closing out this film, I think it is really worth having a quick word about the hero and villain. Basil is very unusual for a Disney hero of this era because he is basically Sherlock Holmes. He is super intelligent, arrogant, hates children and quick-tempered. He is also very attractive for a cartoon mouse, but I think that’s my own psychological baggage there. On the other side of the morality spectrum is Rattigan – the Moriarty to Basil’s Holmes – who is so fantastically played by Vincent Price.
There’s so much more I could talk about, like the use of computers to plot the intricate gears in the Big Ben fight, but it’s getting late in the evening. As of now I’m so close to the Disney Renaissance that I can almost taste it. I just need to get past Oliver & Company first… which never quite ranked as one of my favourite Disney films. I’d like to think that seeing it in the wider context of the Disney animated canon will give me a better appreciation of it, but that didn’t work out with The Black Cauldron so the hopes aren’t exactly sky high.