#26 The Great Mouse Detective

#26 The Great Mouse Detective

Ele-mouse-ery my dear reader

This week’s movie is The Great Mouse Detective, a film about a heroic detective mouse helping a young girl solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance. The film is based on a book series called Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus. The book series and movie are loosely based upon the tales of Sherlock Holmes, who famously lived on Baker Street.

Adapting the series was first pitched while The Rescuers was in production, but due to the similarity of the projects (because for some reason two different people wanted to write books about crime solving mice) Basil was put on hold. Fast-forward to production of The Black Cauldron, that was not going well to say the least, and Ron Clements proposed the Basil project once more, getting approval from then President and CEO Ron Miller. This actually wasn’t Clements’ first go at a Sherlock Holmes endeavor: he had made an animated short years earlier. A team was put together and they began brainstorming character and plot ideas.

Then, the new management came in. As detailed in the last post, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg caused quite the shakeup at Disney. After a story reel screening of the film, which was named Basil of Baker Street at that point, just like the book series, Eisner and Katzenberg found the story slow and ordered rewrites to be done. In 1985, Peter Schneider was brought in as the first president of Walt Disney Feature Animation. According to the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, Schneider brought a new energy to the company, questioning everything, but also encouraging employees to ask questions. The movie was originally set to be released around Christmas of 1987, but Eisner moved the date to July of 1986, giving the team only a year to complete it. Not only did he decrease their time, but also their budget, which was cut in half. After the move from the Burbank lot in 1984, the animation team felt disrespected, and all this didn’t help. But the drama really began when he changed the name.

Eisner forced the animation team to change the title of the movie to The Great Mouse Detective, which is how we know it today, and this renaming did not go over well. The filmmakers felt this generic, plainly stated title disrupted how they had always named the animated movies. A now infamous memo was passed around the studio that re-titled past films. For example, Snow White was changed to “Seven Little Men Help a Girl”, Bambi to “The Little Deer Who Grew Up”, Cinderella to “The Girl with the See-Through Shoes”, Lady and the Tramp to “Two Dogs Fall in Love”, and 101 Dalmatians to “Puppies Taken Away”. In a consequential meeting, Schneider ripped the animation team apart, though he didn’t tell employees to leave if they were unhappy, instead encouraging them to work on making good films. In Waking Sleeping Beauty, Schneider remarks that he felt the meeting actually somewhat improved and “cemented [his] relationship with the animators”.

To gain inspiration for their character models, the animation team watched the film Champagne for Caesar, and from there decided to cast legendary actor Vincent Price as the villain, Ratigan. Animator Glen Keane said that Price’s “expressive voice and attitude” also added to their vision and creation. Keane also took inspiration from Ron Miller (who was a former LA Rams football player #RenaissanceMan) as well as photos of men in 19th century London. Layout artist Mike Peraza found his own inspiration in the debut film of legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, and went to Musker with a suggestion to take the final battle between Basil and Ratigan from outside Big Ben to inside the clocktower, which Musker approved. Pereza was sent out to London and given access to inside the clock to gather video reference. While The Black Cauldron had utilized CGI the year prior, The Great Mouse Detective was the first Disney film to “extensively use computer animation” as animators took months to carefully design the interior of Big Ben.

The film was financially successful and received positive reviews. Famous critics Siskel and Ebert gave the film high praise and both commented that it was one of the best Disney had made in decades. Similarly, critics for various publications commended the film’s animation, script, and characters, also noting that it was better than previous Disney movies. However, Disney had some competition, as TGMD was not the only mouse-adventure film on the market that year (seriously, what is it with mice being the go-to animals for story telling?). The film An American Tail – you know, the story of the cute little mouse Fievel – was also released that year and was directed by none other than Don Bluth – you know, the guy who left Disney a few years prior, taking 15 animators with him. An American Tail was a hit, not only surpassing TGMD, but also becoming the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film of its time. Still, the success of The Great Mouse Detective gave the company hope that the animation department could still produce great films.

Nearly 35 years later, The Great Mouse Detective has become one of the least recognized Disney films. Characters are not available for meet and greets in the park nor are they in parades. I couldn’t even find any photos or proof that they were ever featured in the parks. No scenes or songs seem to be used in shows and Disney doesn’t seem to be actively making/selling merchandise. The film that proved that Disney could still make hits has been overshadowed by said hits.

I actually watched this movie growing up as I owned it on VHS, though I don’t recall much of it, nor do I remember really liking it. It’ll be interesting to revisit it. Now, let’s head to good ole London, you could say it’s…calling.

My thoughts on The Great Mouse Detective:

  • Awww Olivia and her dad are cute
  • Oh my god this just transitioned to a child calling out for her kidnapped father to the most cheerful upbeat music
  • Read the room
  • This was directed by Musker and Clements???
  • Remember those 3 years when everyone was obsessed with Sherlock the TV show
  • Is Olivia homeless?!! There aren’t any child protective services for mice?
  • Watson (or whatever his name is here) is sweet
  • Hahaha they have a shadow (Sherlock) playing violin in the window above Basil’s home
  • Basil literally just walked in the door, can he breathe before seeing to his intruders?
  • *sigh* not even 10 minutes in and theres an elementary joke
  • Where does that start? Sherlock never says it
  • “Miss?” “Flaversham. Olivia Flaversham” “Whatever” Finally a realistic Disney character
  • Basil is so dramatic
  • Lol why does he have a large framed portrait of his nemesis above his fireplace?
  • Did Olivia go to the cops? 
  • Isn’t there some kind of authority to put her into witness protection
  • Is that Bill from Alice in Wonderland?? Bruh what are you doing here? He must have crawled out of the rabbit hole
  • Note: They did in fact reuse Bill’s animation for this movie so, yeah that’s where Bill went
  • This Ratigan song wants what the Gaston song has
  • This song is Walmart to Gaston’s Gucci
  • This song crawled so that Gaston could bolt
  • See- he has a Basil voodoo doll with a bunch of pins, that’s an appropriate item for a nemesis to have, not a portrait above a fireplace
  • If he hates being called a “rat” why use the name Ratigan? If you’re disgusted at the association, go by Mouseigan
  • Oh WHOAH he just killed a henchman
  • He actually…punished a henchman forcefully…..other villains take note
  • Not that I’m encouraging more murder in Disney movies……
  • Where did the bat go?? He just peaked in the window and bounced with out Liv?
  • She’s so cute, the way she’s all ready to go out and find her dad
  • I kinda like this trope of him getting the kid’s name wrong and not caring in the slightest. It plays into the already established Sherlock character and also changes up the typical Disney hero-type
  • This toy shop is CREEPY
  • I feel so bad for old timey kids, like they had nothing to do, were prone to illnesses, their toys were horrifying
  • AH Dumbo!
  • Why is no one watching this child?!!
  • Not so great mouse babysitter
  • You can pout all you want, Not-Watson, you had one job and you screwed up
  • “I should have watched her more closely” yes you should have
  • Why is this one bat helping them?
  • Why is it such a big deal that he lost the list?
  • How did this mouse get control of a whole cat?
  • Sherlock Mouse knows chemistry too?
  • I was gonna say “does sherlock not notice his dog is missing” but sherlock holmes would 100% not notice if his dog was missing while he was involved in a case s
  • Their seedy disguises are as pirates?
  • How did an OCTOPUS get into this bar? I don’t think there are octopi in the Thames. 
  • Also I’d just like to note that the first thing they see in this seedy pub full of scoundrels and “low life ruffians” is…juggling
  • Is this the first time a Disney movie has shown a bar? I think it is…
  • Aww Dawson was the only one clapping
  • Really? Everyone in this loud af bar, with music playing, heard Basil mention Ratigan?
  • This woman singing is kinda inappropriate right?
  • The lyrics are “what you’re hoping for will come true, let me be good to you” like um ma’am this is a Wendy’s Disney movie
  • Imagine if this is how the bar scene in Tangled had gone
  • Dawson is living his best life dancing up on that stage
  • Is it a bar scene in a movie if it doesn’t have a brawl?
  • Did Ratty-boy find a wine barrel with an R on it or did he write the R on it himself? Because either way doesn’t seem like a great way to keep a secret lair secret
  • Poor little Olivia in the bottle
  • Wow! What a twist! That generally surprised me
  • Lol Ratigan had a banner made for this occasion, is he Leslie Knope?!
  • Oooohhhhh he called him a rat….thems fighting words
  • Honestly, BAsil deserves to get clowned on for wearing a “disguise” that’s just a mustache
  • So, he gets laughed at and just gives up? Isn’t that how the thing from It gets destroyed?
  • Basil could not survive Twitter
  • Ratigan has been pretty intelligent and ruthless so far, so this slow, rube-goldberg machine death trap is kinda out of character for me? Why wouldn’t he just feed Basil to his cat?
  • He says he couldn’t decided one method to kill so he just chose “all” which yeah goes with his theatricality but he doesn’t stay to watch or make sure Basil doesn’t get away because Basil was late so instead of leaving B time and space to get out, why not just forgo the hoopla???
  • Dear Disney villains, I know you like your showmanship, your theatrical songs, your drama. I admire your style and commitment to bringing your theater-kid energy into your adult lives. However, your showstopping numbers and elaborate final traps are ultimately getting in the way of your goal, which is to kill the hero. May I suggest saving your performances for after the hero is dead, perhaps as a way to gloat to your underlings or break the news in a stylistic way to the people of the community the hero protected? Just some things to ponder. Hugs and kisses, Emerald
  • Oh, a camera, Ratigan is an early adopter
  • Oh, that’s nice he’s playing music for them
  • I’ll give him this, Ratigan has style – he made a soundtrack (er, record) for murder. That’s commitment.
  • He wrote and recorded a personalized song for his nemesis….that’s almost as bad as the portrait….
  • Am I the only one thinking at this point that maybe Basil and Ratigan have a more ~personal~ history???

Basil captured but still able to appreciate the banner, song, and elaborate trap:

  • I know Basil and Non-Watson care because it’s their queen, but would this have an actual impact on the world at large
  • Where are the queen’s real guards???
  • I know they’re always around the queen, I watch The Crown
  • “Square root of an isoceles triange” what does that have to do with anything? Did you just write in smart things for him to say
  • HOW did he calculate ALL of that?
  • I know, I know, he’s a genius, but gosh, even Olivia popping out of the bottle
  • I mean, even if Ratigan replaces the queen, anyone who gets close to her would know she’s a robot
  • The queen has advisors, are they not around to be like “hey our queen is suddenly an actual literal robot, what’s up with that?”
  • If this were The Crown, she would have some advisor lecturing her about how being a robot goes against Tradition
  • Again, NO ONE is watching the child? Who is backstage with the villains?
  • Hahaha the cat jumped into the royal kennel
  • There we go, the kid got taken again
  • Why can’t the bat fly??
  • They broke big ben!!!
  • The computer animation is very apparent, it’s strange seeing it in a Disney movie after all the old school animation
  • If Ratigan was this jacked why didn’t he ever just go feral on Basil before
  • Did Dawson (I remembered it this time!) not have another job lined up? What was his life plan that he was able to give it up so easily?

The Great Mouse Detective is a fine film – the story is solid, the characters are interesting, I can certainly understand why it received so much praise. Yet, I have to say I don’t find much of it particularly memorable or extraordinary, and can also understand why it doesn’t have the strongest legacy. Very middle of the road, which doesn’t make for the most interesting blog post but I won’t lie to you just for entertainment purposes!

Next week, I cover Oliver and Company – new animals, new city, new adventure. And then, after that, a new era…

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