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Featured DVD Review: The Great Mouse Detective

April 12th, 2010

The Great Mouse Detective - Buy from Amazon

According to, The Great Mouse Detective is the best selling new DVD release of the week. That's impressive, especially for a film that was considered a box office miss when it opened in 1986, a time when most Disney animated films struggled. In fact, the studio nearly shut down their animation department during this era. Because of this, the movie doesn't have a reputation as one of the classics and is mostly forgotten. Without a reputation to live up to, and with very little memory of the movie when it first came out, I was a blank slate going into this review.

The film takes place in London in the late 1800s and starts at the home/workshop of a local toymaker mouse named Hiram Flaversham. It's the birthday of his daughter, Olivia, and he's giving her one of his clockwork creations when a bat bursts in and kidnaps him. Olivia must go to Basil of Baker Street, the famous mouse detective, if she is to rescue her father. She runs into Dr. David Q. Dawson, who agrees to help her find her way. Once there, they discover Basil is rather... eccentric. He's also deep in a case of his own and is quite unwilling to help find Olivia's father. That is, until he learns that is was a bat who kidnapped him. A bat with a crippled wing and a peg leg. This bat is none other than Fidget, an underling of the notorious and evil Professor Ratigan, the very evil genius Basil has been trying to stop. But what evil plot is Ratigan hatching? (We don't learn for a while, but we do see that it involves a robot that can make tea. It makes sense later on.)

When Hiram refuses to go along, Ratigan plots to kidnap his daughter as an added incentive, and sends Fidget to that end. But with the help of Toby, Sherlock Holmes' bloodhound, the trio of mice are on the hunt as well.

Will Fidget capture Olivia? Will Basil stop Ratigan? And what is with that robot?

The film is based on a book that is quite clearly inspired by Sherlock Holmes, which makes it perfect material for Disney. However, as I previously pointed out, at the time it was made the studio was thinking of shutting down its animation studio, which greatly affected this film. It was made quite quickly and on a rather small budget of $14 million (compared to $25 million for The Black Cauldron released the year before and $40 million for The Little Mermaid just three years later). The animation doesn't feel as ambitious as others of same the era. And at barely 70 minutes long, it feels a little incomplete, or at least a little rushed. Vincent Price is an excellent bad guy, but character development is lacking. I guess the filmmakers assumed the audience would be aware of Sherlock Holmes and could make due with shortcuts. Additionally, the music seemed out of place rather than engaging, especially "The World's Greatest Criminal Mind" sung by Professor Ratigan.

There are some excellent action sequences in the movie, as well as a few that are rather frightening. (The final chase in Big Ben is an example of the former while the toy store fight is an example of the latter.) Overall, I would say the film works and it is definitely worth checking out, but it is not a classic.

Extras on the DVD include a game called So You Think you Can Sleuth that gives a little history of crime solving and of Private Investigators before giving the viewer a crime to solve. It's not interactive enough to call it a game, however. Under the original DVD special features, there is an 8-minute "making of" featurette and a sing-along version of one of the songs.

The Verdict

On the one hand, it's kind of strange that The Great Mouse Detective is being released on DVD now and not next year, which would be the 25th anniversary of this animated adventure film. On the other hand, I guess they wanted to jump on the Sherlock Holmes bandwagon. The movie itself is worth checking out, but it is not among the classics of the studio. Additionally, there are not enough new extras to make this DVD worth upgrading compared to the previous edition. But at just $12 on, it is worth buying over just renting if you don't already have it.

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