Take 3: The Great Mouse Detective Review

I will admit that before I signed up for the Suave Swordsman: Basil Rathbone Blogathon, I wasn’t familiar with Basil as an actor. However, I didn’t let this stop me from participating! While looking through his filmography, I discovered Basil had a role in the 1986 film, The Great Mouse Detective. Because I hadn’t seen this movie before and because I knew I’d likely be one of the few people to discuss an animated film, I selected The Great Mouse Detective as my submission! If you’ve visited my blog before, you’d see that mysteries have a consistent presence on the site. I have set aside time to talk about the films from Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Some episodes of Murder, She Wrote has been reviewed. I even participated in the Murder, She Wrote Cookalong! Despite the abundance of mystery related content on 18 Cinema Lane, The Great Mouse Detective is only the second animated mystery movie to be featured on my blog. However, at least this review will bring something new to the table!

The Great Mouse Detective poster created by Buena Vista Distribution, Silver Screen Partners II, Walt Disney Feature Animation, and Walt Disney Pictures. ©Disney•Pixar. All rights reserved. Image found at https://movies.disney.com/the-great-mouse-detective.

Things I liked about the film:

The animation: Animated films from Disney’s library usually contain quality visuals and art styles. The Great Mouse Detective continues this pattern of animation excellence! Throughout the film, the backgrounds were presented in softer frames with lighter colors, while close-up images were given sharper lines and brighter colors. One example is when Basil, Olivia, and Dr. David are exploring a toy store. The contrasts within the animation made it easier to focus on the characters and their involvement in the story. This art design reminded me of films such as The Aristocats, 101 Dalmatians, and Lady and the Tramp. Similar to what I said in my From Up on Poppy Hill review, all of the characters were expressive! Their facial expressions and body language were fluid when reacting to different scenarios. A perfect example is when Olivia and Dr. David meet Basil. The Great Mouse Detective’s claim to fame is how it was the first project from Disney to feature computer-generated animation. This creative choice is seen in the climax, when Basil and Ratigan fight in the Big Ben Tower. While it might not seem like a big deal now, this scene was ahead of its time in the mid to late ‘80s. The scene itself has aged well, while also containing gravitas and depth. It reminded me of the bells from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The use of shadows: The Great Mouse Detective has a primarily darker tone. To emphasize this aspect of the story, shadows were used in various scenes. Toward the beginning of the film, Hiram Flaversham, Olivia’s father, and Fidget, Ratigan’s henchman, are fighting at Hiram’s toy store. In this scene, shadows of the fight are projected over Olivia’s hiding place. Because Hiram and Fidget are not shown on screen, their shadows helped bring an element of suspense and mystery. The shadows also left me wondering what would happen next.

The humor: Despite the film’s darker tone, there were some light-hearted moments that prevented the movie from being too dark. Some of these moments even contained humor. One scene involved Basil ruining a group of pillows in an attempt to solve a mystery. What made this scene funny was the reaction of Basil’s maid over the mess. Another funny moment was when Ratigan called his cat “honey bunny”. What I like about these hilarious scenes is how well written they were. It also helps that there weren’t too many of them, as it would have made the overall picture seem too silly.

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What I didn’t like about the film:

The musical numbers: A large number of Disney’s animated films are musicals, with their musical numbers feeling like they belong in that production. Because musicals have become a staple in Disney’s animated filmography, it allows their audience to know what to expect. But The Great Mouse Detective was not a musical movie, especially compared to pictures like Oliver & Company or any of the Disney Renaissance films. The Great Mouse Detective also had a primarily darker tone, with some light-hearted moments. These aspects made the musical numbers seem out of place. The two most notable musical scenes were “Let Me Be Good to You” and “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind”, which had entertainment value. While “Let Me Be Good to You” had some reason for its existence, “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” was randomly placed in the film. It was a light-hearted and upbeat song that came right after a darker scene, featuring Basil explaining the wrong-doings of Professor Ratigan. “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” was a combination of “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast and “Mine, Mine, Mine” from Pocahontas. However, what makes “Gaston” and “Mine, Mine, Mine” work is how they fit within their respective productions.

The oversharing of the mystery: When I talked about The Mystery Cruise in my list of the Top 10 Worst Hallmark Movies of All Time, I shared how I didn’t like the film’s mystery being revealed after the mystery was introduced. The Great Mouse Detective makes a similar mistake with their mystery narrative. Within the first half of the movie, the details of Hiram Flaversham’s kidnapping are shown in a series of scenes that share a timeline with the events surrounding Basil. These scenes show the whodunit, howtheydunit, and whytheydunit of the mystery. Because these pieces of information are revealed early in the movie, the audience knows more than the characters in the story. This prevents them from solving or experiencing the mystery alongside the characters.

The subplot of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee: One of the subplots in The Great Mouse Detective revolved around the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This wasn’t a bad idea, but it was very under-utilized. In fact, I forgot this event was taking place within the story until the film’s climax arrived. Because the premise of this movie was basic and straight-forward, this subplot felt like it was there for the sake of being there. If the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee had been removed from the film, it wouldn’t make a huge difference.

The Suave Swordsman: Basil Rathbone Blogathon banner created by Pale Writer from Pale Writer. Image found at https://palewriter2.home.blog/2020/02/01/announcing-the-suave-swordsman-basil-rathbone-blogathon/.

My overall impression:

Two years ago, I reviewed Oliver & Company. In that review, I said the movie was the pioneer for what a Disney animated film could and should be at the time of its release. The Great Mouse Detective gave me a similar feeling. Within this film, there were elements that laid the foundation for animated Disney films that came after it. The climax at the Big Ben Tower is one example, with the scenes utilizing computers to bring them to life. Also, in my Oliver & Company review, I said the movie was fine and that there were animated Disney films that are stronger than it. The Great Mouse Detective made me feel this way as well. While watching this film, there were scenes that reminded me of scenes from other Disney projects that were executed better. Some scenes in The Great Mouse Detective felt rushed, making me wonder if Disney was trying to meet a deadline or wanted to take advantage of a busy box office year. Even with everything I just said, this film is worth bringing up in the conversation of animated films. It may get overshadowed, but I think it serves as an important part of animation history.

Overall score: 7 out of 10

Have you seen The Great Mouse Detective? What are some of your favorite mystery films? Tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

20 thoughts on “Take 3: The Great Mouse Detective Review

  1. Pingback: The Suave Swordsman has arrived! – Pale Writer

  2. Solid review for a very underrated movie. You made some really good points that I couldn’t really argue with. Except I would disagree that Ratigan’s song was irrelevant to the movie as I just viewed it as a really good introduction to this devious villain.
    Anyway, glad you liked it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading my review, Cameron! I don’t believe Ratigan’s song was irrelevant. The placement of the song felt out of place among the darker scenes that came before and after it. Had there been enough leeway between those scenes, the change in tone wouldn’t feel abrupt.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I always just felt the movie was dancing around this darker setting, but our likeable heroes kept the movie remaining light. Ratigan and Fidget make the movie feel like a lot more darker for a typical Disney movie because how they can sometimes come off as unexpectedly terrifying, which feels very evident in the movie’s climax. Like many great villains that will come after him The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind fits the character of Ratigan and presumably what Basil thinks of him. It also sets him up to be a more memorable bad guy. Also it’s sung by Vincent Price so that’s just a little extra treat.

        Sorry this turned into a little essay I’m currently marathoning all the Animated Disney movies and this movie is kind of special to me because it popped right in the middle of some really bad duds. It was also the movie that started the successful run of great Disney movies known as the Disney Renaissance and it’s from the directors of the Little Mermaid and Aladdin and many more big hits. Sorry for the rambling thanks to this series I think it made me a bit of an expert on these movies. Thanks for your time.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re welcome! I can definitely see how ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ got the ball rolling when it comes to the Disney Renaissance. Now that you mention the directors’ other credits, I can also see how this movie influenced their future work.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Paddy Lee

    Eve Titus’ series of books about Basil of Baker Street is a wonderful way to introduce children to Sherlock Holmes. I gave them to my niece a few years ago and she was delighted.

    It is a very nice touch that Disney used a recording of arguably the most famous and popular Holmes portrayer, our Basil, as the voice of the human Holmes in The Great Mouse Detective. However brief, it is a touch long remembered by fans.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for checking out my review, Paddy! After reading your comment, I just realized Basil and this film’s protagonist share the same name. Looking back on it, it seems like ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ was a love letter to Basil Rathbone.

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  4. This is one of my favorite Disney films, mostly because I loved Sherlock Holmes. I grew up watching it. (Ironically, my parents bought this for my brother and bought me Aladdin around the same time — as it turns out, I liked this one more and my brother preferred Aladdin!) I agree that the songs seem a little out of place, but you can’t remove the Diamond Jubilee subplot since that’s the reason Rattigan stole the little girl’s father in the first place! 😉

    They took a brief clip of Basil Rathbone from his radio dramas as Sherlock Holmes, and used it in the background when Basil and Dorson go to borrow Tobey, the dog. (“There’s a great deal of German music on the program. It is introspective, and I want to introspect it!”) It’s always fun to listen for it, even though I believe he’s uncredited.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your story and reading my review! It is interesting which films people gravitate towards, especially at a young age. About the Diamond Jubilee subplot, I recognize its importance in this movie. However, its presence wasn’t consistent compared to the film’s other subplots.

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  5. Not a bad review. This is one of my favorite Disney movies; I grew up with it and adore the characters, the setting, the plot, that climax! As for some of the animation not being entirely consistent or looking rushed, there’s a bit of a story behind that. This was the next animated feature to be released behind The Black Cauldron, an expensive animated feature that was a huge flop. As a result, the studio didn’t have much faith in animated features, so the budget was slashed, the staff heavily downsized and relocated to what amounted to a trailer park on the lot. The documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty has a lot of great information and stories about this, I highly recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds so cute! I love that the mouse detective is called Basil and that it’s a homage to his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. I really liked how you took the time to really get into the details of the movie, which a lot of people wouldn’t bother to do with an animated film. Thanks so much for participating in the Blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome and thanks for allowing me to participate in your blogathon! With every movie review, I try to be as persuasive as possible. I also try to explain my points with clarity and depth. As I said to Paddy Lee, ‘The Great Mouse Detective’ seems like a love letter to Basil Rathbone.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I feel like they were trying to make this more of a suspense story by showing us how and why things were done, rather than a straight mystery, it just didn’t quite work. Maybe because we tend to expect detective stories to be mysteries, not suspenses?

    I do like the animation of this one. I agree, though, that the musical numbers feel out of place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading my review, Rachel! I can see what you mean about the story adopting more suspense. Looking back on it, the mystery aspect was on the weaker side in this movie. However, there have been other Disney projects that contain mysteries, such as ‘Candleshoe’ and ‘The Moon-Spinners’.

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  8. Interesting review. I haven’t seen this movie in years. I do remember the animation being decent despite some aged CGI in some parts. It is pretty crazy to know that “Ratigan” also did the outro to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” song. Haha. Not going to lie, that “Let Me Be Good to You” song is quite awkward especially with the visuals and skeeved me out for reasons I won’t embellish too much (How was this rated G?). I haven’t read the books the movie is based on, but I heard some good things about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading my review, Ospreyshire! I agree that “Let Me Be Good to You” seems like an odd choice for Disney. While they have created projects that appealed to an older crowd, their animated features are usually family-friendly. Then again, Disney did make some very interesting choices in the ’80s…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Take 3: The Great Mouse Detective Review — 18 Cinema Lane | Crime/Mystery Film & Writing Festival

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