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