The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

The Great Mouse Detective

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AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: The Great Mouse Detective may not rank with Disney's classics, but it's an amiable, entertaining picture with some stylishly dark visuals.


Movie Info

Disney adventure cartoon in which a super-sleuth mouse is pitted against the brilliant Professor Ratigan, who is planning an evil scheme against mousedom.

Rating: G
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation, Kids & Family
Directed By: , , ,
Written By: Bruce M. Morris, Vance Gerry, Melvin Shaw, Pete Young, Matthew O'Callaghan
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jul 23, 2002
Runtime:

Cast


as Fidget

as Mrs. Judson

as Mouse Queen

as Flaversham

as Professor Rattigan

as Flaversham

as Dawson

as Thug Guard

as Watson

as Lady Mouse

as Sherlock Holmes, Voi...

as Citizen/Thug Guard

as Thug Guard

as Thug Guard
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for The Great Mouse Detective

All Critics (16) | Top Critics (3)

As usual with film noir, however, it is the villain who steals the heart and one is rooting for in the breathtaking showdown high up in the cogs and ratchets of Big Ben.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Small children may be afraid of some of the bad characters -- the Disney Studio's gift for creating really nasty bad guys means that they are scary -- but they will love the cute, brave mice and cheer their triumphs. Adults will enjoy the wit and style.

Full Review… | August 30, 2004
New York Times
Top Critic

It's a lot of fun.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Clever Sherlock Holmes tribute mixes wit, peril.

Full Review… | December 31, 2010
Common Sense Media

If the film fails to click on all the emotional levels that Disney might have wanted, at least it's a brightly-paced bit of comedy and fun.

Full Review… | November 23, 2009
Antagony & Ecstasy

This is high-quality animation. The engaging characters play out the action against elegantly designed backgrounds.

Full Review… | November 16, 2009
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Audience Reviews for The Great Mouse Detective

There are some thrilling and memorable moments (the climax) and songs ("Let Me Be Good to You" and Vince Prince's delightful "Goodbye So Soon"), but it is an ultimately forgettable, unfortunately average Disney film. It is admittedly sad, however, that the charming moments the film does have to offer go unnoticed by Disney fans due to the film's lack of colorful--or even sympathetic--characters. In the end, while clever, the characters are actually quite one-dimensional, leaving the film a little empty. Henry Mancini's score for the film, however, is brilliant and underrated.

Matthew Samuel Mirliani
Matthew Samuel Mirliani

Super Reviewer

Considering the large number of Disney films I have reviewed, it would be easy to call me jaded when I go after certain offerings from their much-loved back catalogue. In other words, my heightened familiarity with Disney tropes, character conventions and storylines leads me to dismiss as disappointing works which are in all reality perfectly passable. In this case, however, my disappointment is entirely justified, since The Great Mouse Detective is neither more nor less than solidly mediocre.

The 1980s is an odd period in Disney's history - a brief and confusing interregnum between the conservative malaise of the 1970s and the bright, glossy renaissance of the 1990s. The animated films produced by Disney in this time vary wildly in quality and exhibit characteristics of their surrounding decades, with The Fox and the Hound being very much of the Wolfgang Reitherman era and The Little Mermaid (rightly or wrongly) epitomising the renaissance.

The three films in between see Disney attempting to return to or re-approach old-fashioned stories, whether fairy tales or classics of English literature. The films are united by the fact that none of them entirely work, but the reasons behind their failings are all different. The Black Cauldron was enjoyable and adventurous in its flaws, being a spirited return to fairy tales and folklore that was let down by poor characterisation and rows behind the scenes. Oliver & Company failed because it was lazy in its adaptation and worked against Disney's strengths with the modern setting and visual style. The Great Mouse Detective fails because it never surprises us; it is the kind of film that Disney could have made in his sleep, and promptly thrown away when he woke up.

This is all the more puzzling when we consider the wealth of material that the animators had at their disposal. Not only were Eve Titus' novels quite popular, but they drew on the stories and reputation of one of the most famous and much-loved fictional characters in history. There are any number of aspects to Sherlock Holmes which are appealing: the Victorian period detail and nostalgia, the thrilling adventures, the emphasis on mental ability over physical strength, and arguably one of the greatest villains in the English language.

Sherlock Holmes also has genuine international appeal - something that would have reassured Disney bosses, who were sceptical over the viability of their animation department. His appeal extends to appearances in Allied propaganda during World War II, where he and Watson faced off against the Nazis in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, based very loosely on 'The Dancing Men'. Basil Rathbone even makes an appearance, with recordings of him from the 1960s being played over silhouettes of Holmes and Watson.

In this rich context, the greatest crime of The Great Mouse Detective is that it is completely forgettable. It's not a bad film by any means: it just leaves very little impression because none of its creative decisions stick in our minds. The story meanders along, meeting our expectations, and all the plot points happen in the order that we expect. The characters are all standard, ticking all the boxes for their archetypes but not being distinctive on top of that. And the action scenes are paint-by-numbers and feel more than a little threadbare.

Had Disney attempted to directly adapt or restage one of the classic stories, the film might have worked a lot better. Notwithstanding the quality of the source material, the film is at its strongest when it directly references or replicates events from the stories. The climactic fight between Basil and Rattigan on the hands of Big Ben is a very good set-piece, which takes the dynamic and outcome of the fight in 'The Final Problem' and puts its own spin in it - even if its pay-off is a whole lot sillier.

The film is also successful in making us believe in a mouse world or society running parallel to ours. With The Rescuers, not enough effort was expended to show how the mouse society worked or resembled our own: the rules were either never laid out or constantly changed, making it difficult to suspend our disbelief. In The Great Mouse Detective there is a lot more effort, with all the direct parallels making sense, and all the adaptation of human technology for new purposes being explained in sufficient detail for us to invest in the story surrounding them.

When it comes to the characters, however, it is a case of not enough effort rather than too much. The film's invocation of the Rathbone era is nice, except that it continues the error of those films by making the Dr. Watson character a bumbling fool. Playing Dawson constantly for laughs actually cheapens the film; rather than feeling or being funny, it feels like it would do anything for a laugh. Basil has just enough of Holmes' antisocial traits without being unlikeable, but even he has his moments where he becomes annoyingly earnest.

Then we come to the villain, who is much more Oliver & Company than The Black Cauldron. Rattigan is an interesting concept, having a large amount of anger caused by pent-up self-denial. And you would expect Vincent Price to give a knock-out performance, considering his record with Hammer in particular. But while his motivation makes a lot more sense than Sykes', he's ultimately too much of a caricature to take seriously. None of the villains in Sherlock Holmes would be constantly aware of their evil nature; it goes against the basis of these stories in logic and deduction, in which the villains always act as though they are in the right.

The actual plot of The Great Mouse Detective is not particularly memorable. The script makes no effort to emphasise the various clues or McGuffins, preferring to just toddle along to the next location or stop for the next joke. At times it can feel like a collection of set-pieces, with the bar scene feeling like a Pink Panther cartoon in its emphasis on physical humour and more suggestive content. While Rattigan's plan is a compelling one, its execution is completely silly; we don't believe for a second that Flaversham's invention could pass for the real Queen.

The film is found wanting even if we just look to enjoy it as a series of set-pieces. In each case the set-up is promising but the result is underwhelming. Rattigan's elaborate method of killing Basil and Dawson is quite funny, particularly the line where he gleefully explains the manner of their impending doom. But when Basil begins to enact his escape, the script briefly gives way to nonsensical jargon so that the actual escape feels lucky rather than something that they earned.

The animation in The Great Mouse Detective is something of a mixed bag. It's a lot more fluid than the films surrounding it, with more CG layering in the backgrounds and what CGI there is being well-integrated. The Little Mermaid was commissioned partly on the basis of these technologies being successfully trialled, and for some people that would justify this film on its own. But there are still rough edges and blatant re-use of animation, including a totally out-of-context appearance by Bill the Lizard from Alice in Wonderland.

The Great Mouse Detective is a solidly mediocre effort from Disney which meets our lowest expectations and barely rises above them. It's not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination - certainly there's nothing here that one could object to, as one would object to The Little Mermaid. But the film suffers from a lack of real ambition which fatally affects both its characters and its plot. The Black Cauldron may not be perfect, but it is more memorably interesting.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Basil: Ratigan, no one can have a higher opinion of you than I have, and I think you're a slimy, contemptible sewer rat!

"Can he bring the dirty rat to justice?"

The Great Mouse Detective is fun from start to finish for me as an adult. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to watch this during my childhood, but I can guarantee it will be a staple of my children's childhood. The movie is perfectly paced and a perfect length to keep the kids attention throughout. Also, the film doesn't have so many songs that it kills the overall flow of the story. That's something I really appreciate from a children's animated movie. So many of these movies throw song after song at the audience and to me, that just ruins the pace of the film. In this one, there are only a few songs throughout, and the ones that are in it are actually quite good.

The Great Mouse Detective follows a story of a Sherlock Holmes like mouse named Basil, his new assistant Dr. Watson, and a little girl. The little girl's toy making father was kidnapped by the always elusive and highly sinister rat, Ratigan. Basil has been after Ratigan for a long time, so he jumps at the chance to solve the case. Ratigan's motive for kidnapping a toy maker involves his overall plan to overthrow the queen and take complete power.

There's a lot of stuff to like about this one. It has a great, London late 1800's atmosphere to it. The voice cast does a phenomenal job. The animation looks great and the set pieces are extremely well done. There really isn't anything to complain about. This is definitely a new favorite of mine when it comes to Disney films, and it's just a shame that it isn't more well known.

blkbomb
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

The Great Mouse Detective Quotes

– Submitted by Maggie L (2 years ago)
– Submitted by Braden W (3 years ago)
– Submitted by Braden W (3 years ago)
– Submitted by Emil (3 years ago)

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