The Great Mouse Detective is as unconventional Disney as they get. This film is dark, mice are murdered, and, instead of a cheerful romance with princesses falling in love, we get a mystery set in the dark, foggy sewers of London. And yet, in spite of this odd deviation from the Disney formula (deviation? They practically bludgeon the original formula! There's hardly a resemblance!), The Great Mouse Detective is an enjoyable little romp. It doesn't quite reach the level of many of their other works, but it's still worth a peek.
Directed by Disney regulars John Musker and Ron Clements, The Great Mouse Detective is an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes books, but starring rats. But it's not like Robin Hood where the animals are named like their human counterparts; in this film, Sherlock Holmes and Watson are simply neighbors of our heroes, never even mentioned. In a way, this is just a mystery story, with uncanny similarities to Sherlock Holmes's famous stories.
But I digress.
In the Great Mouse Detective, Olivia Flaversham has just had her dad kidnapped and, naturally, she's a little troubled by it. So, she goes to Basil of Baker Street -- Sherlock Holmes's rodent counterpart -- to ask him to solve it. On her way to Basil, she meets Dawson -- Watson's rodent counterpart -- and together they find the kooky, quirky Basil. After much waiting, Olivia finally tells Basil what's happened, and to our immense surprise, the kidnap links to Basil's greatest rival; the ingenious, the malevolent, the horrible, the peerless...Professor Ratigan!
Ratigan, being the incredible genius that he is, has concocted the most brilliant plan: to have a mechanical queen tell the world what a genius he is. Hmm. For something devised by a "genius", this plot is pretty stupid. Dare I say it, it's even laughable.
Yeah, his plan is pretty awful, but, nevertheless, you'll survive. The film's main focus isn't on his diabolical plot, but rather on the play between Basil and Ratigan.
And that's the smartest move the film makes, because these two characters (not really the others, just these two) are pretty entertaining. Basil is, like Holmes is in the book, kind of cold and unsentimental, yet still very likable. What I like most about this character though is how smart he is. It's just fun to see Basil figure out all these things, and be so clever. The deductions are fun as ever, and it's nice to see him at work. And even though him being clever is sometimes used as a convenient way out of something, you don't really mind. Because it's just fun seeing a character so smart, yet still fairly three dimensional.
Ratigan is also a pretty good villain; he's gleeful and evil and mean and fairly entertaining. And even though he's usually happy, this guy is really dark. He's got some scary moments (the bell!) and you really do believe that he's smart and can pose a threat for our heroes. And the filmmakers make sure to really develop that.
And in these scenes where Ratigan is showing his really awful side,not only is it pretty scary, the filmmakers strike up an awesome tone. There are some scenes in here -- the "goodbye so soon" and looking through the toy store scenes come to mind -- that, for a moment or two, have such a great tone, and a tone unlike anything I've ever seen in a Disney film before. It's never kept up for very long, but it's still worth noting that there are some moments in this film that are really well done and un-Disneylike. Props to the directors.
These directors are Ron Clements, John Musker and Burny Mattison, and, except for Burny Mattison who I hadn't heard of before seeing this film, they continue to impress me with their good directing (Hercules? Let's just forget about Hercules). In The Great Mouse Detective, their directing is typically strong, with some nice camerawork and, as previously mentioned, a pretty cool mood (sometimes).
The mood is helped greatly by the score, composed by the famous Henry Mancini. The score is great, frequently upbeat, but also with a slightly dark edge sometimes. The songs, which he composed, are good and catchy enough, but they're not great. The best song is Goodbye So Soon, which is actually a pretty fun song.
On the whole, The Great Mouse Detective is a good time. It's a completely average Disney film (in terms of quality, not formula), and should provide an entertaining 75 minutes. Though I doubt I'll ever respect it as much as Beauty and the Beast or even Aladdin (after all, this film does have Fidget the bat), I'm sure I'll re-watch it several times in the future, entertaining myself with the fun hero and villain, and excellent score by Henry Mancini.