The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
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.
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as Mrs. Judson
as Mouse Queen
as Professor Rattigan
as Thug Guard
as Lady Mouse
as Sherlock Holmes, Voi...
as Bar Maid
as Citizen/Thug Guard
as Thug Guard
as Thug Guard
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Critic Reviews for The Great Mouse Detective
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.
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.
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.
This is high-quality animation. The engaging characters play out the action against elegantly designed backgrounds.
Audience Reviews for The Great Mouse Detective
Ranks among the barely passable (most) Disney animated movies of the '70s and '80s, as nothing in it feels really sufficient - not the amount of Vincent Price (whose character appears very little), nor the amount of songs (though the few ones are nice), nor the level of fun.
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.
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.
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