The Great Mouse Detective is Disney’s 1986 animated film that was rushed in and out of production in only 18 months and a measly $12 million budget. Despite this and the corners that were obviously cut, the quality and entertainment value of the film is rather high. High praise goes to the film’s directors Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, David Michener and and John Musker for their admirable efforts in turning a potential lemon into lemonade.
The Film: ★★★★
The film is a Sherlock Holmes-esque story that follows the genius mouse detective Basil as he helps the young Olivia Flaversham, whose toymaker father was kidnapped by the evil master mastermind Professor Ratigan.
What makes this movie work is the rivalry and juxtaposition of the story’s two geniuses, Basil and Ratigan. Basil is a scientific genius with poor social skills who you’re rooting despite his string of failures. While Ratigan, on the other hand, is sinister, evil and yet surprisingly refined.
The story is fast-paced filled with chases, bar fights and lots of mystery and suspense. It really is a great little mystery film. The final scene, a frightening faceoff that occurs inside the gears of London’s Big Ben, is impressive both from a story and animation standpoint. Disney successfully created drama and suspense during the final moments of the film, all while awing you with the sheer splendor of the CGI animation.
The Great Mouse Detective really marks the beginning of the Disney Renaissance. It gave many young junior animators the chance to show off their chops and allowed the studio to dabble in the up-and-coming computer animation technology. The success of the film proved to the new Disney regime of Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg that there was still a future in Disney animation and money that could be made. Good thing too; this film paved the way for bigger and better films like The Little Mermaid and The Beauty & the Beast.
Having only watching this film on VHS over the past 20 years, I felt the HD conversion was too bright and perfect. I remember this film being grainy with a muted color palette—and I actually liked it for being that way. However I must admit, any film on Blu-Ray is a great improvement because it allows the viewer to see the film the way the directors envisioned it.
The Bonus Features: ★ 1/2
Disney clearly didn’t put any effort into the release of The Great Mouse Detective The Mystery in the Mist Edition: all the features come from past DVD releases (which also are suspiciously known as The Mystery in the Mist Editions). As a result, the video qualities on these bonus features are very poor, doing the Blu-Ray capability no justice.
“The Making of The Great Mouse Detective” mushes together old interviews with the creators, actors and animators to show. The featurette is short and briefly and erratically touches on the story, music and animation technology. As an animation fan, I found this featurette very disappointing because it was so surface level: it glossed over the details by moving quickly from unrelated pint to another. I didn’t learn much about the actual “making of” the film. Also, I found the points that it did focus on to be odd and irrelevant, such as the lengthy discussion with Melissa Manchester, who had a minor role singing as a bar mouse. You choose to focus on her while completely ignoring the directors such as Musker and Clements? Come on!
“So You Think You Can Sleuth?” is a quirky little short that tells the history of sleuthing and private detectives, peppered with real photos and montages from old Disney cartoons. It also has the viewers solve a mystery of “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?” Personally, the featurette is disjointed and left me scratching my head. The last feature is a sing-along song to “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind”, which obviously is the only memorable song in the film (it’s a great villain song!).
If you don’t have this film in your collection, I suggest picking it up right away. But don’t buy the film for its bonus features: you’ll be incredibly disappointed, so perhaps you shouldn’t even watch those at all.
Despite its low budget and production pressure, The Great Mouse Detective is a return to what made Walt Disney animation great: risk taking in both story, animation and technology. It proves that you don’t need fancy animation of big budgets to make a great movie, all you need is a great story with memorable characters.
The Great Mouse Detective Mystery in the Mist Blu-Ray hits stores October 9, 2012. Buy it on Amazon here!
Rent/Skip/Buy It: Buy It.