It ain’t easy being a rat in 1897.
You can’t blame Professor Ratigan for wanting to hide who he is. The society in which he lives is predominately dominated by mice and is somewhat tolerant of other creatures such as lizards, octopi, and frogs. Rats, however, are another story. Despite resembling mice, rats are reprehensible. It’s embarrassing to be a rat and if you are one, you better hide it.
I’m not sure what the former rats denizens did to receive this sort of prejudicial treatment, but nonetheless, that’s the environment in which Ratigan grew. We see no other rats in The Great Mouse Detective, leading one to believe that they were either completely eradicated, are in hiding, or that they fled London because of persecution. Ratigan, for some reason or another, decided to stay to prove that he was worthy enough to belong. That’s ego for ya.
But, facts are facts and Ratigan is just as his name describes: a rat. But don’t call him one or he’ll lash out and feed you to his fluffy and poised, yet simultaneously terrorizing beast of a cat, Felicia. Ratigan wants to belong and, in the process, wants to rule and have power. In his delusion, he has convinced himself that his is not a rat. He’s just a really big mouse. Right.
To play the murine part and to distance himself from dirty sewer rats, Ratigan has gone to great lengths to put on an air of sophistication akin to the high society of the time. His lair is opulently decorated, filled with champagne, jewels, mirrors, and suspiciously pink curtains. He is a professor (of what, I’m keen to know), plays the harp (I’m also interesting in knowing the story behind that), wears tuxedos and top hats and smokes cigarettes from slimline cigarette holders. He even wears crisp white opera gloves to hide his sharp claws, further masking who he really is. Yet for some reason, he never bothers to conceal his thick, ribbed rattail. Maybe he thinks his overcompensation of everything else will fool others, but no one is ever fooled.
Despite having nearly everything going right for him, Ratigan’s inability to accept himself is his biggest downfall. He is a genius professor with a love of theatrics, who managed to build up a fawning, loyal following of henchman to help him steal the British crown. Just hearing his name brings audible gasp and fear. His earlier crimes consist of things such as “the Big Ben Caper” and “the Tower Bridge Job”, resulting in him being dubbed “the world’s greatest criminal mind.” And being a rat naturally makes him hulking and strong–a real threat to any mice who stand in his way. As a result of all these traits, he is always one step ahead of Basil.
Ratigan gets visibly angry and worked up, but is usually pretty composed; however, every once in a while, we see the real Ratigan poke through the cracks, usually whenever he is accused of being that which he loathes. But it’s nothing too serious, just some disheveled hair and a raised voice. Nothing that would truly blow his “cover” that he’s worked so hard to build. Until finally, in a moment of rage, he tears off his clothing, shreds his gloves with his retractable claws and ferociously tries to kill Basil, in the process forever eradicating any pretense of being a mouse. In the end, he unceremoniously falls to his death, like many other Disney villains before and after him.
In the end, Ratigan’s struggle was futile. The thing he wanted to change the most, was something he couldn’t do. Perhaps if he had gone down a different path and made a difference in the world, then society would have accepted him and his kind. He could have had both high society, acceptance and even maybe a little bit of power. But, with an ego and unquenchable thirst for power like that, Rattigan was never destined to be the savior of the rats. If it weren’t for the for that furshlugginer rattail of his….