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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Disney's The Great Mouse Detective

I honestly hadn't seen this movie probably since I was a young child. I got the chance to finally watch it again last week and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I'm not the biggest fan of Sherlock Holmes but the mouse version of his antics is a fun watch. Basil is a brilliant if not eccentric detective that seems to be a might skiddish around children. Along with his new found friend Dr. Dawson, they set out to stop the evil but entertaining villain Ratigan. There's action, suspense, comedy, and true heart to this film. You may even find yourself rooting for the bad guy because he's so devilishly cool. All I know is that this is one that I will be owning in the near future.

One of the first things I noticed about the movie was the difference in animation from The Black Cauldron. While the animators were still trying to get out of that older, choppier look for The Black Cauldron, they appear to have shed off all old animation and replaced it with a smoother look. How did they do it? Elementary my dear Watson....er....Dawson. Computers did a lot of the work. The layouts were done on computers, and the use of video cameras made a digital version of pencil testing possible. With computers helping the animators, the production for the movie only took one year. That's a stark difference to The Black Cauldron. While The Black Cauldron may have been the first Disney movie to use CGI in any form, The Great Mouse Detective took it to the next level. The whole chase scene in the interior of Big Ben was CGI, the background that is. You can really tell when you see the scene. All in all the whole movie looks great.

Probably the only well known voice in the cast is the master of horror, Vincent Price. Remember how I said that who is cast as the voice ultimately decides on who the character really is? Well this was definable the case for the role of Ratigan. At first he was to be a thin and weak rat, but when Vincent Price signed on, they changed the character accordingly. Ratigan was changed into a robust and strong villain, more than able to pick a fight with Basil. Voicing Ratigan was a lifelong dream of Price's. Not specifically voicing Ratigan, but voicing a Disney character. Everybody's bucket list is different! Voicing Ratigan ended up being Price's favorite role, and you can tell that he had fun doing it. British actors Barrie Ingham and Val Bettin voiced Basil and Dawson, respectively. While you may not recognize Bettin's name, you may recognize his voice as the same as the Sultan of Agrabah in Aladdin. Alan Young who voices Hiram Flaversham also voiced Scrooge McDuck. I was inexplicably excited to find this out when I started watching the movie. I literally burst out saying, "SCROOGE!" Sorry, I loved Ducktales when I was a kid and still do.

The Great Mouse Detective is a movie based on a book series based on a series of books and movies. The movie is specifically lifted from Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus, with all the same characters and only a few differences in characters. Titus meant for the books to be a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes, naming the character Basil after the alias that Sherlock Holmes donned in several of the Sherlock Holmes books like The Adventures of Black Peter. The only difference between the book and movie version of Basil is his ability to play the violin. In the book series, Basil cannot play the violin like Sherlock Holmes, who lives above him in 221B Baker Street, but plays the flute instead. Dawson functions as Basil's personal biographer, though that isn't really touched on in the movie. Dawson is of course a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes' companion, Watson. Professor Padraic Ratigan, who is based on Sherlock Holmes archenemy Professor James Moriarty, is actually a mouse in the book series. They decided it would be interesting to have Ratigan as an actual rat and have him freak out at someone every time they referred to him as a rat. He was just a very large rat-like mouse!

Disney did a good job of making the characters true to their tributes. Basil and Dawson are both based off of the real life actors who portrayed Sherlock Holmes and Watson in several movies, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, respectively. Not only do they look like mice version of their tributes (especially Dawson), but they sound and act a lot like them too. If you love watching Sherlock Holmes movies, then you'll definitely enjoy this movie. The animators attempted to make Ratigan even more like the person who voiced him by giving him poses that were based off of Vincent Price's exaggerated Shakespearean gestures. One voice credit that I failed to mention before was the voice of Basil Rathbone, who voices Sherlock Holmes in the film. If you checked Rathbone out on wikipedia though you may notice that he died in 1967, almost twenty years before this movie came out. So what gives? Disney took a sound clip from Rathbone reading the Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League," spoken in 1966, just months before his death. Most attribute the voice clip from being from one Rathbone's movies, but you can really tell the difference in the voice, being as he is awfully old in 66'. Since they didn't get the clip from one of the old Sherlock Holmes movies, they couldn't rightfully splice Nigel Bruce's voice in there. Therefore, Laurie Main provides the voice of Watson in the film. Having Sherlock Holmes' voice in the movie is a great treat and sure to excite fans of the older films. Something that I found entertaining was the personification of the Sherlock Holmes story into a mini version. Basil actually lives underneath Sherlock Holmes' house. Queen Mousetoria lives in Buckingham Palace with Queen Victoria, which gives away that this all is supposed to take place in Victorian era London. Queen Mousetoria's Diamond Jubilee even coincides with the real Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. This movie is just fun. It's like the Rescue Aid Society underneath the United Nations building in The Rescuers. One last note before I go into how the movie did critically. Like a few movies before it, this features a cameo from an earlier Disney movie. If you look at Ratigan's gang you notice that one of the members is not a mouse, but a lizard. It just so happens to be Bill the Lizard from Alice in Wonderland! This is another one of those things that jumped out at me when I watched the movie. There is another small cameo while they are in the toy shop: if you pay attention you can see Dumbo as one of the many toys in the shop.

If you don't love The Great Mouse Detective for it's story, then love it for something else. It literally saved Disney Studios. The higher ups were basically convinced that they should stop making animated films after the huge financial disaster that was The Black Cauldron happened. When the The Great Mouse Detective came out in June of 1986, it was a hit with critics and with audiences. It was more light-hearted then Disney's last film and it's characters were much more likable. With a budget of $14 million, the movie ended up raking in $25 million. With this critical and financial success, though modest, it convinced the higher ups that Disney Studios was still capable of making money and churning out good films. Without this movie doing well, we may of not had the Disney Renaissance.

Everybody has their favorite scene from this movie, whether it be the escape from the sinister trap they are put in at the end of the movie, or the climactic and visually stunning fight in Big Ben. One scene that has particularly stuck with me is when Ratigan, who has been in denial about being a rat the whole movie and tries to be this suave and sophisticated man...er mouse of the town, embraces that he is a rat and tears his nice clothes, pursuing Basil inside Big Ben with the look of sheer madness. Really, the scene is terrifying. If you clicked the hyperlink above you see part of the scene. With this film, Disney appeared to be on the right track, but could they keep it up?

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