Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Disney Discussion - The Great Mouse Detective

Over the course of the year, we'll be spending our Wednesdays with Walt, having a discussion about each of Disney's animated films...

Movie 26 of The Disney Discussion
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
Featuring the voice talents of Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Susanne Pollatschek, and Alan Young
Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements, Dave Michener, and Burny Mattinson

Summary (in 150 words or less):
London 1897.  Hiram Flaversham, a toymaker (and also a mouse), is mousenapped one evening as his young daughter Olivia hides from her father's captor.  Seeking help, Olivia stumbles upon David Dawson who, after hearing her story, takes her to the residence of the renowned Basil of Baker Street -- the mouse equivalent of Sherlock Holmes.  Basil, along with Dawson and Olivia, begin searching for Hiram only to discover that he's been taken by the nefarious Ratigan who has a plan to overtake the Queen Mouse (ie. mouse equivalent of the Queen Mum) and rule over England's mouse population with the help of a toy Queen built by the toymaker.

Facts and Figures
The Great Mouse Detective is the Walt Disney Company's twenty-sixth full-length animated feature film and was released on July 2, 1986.

Although certainly put into production before the failure of The Black Cauldron, that film's huge budget caused The Great Mouse Detective to find its initial $24 million budget slashed by almost half to $14 million.  Because of this, the film ended up being profitable for Disney although not hugely so as it managed to make $25 million at the box office upon its initial release.

However, Disney was trepidatious after The Black Cauldron that animation was passé and the moderate success of The Great Mouse Detective paved the way for the company's animation renaissance a few years down the line.

Let the Discussion Begin...
I must say that I'm a little bit surprised by my reaction to The Great Mouse Detective.  I was expecting to thoroughly enjoy this one, but I found it disappointingly boring for my taste.  Something about it didn't quite click for me upon this watch and it took me a couple sittings to make it through the short 72-minute film.  The caveat to this aforementioned complaint, however, is that I can't quite pinpoint what I didn't enjoy.  There's nothing egregiously bad about the film, yet there also isn't anything that I can write about with much passion (in either a positive or negative way).  The film sort of just "exists" for me and sometimes that's the worst type of thing for a film to do.
Animation-wise, the film is a solid piece of work in terms of character design.  Despite all being mice, each character has his or her own distinct look and the directors also did a nice job in differentiating the voices of the main cast so that personalities are reflected through the vocals as well.  Admittedly, however, the film fails at really feeling overly theatrical with the exception of the climactic chase scene amongst the working cogs and gears of Big Ben (which utilizes computer animation for the second time in a Disney feature).  While everything is animated with a deft hand (unlike some of that disappointing work we saw in the '70s with The Aristocats as an example), there aren't any particular shining moments.  Considering the backdrop of London that is at this film's disposal, it's a little disappointing.
We seemingly just scratch the surface of the characters as well.  Had the film been a bigger success (and were Disney in the market for producing sequels), The Great Mouse Detective would have been the perfect film to launch a series of pictures and go a bit more in depth with the characters of Basil and Dawson.  Obviously, the overall piece an homage to Sherlock Holmes whom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had solve many a case and presumably with each new mystery the audience grew to know more about Holmes and Watson.  In this film, we get very little background and very little information as to why Basil and Dawson would've formed any type of relationship.  Sure, they're thrown into a mystery, but I never really felt their connection to one another which, in turn, made me not connect much with the characters.
Surprisingly, I expected Vincent Price's voice work as the evil Ratigan to be...well...more evil.  Instead -- and obviously this is my mind playing tricks on me from my youth -- he's more of a hammy villain than I remembered.  Granted, many Disney villains have a comedic aspect to them, but there's often still this overarching sense of dread.  That never really comes to fruition with Ratigan.  Price, whose voice is oftentimes so deliciously terrifying, doesn't ever come close to that here.  While he has moments of maliciousness, it never really amounts to much.
Perhaps part of that reason is because the first time we encounter Ratigan, he and his lackies sing a song about his maniacal nature.  "The World's Greatest Criminal Mind" is a catchy tune (and actually contains the moment that I think Ratigan is at his most ruthless), but it's played for laughs and it immediately sets up a contradictory notion for the audience.  Is this guy played for jokes or played for scares?  I don't think the film quite knows what to do with him and that's a disappointment.

In addition to "The World's Greatest Criminal Mind," two other songs are found in the film, but neither resonate much or do anything to advance the plot.  The Black Cauldron succeeded in part because it didn't contain superfluous songs -- The Great Mouse Detective would've been wise to nix its tunes as well.

Random Thoughts
...while watching the film...
  • The nastiness of Ratigan is shown early on when Bartholomew, one of Ratigan's men, calls him a "rat" as opposed to a "mouse" and the evil genius rings a tiny bell that summons his cat Felicia who promptly eats Bartholomew.  It's rather ingeniously set up in shadows and surprisingly packs an evil punch -- the only truly evil punch in the film.
  • Cigarettes and booze in Disney animated movies...aah...the good old days of less than thirty years ago!  Throw in sultry cancan dancers and you've got stuff you'd never see in Disney movies now!
  • The voice of Flaversham sounded so familiar -- Alan Young was also the voice of Scrooge McDuck!  It was nice to hear him in a feature-length motion picture!
Final Analysis
(Does It Belong in the Revered Disney Pantheon and How Does It Stack Up to Past Films?)
Although I didn't remember it all that well, I did have fond memories of The Great Mouse Detective, but they unfortunately did not prove warranted upon this viewing.  The film just fails to garner any excitement for any aspect of its production.  When everything is just average, your film can't really overcome that.  Because of this notion, The Great Mouse Detective will not be joining the fellow members of the revered Disney Pantheon.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Join us in two weeks  for Oliver and Company, the 27th film in The Disney Discussion.

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