The time before The Little Mermaid and after The Black Cauldron is interesting because it seems like the majority people forget about the films that occurred then. Which is a shame because both of the films released just before The Little Mermaid proved to be very entertaining, solid outings for Disney. In 1986, the world was treated to The Great Mouse Detective. In same vein of The Rescuers, The Great Mouse Detective is a mystery that must be solved by some extraordinary mice.
The caper: sweet little girl and daughter of talented toymaker, Olivia Flaversham’s father is abducted the night of her birthday and she has no idea why. The suspect: London’s most notorious, brilliant, and ever so elusive criminal mastermind, Professor Ratigan. On the case is London’s premiere eccentric detective with affinity for violin playing, pipe smoking, deerstalker hats, and hangs out with a doctor. What? No, not that Holmes guy. Basil of Baker Street, of course.
That isn’t to say that Basil doesn’t live in his own world. Some of the film’s best moments come from when Basil is simply thinking. His first appearance in disguise when he’s comparing the two bullets and when he talks to himself about how to use the trap to free him, Dawson, and Olivia are both examples of what makes Basil so charming. Even during the scene when Dawson feels responsible for Olivia’s capture, Basil catches himself before he places the full blame on the good doctor.
Olivia and her father were both very sympathetic characters. Hearing Olivia’s echoing “Daddy!” at the end of the film’s opening scene (one that I admit I couldn’t watch as a kid because I thought it was too scary) definitely tugs at the heartstrings and causes the audience to form an attachment to Olivia and her plight. Some of the funniest scenes were the ones where Toby would not listen to Basil but to Olivia. I’m sure more than a few of you have figured this out already, but the same actor who voices Scrooge McDuck, Alan Young, voiced her father, Hiram Flaversham. Did you know, though, that Alan Young famously played Wilbur on Mister Ed?
This movie should be watched multiple times for Vincent’s performance alone. He killed it. He absolutely killed it. His big song and dance number told the audience everything that the audience needs to know about Professor Ratigan and then some. He’s big, over the top, calm, composed, and charismatic one minute, and a vicious, horrific rat the next. Originally, the animators had conceived Ratigan as a thin and weak villain, but quickly changed his appearance when Price was cast. A lot of Price’s gestures when he performed his line readings were worked into the animation.
This film was also notable for being Ron Clements and John Musker’s first directing assignment. The Great Mouse Detective proved to be successful for the studio, earning over $25 million on a $14 million dollar budget. Because of this film’s success, the company gained new confidence in the Disney animation department in that Ron and John received another assignment placing them in the director’s seat. Had Mr. Clements and Mr. Musker not solved this mystery with Basil, they might not have received the chance to go under the sea with a little mermaid.