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Breanna - a lifelong Disney fan - is a writer who lives on a cattle ranch in Alabama. She wants a t-shirt that says, "Where Were You When Mufasa Died?"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

“Oh, My Dear Bartholomew. I’m Afraid That You’ve Gone and Upset Me. You Know What Happens When Someone Upsets Me”

            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.
            Disney’s answer to Sherlock Holmes originated out of a novel called Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus.  She named the character after the legendary Holmes actor Basil Rathborne (narrator of “The Wind in the Willows” segment way back in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad), whose voice makes a cameo appearance in this film.  The mouse version of Basil is very much a direct interpretation of the Holmes character.   Dare I say that Basil here gives Robert Downey Jr. a run for his money at times?
            Basil is an enjoyable character to watch from his entrance to his final frame.  Just when he begins to walk the line of coming across as too cold, the audience is treated to glimpses of how compassionate and feeling Basil can be.  When he first meets Olivia and tries to brush her off with a “Surely your mother knows where he is,” and she sadly replies that she doesn’t have a mother, his reaction is amazing to watch.  His eyes bug out, his violin screeches, and he looks uncomfortably guilty.  It was smart on the part of Disney to not make him so self absorbed that the audience could not possibly like him.

            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.  
            Dawson is admirable filling in the designated Watson role.  Since he finds more than one crucial clue and is the source of inspiration for Basil when searching for a means of escaping Ratigan’s clutches, Dawson serves as a bit more than a mere sidekick.  I loved the scene where he meets Olivia; the way he helps her without even thinking about it illustrates a kind of kindness that unfortunately does not happen often in the world today.  Dawson serves as the person who can be sympathetic to people when Basil cannot, balancing out the two.
            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
            But the source of Olivia’s problems is the Moriarty to Basil’s Holmes.  Professor Ratigan is the main reason I really enjoy The Great Mouse Detective.  Not only was he animated by Glen Keane, and is he a powerful, wicked, and memorable villain, but also he was voiced by one of the most famous, identifiable voices in the history of the planet.  Star of everything from House of Wax (original Paris Hilton free version) to The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby Doo, he is the late, great, irreplaceable Vincent Price. 

            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.           
            One of the more interesting aspects of Ratigan’s character is the inferiority complex he has about being a rat and not a mouse.  It makes the audience draw conclusions about the kind of life Ratigan had lived.  The way he freaks out whenever someone says the ‘r’ word in his presence gives him an Achilles heel that plays heavily into the film’s climax inside of Big Ben.  Throughout the film he tries to give himself this air of refinement and polish but in the final battle, he finally loses it and succumbs to his true nature as a rat.  To see him prowl exactly as a rat does is actually really horrific.            

It’s impossible to watch Ratigan and not see Price in the character.  It’s amazing to hear that out of all the roles that Price had played over his extremely long career, his role as Professor Ratigan was his favorite.  Voicing a character in a Disney film had long been a dream of his; for me this only adds to his character.  It makes me happy to think of The Great Mouse Detective as a means of immortalizing Vincent Price’s instantly recognizable pipes. 
This would not be Price’s only experience with the Disney Company.  For the Disneyland Paris version of The Haunted Mansion, Phantom Manor, Imagineers created an elaborate back-story for the attraction, something they hadn’t done for the previous versions of the attraction.  The story revolved around a conflict between the Bride and the mysterious and terrifying Phantom (want to hear the whole story and more about The Haunted Mansion?  Check out Jason Surrell’s book, The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies).  When Imagineers put together a temporary track for the attraction, they used Vincent Price’s laugh at the end of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as the resonant laugh of the Phantom.  This inspired them to cast Vincent Price himself as the new Ghost Host for Paris, the Phantom.  Unfortunately, the operators requested that the attraction’s narration be in French, so Price’s narration was replaced with a version read by French actor Gérard Chevalier.  The one thing they did keep of Mr. Price was his distinct laugh, which is still heard throughout the attraction to this day.  Interesting though is that one of the most memorable aspects of Price’s performance as Ratigan was not his voice, but a bell.
I don’t think in the history of film has a tiny little bell jingle been so terrifying.  Then again, I probably would not have thought that an overweight cat with a tiny little bow adornment would have been very scary either.  But when Ratigan is angered by poor Bartholomew’s drunken rat comment and rings that dainty bell, his henchmen (anyone notice a cameo by Burt from Alice in Wonderland?) start shaking for their intoxicated buddy.  Thankfully, we don’t actually see Burt’s fate but we see and hear enough to know exactly what befell him.  Ratigan expecting the song to resume after such a horrific scene was indicative of how his lackeys know better than to disagree with Professor Ratigan.
I did love seeing Toby be the one who gave Felicia her comeuppance.  Actually, I kind of love Toby in general.  His interactions with both Basil and Olivia were some of my favorite scenes, especially when Basil is trying to bait him into finding Fidget.  Toby’s big LOL moment is when he is told that the Queen is in danger and he manages to shape one of his floppy ears into a flight of stairs.
When compared to The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective is a vast improvement especially considering the conditions it was made under.  Because The Black Cauldron was such a big financial disappointment, the studio needed to make some money on a cheap picture.  Well, thanks to the new technology made available by computers, they were able to churn out The Great Mouse Detective in a year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Mouse_Detective).  Computers also aided in the final chase through Big Ben, marking one of the earliest uses of CGI and animation in the same scene.  Even though many cite this film as the first use of CGI in animation, technically the very first occurrence was in The Black Cauldron
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.


  1. This was my favourite as a kid!!

    Friggen hell Bre, this blog is amazing

  2. While it's not a perfect film, it is definitely a solid piece. I completely agree that both Ratigan and Basil are wonderfully realized. I love everything about Basil. His moment of despair which soon turns into brillaint escape in that Rube Goldberg trap sequence is wonderful.

    I like Fidget. He's a fun sidekick character. I like the little striptease song, and that mouse is cute. Again it seems Disney here wasn't quite sure who its audience was, but who cares?

    Ratigan's plot is a little lame. They abduct a toy maker so he can make a robot queen that will proclaim Ratigan their new leader. Only thing is, can anyone REALLY be fooled by that imposter Queen? It's so obviously a mechanism. It has a wire coming out the back! Oh well.

    The most annoying thing is knowing that the marketing folks changed the name of the movie from "Basil of Baker Street" to "The Great Mouse Detective". Hmm... history repeating itself these days. It's annoying because throughout the film they make a point of saying "Basil of Baker Street" like a million times. It was made for that title, and frustrates me now watching it again. Still, even if the animation isn't as polished, and the line work isn't as nice as in Black Cauldron, but there's lots of good character work.

  3. I had not seen this film in years, but I remember liking it so I was really looking forward to it. I definitely wasn't disappointed. I enjoyed it so much!

    Ratigan is very interesting in the fact that he's pretty much insane. He's insane and he's got an inferiority complex. Not two things that mix well. His song reminds me a bit of the song "Mine, Mine, Mine" from Pocahontas a bit.

    When I first encountered Basil, I wasn't sure what to think because he seemed a bit cold. Then Olivia says her mom has died and he gives a reaction that breaks the ice and warms the audience up to his character.

    I didn't realize that they changed the title, but it shows that even a movie with a title change that seems unfit can be quite a great movie experience.

  4. Again another movie I appreciate more as an adult than I did as a child. I've always loved the Sherlock Holmes stories and so I suppose it's no surprise that I love Disney's take on him.

    Basil was just awesome. I love his character. I dare say he's more Sherlock Holmes than some of the Live Action Holmes I've seen over the course of my 28 years. And I doubt I can even put into words how much I loved his character. So I won't even try.

    And Ratigan is such a fun villain. The kind you just can't help loving. And I think a big part of that was the great Vincent Price's voice and personality that he brought to the character.

    Although we hardly saw much of Olivia's father, it was hard for me to see past the fact that he was voiced by Alan Young. I just kept picturing Scrooge McDuck whenever he spoke. Which kind of kept me from getting attached to him. Although his scenes with his daughter Olivia reminded me of scenes in Ducktales, where Scrooge McDuck interacts with his niece, Webbigal.

    Olivia's ability to get Toby to do as she pleases, for example, sitting on her first command after he ignores Basil's sit instructions was too funny. Basil's reactions and facial expressions were spot on with someone who is frustrated. And I never understood Toby's dislike of Dawson. It always struck me as odd. Funny, but odd.

    By the end of the movie I was actually sorry that it wasn't longer. I would've loved it if Disney had gone ahead and made The Great Mouse Detecive (or Basil of Baker Street) into an animated TV series. Each episode dealing with a different Sherlock Holmes story.

    And just as a random side note, it was nice to catch 2 allusions to Dumbo in this movie. The first was when one of Ratigan's minions gets drunk in the fountain. The way he pops out of the pink alcohol and hiccuped looked so much like how Timothy Q. Mouse behaved when he was drunk. Right before the infamous Pink Elephants on Parade scene.

    The second was during the scene where they're searching for Fidget in a Toy Store. There's a toy of Dumbo sitting on a stage, blowing bubbles from his nose. It was rather cute.

  5. I liked this movie a lot growing up. Ratigan remains, for me, one of Disney's great lesser-known villains. The psychology of his rat-who-wants-to-be-a-mouse shtick is incredible, and the irony (mice being traditionally seen as timid and feeble, while Ratigan mercilessly throws his victims to a giant, overweight bow-wearing, bell-jingling cat) is not lost on me. His song is insanely catchy; I wouldn't be surprised if I signed off singing "He's Ratigan, he's Ratigan, the world's greatest--shh!"

    I think one thing that made this film work was the chemistry between Basil and Dawson. I some ways, this was sort of their buddy film, and the relationship between them was, in my opinion, believable and well done.

    The clockwork robot plot was a little thin--even a blind man wouldn't mistake that for the Queen!--but all in all, an under-appreciated film.