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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 34: "The Great Mouse Detective"

(Originally published on 8/24/22)


The Great Mouse Detective

Run time: 74 min.

Release Date: July 2, 1986.

Where/when I first saw it: On video as background noise

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, Sunday afternoon

A Disney animated mystery in the style of Sherlock Holmes can be a tough sell and an even tougher concept to pull off. Animated films aimed at kids (and let’s face it, that's what animated Disney movies were in this era, despite the studio’s best efforts to appeal to older sensibilities) often have simple plot lines and easily identifiable character archetypes. But kids aren’t stupid either, so it’s to the studio’s credit that they forged ahead with this one and made it as accessible as possible (luckily, “The Great Mouse Detective” came out just as 1985’s “Young Sherlock Holmes” came out on video, so at least there was another visual reference available as well). More so than the studio’s previous effort, “The Black Cauldron,” this one gives its target audience something more interesting to engage with and has a reference point that, typically, rarely gets stale.

There is also the welcome addition of Vincent Price as the villainous Ratigan, whose name also provides the chorus for the most memorable song in the film. The story follows the format of the Holmes tales by having the ersatz Watson tell the story (in this case, Dr. Dawson) and, for the young audience, having a cute, childlike mouse character (“Flaversham!”) in peril after her father has been kidnapped. It’s all pretty standard mystery material, really, but there are enough little moments of charm in it that keep it afloat and kids might enjoy trying to solve the mystery while also being taken by surprise.

The animation is technically impressive in the later scenes involving the mice running through the gears of a clock, an effect that is among the first computer generated scenes in an animated film. The backgrounds have a nice, dingy texture that brings to life the darker corners of the city where a mystery such as this would take place.

Still, at 74 minutes (and that includes a long end credits scroll now, something most Disney films didn’t have before this era), it also feels a little too slight and underwhelming by the time it’s over. The film accomplishes what many Disney films from the ‘70s and ‘80s did before it: Not cause any harm, but not signaling that anything great could be on the way. Disney also had more notable competition from Don Bluth, one of their former animators who put together his own animation studio and produced such hits as “The Secret of NIMH” and “An American Tale,” films which maintained a Disney-like aesthetic, but also had a style of their own. “The Great Mouse Detective” is well-liked enough to not be considered a total failure, but that’s all the studio really had during this time (except for “Pete’s Dragon,” which is still the worst). They needed something for people to love again.


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