As a breather between the Disney films we've been watching, we decided to peruse something from the Don Bluth (An American Tail, The Land Before Time, etc.) canon. So, without further ado, we give you...

The Great Mouse Detective

Oh wait. This is Disney?

Soundtrack/Score/Music: 6

Story/Screenplay/Narrative: 9

Characters/Characterization + Voice Acting: 8.5

Art Direction/Design: 7.5

Themes, Archetypes, and Artistic Interpretation: 5

From RM:

If you don't like Rats of NIMH references, then you can just get out right now. Seriously, though this is a Disney film, believe it or not, it seems more Don Bluthian than you might expect. Indeed, if I came into the film five minutes late, I wouldn't necessarily assume this was Disney. It's particularly light in traditional musical numbers (an exception at this point in Disney history), features mice (An American Tail and The Secret of NIMH were both released around this time to great success, both by Mr. Bluth), and for a Disney film, it's VERY much in favor of showing drinking, smoking, carousing and burlesque in all it's mousy glory.

A lot of that is forgiven, in my mind, because of the film's tone. Despite being set in the gloom of a Treason plot in the late Victorian Era, this is one of the campiest and most light-hearted of all the Disney films. While the stakes are very high and the plot exceptionally well-developed, the film is never far from a goofy, yet intelligent sense of humor; from the overtly dainty expressions of the hulking behemoth of Ratigan to the slapstick chase of a peg-legged bat in a toy shop, the film is never far from a laugh.

The film's score, by Henry Mancini, is excellent, and it should be noted that this film was the first directorial foray by Ron Clements and John Musker, who would later go on to direct The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Hercules.

My problem with this film, as was hinted earlier, and as I'm sure my colleague will address in more detail, is how impossible this movie is to compare to most Disney films. From a technical perspective, it's better than many of them. But for some reason, it's always the forgotten Disney film. It's good, but never marketed like the heavy hitters of Beauty and the Beast, or Cinderella and their lot. It seems to, within months of it's release, be satisfied with it's relegation to cult status, where it enjoys a healthy and well-earned following. But it's lack of musical numbers, lack of some sort of love story, a minimal amount of character evolution (though, to the films credit the characters start more developed than most Disney characters ever become), and its root in contemporary fiction rather than mythology and fairy tales make it hard to argue across the board that this is a truly timeless Disney film based upon the standards that the studio itself has defined with its obvious favoritism for the films with Princesses, Princes, Magic and Mythology. However, as I said, its status as a vastly underrated cult film of great charm and wit is well-documented, deserved and protected.

From Wiry:

If there's a heaven, I hope I get into it. Because I want to eat curry with Vincent Price. I'll admit that, while I've been acquainted with Price for some time, I've only become a rabid fanboy in recent months. But still, seriously, Vincent Price is a giant among men.

So, that is to say, I'm inclined very favorably toward this movie, Bluthiness and all. Heck, it even has the villainous yet comedic little bat (though I'll admit the gravelly-voiced Fidget is a far cry from the... what is he supposed to be... Canadian-Jewish? No... Uh... well, whatever the tones of Bartok the Magnificent are). But let me lay down some plot for you first.

So, Scrooge McDuck has been reincarnated as a toy-inventing mouse with a very adorable daughter. After said toymaker is kidnapped, little Olivia meets up with Wat- I mean, DAWSON, a mouse returning from army duty in Afghanistan (see also The Great Mouse Detective II: The Case of the Missing Memories of War Trauma) . The two of them make their way to the home of Sherlo- I mean, BASIL of Baker Street, the titular mouse detective of much renown. After behaving a bit like Darkwing Duck on an especially inflated day (that is to say, a dismissive jerk), Basil agrees to take Olivia's case. Mostly because his arch nemesis is involved. That is to say, Ratigan. Oh, Ratigan. The world's greatest criminal mind, who is introduced in a Gaston-esque number (see, I'm trying to draw as many Disney connections as I can!) that features such great lines as "Even meaner? You mean it? Worse than the widows and orphans you've drowned?" and culminates in some good, old-fashioned flunky-slaughtering.

Long story short (too late), Ratigan's captured Olivia's Pa to create a robotic doppelganger of the Queen, so that he can seize power and rule all of mousedom. Olivia's dad balks at this for a while, until Ratigan's henchbat successfully kidnaps Olivia while the crew investigates a toy store. There's a burlesque mouse number in a seedy bar Basil and Dawson are investigating, which leads them to Ratigan's hideout, where they're captured and placed in a Rube Goldbergian death trap. They escape, interrupt Ratigan's performance with Robo-Queen, and chase him to Big Ben. There's a climactic showdown as Ratigan reveals his ugliest colors, but he is ultimately undone by a big bong. From the clock, that is. After that, everyone's happy, and Basil seems to have become less of a jerk along the way, as he asks Dawson to stay on as his partner. The end.

Phew! That's a lot of plot... More plot, in fact, than many of the films we've seen thus far. You'll note that we're dealing with an actual STORY here, as opposed to a paragraph-long fairy tale that Disney stretcheds into an hour and a half with a few musical numbers and diminutive sidekicks. As RM points out, there's few of the trademarks of Disney, which is I think part of the reason why it's an oft-forgotten film. It's essential in the canon, as its small degree of success following the failure of Black Cauldron provided the necessary confidence to move forward with that grand herald of the renaissance, The Little Mermaid.

But the differences make things sort of problematic. The movie, excellent as it is, is not especially memorable. Not only are there not many songs, nor are there princes to be action-figured and princesses to be dolled, the characters aren't plastered all over our Disney consciousnesses in the way Dumbo or Mickey or Ariel or Simba are. I attribute this both to a lack of continuous and pervasive marketing presence as well as the un-fairy-taleness of it. It's not some grand, archetypal story that's been around hundreds of years in every language before being canonized by Disney. It's just a good adventure. And while multiple versions of certain fairy tale characters exist, both in stories and visual media, the Disney representations of Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty are the ones we remember most readily. Sherlock Holmes is a very memorable type, but, well, when I think "Sherlock Holmes" I think of Sherlock Holmes, not his mousy counterpart.

As wonderful and entertaining as this film is, it feels a bit like its center is hollow. There's great value in sheer entertainment, especially if Vincent Price is at the party, but I can't shake the feeling that so many Disney films aspired to be "art" above all else. We don't need to get in to a big "What is art?" debate (please, spare me), but there's a certain spirit in many Disney films, a je ne sais quoi that this film's missing. I know it seems unfair to critique an excellent movie for "not belonging," but keep in mind that the great Disney successes do not fall in this mold, whereas some of the big failures (action-oriented features with little to no songs) definitely do.

Still, though. Veeeenciiint Pryaaaaaaace... they don't make 'em like that anymore...

Final Grade: B

Final Rankings:
1.) The Lion King
2.) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
3.) Lady and the Tramp
4.) The Great Mouse Detective*
5.) The Jungle Book
6.) Fun and Fancy Free

* = This is the first of what will most likely be many films that ended up with an identical letter grade (Lady and the Tramp also received a B). When such situations occur, we default to the numerical score, which was .5 lower than Lady and the Tramp, and therefore GMD is lower on the final rankings, so there is no question of a tie. Ties are for bankers and commies.


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