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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Great Mouse Detective

Eli’s been reading Eve Titus’ Basil of Baker Street series, the basis of Disney’s 1986 The Great Mouse Detective. The film (and books) are based on the premise that in a mouse hole beneath 221B Baker Street (the famous address of Sherlock Holmes) lives a mouse equivalent of the great detective who solves crimes in mousedom with the same ingenuity as his upstairs neighbor. The film takes this idea one step further, hinting that beneath all of Victorian London is an equivalent mouse world, complete with a rodent version of Queen Victoria.

The film begins with the kidnapping of London’s most ingenious mouse toymaker, Hiram Flaversham, from his workshop (located beneath a human toyshop, of course). Flaversham’s daughter Olivia wanders the streets looking for her dad, eventually meeting up with Dr. David Dawson who takes her to meet Basil the mouse detective (beginning his own career as Basil’s Watson in the process). At first, Basil is indifferent to her plight, until he realizes that the kidnapping is the work of his arch enemy, Professor Ratigan (voiced with malicious warmth by the incomparable Vincent Price).

There have been attempts to bring the Holmes legend to kids over the years, from The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (in which Magoo played Dr. Watson – as well as Dr. Frankenstein and Puck from Midsummer Night’s Dream) and the Speilberg-produced nasty and incoherent Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). Until now, we’ve preferred to introduce Holmes to the kids via the classic Basil Rathbone films (note the parents: most of them are under 90 minutes). But The Great Mouse Detective totally delivers, especially in its wonderful characterization of Basil who balances the haughty condescension, unstable brilliance and hidden inner warmth of the original Holmes, especially in his interaction with his new friend Watson/Dawson.

As with most newer Holmes pictures, Mouse Detective struggles with delivering the action-based climax modern films require with the fact that the hero’s powers are mostly cerebral. Interestingly, they manage this with a device also seen in the climax of Young Sherlock Holmes (a Victorian flying machine) used by Basil to reach his arch rival Ratigan for an exciting battle through the clockwork gears of Big Ben (a battle reminiscent of Holmes’ “last” battle with Dr. Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls).

Ostensibly a musical, the few songs in the picture are mostly thin and forgettable (although Vincent Price singing alone was worth the price of the rental).

Whose Pick: Eli

Eli Says: I haven’t read the first Basil book yet, so I don’t know if it’s the same as the movie. In the books, Basil travels to different countries, but in The Great Mouse Detective he stays in London. I liked the movie a lot, especially when they sang Ratigan.


Eli: 4/5
Ben: 5/5
Mom: 4/5
Dad: 4/5

Total: 17/20