Disney Odyssey #26 – Stand Back, Dawson, I’m Going To Try SCIENCE!!!

HERE WE ARE. London 1896. The fog permeates every corner of the omnipresent darkness. The cobblestones are slick from an earlier rain. The gaslamps flicker and cast long shadows on every brick building on the street. The greatest detective alive is on the prowl for clues to his latest case… and no – it isn’t Sherlock Holmes. It’s an adorable mouse-based fan fiction of Sherlock Holmes! To dive into one of my favorite Sherlockian tributes of all time, the Fella and I brought our pal JR over to the house to watch and talk shop about mysteries, mustaches, and mice.

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Admit it – you read this in Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice.

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The Film: The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

The Facts:

  • This film was the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream of actor Vincent Price, who had wanted to do a Disney movie for a long time. He voices the villainous Ratigan, and threw himself into the role with grandiose Shakespearean gestures during his recording sessions which inspired the filmmakers to incorporate it into the character’s animation.
  • Ratigan is also the second Disney villain to fall to his death… the first being the Evil Queen Grimhilde in Snow White.
  • The clock tower scene is the first major CGI scene in a full-length feature film, and the first time they created the CGI animation before adding in the traditionally-animated character action on top. 
  • The cabaret song sequence “Let Me Be Good To You” was nearly cut as they pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to the censors. Disney argued that it was not too risqué as it was a song sung by a mouse – and therefore not offensive. Originally they wanted Madonna to sing it, but ultimately they settled on Melissa Manchester.
  • Basil of Baker Street, a series of children’s novels by Eve Titus, provided the inspiration for this film. So this is a Disney movie… based on children’s book… based on Sherlock Holmes. *squint* And naturally, as such, the movie is rife with references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the famous detective. The one moment Holmes himself is seen and heard onscreen, the voice was taken from a Sherlock story narrated by Basil Rathbone, one of the actors who played Holmes over the years.
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  • Originally the film would have been called “Basil of Baker Street” but instead Disney Vice President of Animation Peter Schneider decided that the title would have to go – the name Basil after all sounded far too British and might lose an American audience. They settled on the title “The Great Mouse Detective,” but some of the other animators and writers thought this was insultingly generic. One of the animators sent out a satirical inter-office memo in Schneider’s name stating that all previous films would also be given appropriately generic names, such as “The Boy, The Bear, and the Big Black Cat” (Jungle Book), “Two Dogs Fall in Love” (Lady and the Tramp), “Seven Little Men Help A Girl” (Snow White) and so on.
  • Cameos: Bill the Lizard from Alice in Wonderland is spotted in Ratigan’s big song number as well as the seedy dive bar scene. And Dumbo can be spotted in the toy shop.

The Observations:

  • Drew: “As we get started… I’d like to query the council here – is this movie Steampunk or not? We’ll discuss at the end.”
  • Olivia’s voice actor – really Scottish or not? We all voted no, but after a quick Google search, Bill discovers that no, no, she really is Scottish.
  • Basil is so much more comical in this than I expected from an interpretation of Sherlock Holmes as a character.
  • Ratigan’s song is a fabulous villain number… the champagne fountain, the singing cronies, the crown jewels…and a bit of murder.
  • The mice coming out of the baseboards thing is straight out of Cinderella.
  • Olivia’s Charisma rolls are off the charts…”I sneak into this stranger’s house.” “Okay – The maid gives you food and warm dry clothes.” “…I want the dog to love me.” “The dog rolls over and is completely beholden to you.”
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    Olivia Flavisham: Charisma 18 and ain’t nothin’ you can do ’bout it

  • Re: Dawson’s clothing: “You know, sometimes I wish I was 60% pants…” – Bill
  • “I’d like to submit this as Exhibit C in the case for this movie being steampunk. There’s gears on the wall behind him.” “Are they purely decorative?” “…yes.” “The exhibit has been noted and the jury will take that into consideration.”
  • We felt that having a robot try to kill the Queen is a foolhardy plan, as regicide (and indeed, even the basic action of murder) is definitely against the laws of robotics. Pretty sure, anyway.
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    SPECIAL GUEST: Bill The Lizard from Alice in Wonderland!

  • “Stand back, Dawson, I’m about to try science…” “Science science science science…. aaaaaaand…….SCIENCE!!!”
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    “Don’t look so awkward, Dawson. These disguises are perfect! Everyone will think you’re Smee and I’m Captain Nemo.”

  • And WOW. The cabaret song scene…I was like “I can’t imagine why they were worried about censoring this… oh..OH wait… she’s literally wearing a garter and a Vegas showgirl costume. That’s….that explains the censors…”
  • Basil’s personal neuroses are pretty overt…it starts at the beginning of the film with the bullet experiment he fails, and then continues with Ratigan capturing them. Usually, Sherlock stories gloss over the genius’ flaws but this story seems to really enjoy highlighting them. It’s a little funny that the mouse version is more human than the human one…?
  • On that note of psychology, we give this Sherlock re-imagining an 9/10 – I docked a few points for the unnecessarily racy cabaret song sung by a nameless strumpet-mouse, but added points on for Vincent Price and SCIENCE!!!!
  • P.S. The jury debated long into the night but ultimately decided that the answer is YES, The Great Mouse Detective is steampunk. There’s unnecessary gears, advanced technology for that time period (made by mice, no less) including an automaton and a dirigible.

Aaaaaand for good measure, more BBC Sherlock quotes superimposed on screencaps from Great Mouse Detective…..

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Up Next: More fuzzy animals are comin’ up next with… Oliver and Company!

 


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