GREAT MOVIE, NOT-SO-GREAT EXTRAS @ 22 April 2010 04:42 PM
The Great Mouse Detective came along -- and was somewhat lost -- during a highly transitional period as Walt Disney Productions became The Walt Disney Company (see the fine new documentary, Waking Sleeping Beauty, for details). It's definitely worth more attention that it seems to get, perhaps because it gets left between the "troubled" post-Walt era and the "second golden age" that began essentially with The Little Mermaid.
Detective, which was supposed to be called "Basil of Baker Street" after the book upon which it is based but was renamed by a nervous Marketing department (hmmm...Tangled?) is a Sherlock Holmes-style adventure with some memorable moments and a nice score by multi-Oscar, Gold Record and Grammy winner Henry Mancini (his only score for a Disney animated feature).
Disney features have always had trouble with their lead characters being engaging enough and leaving the audience empathy on the shoulders of the sidekicks. In the case of Basil, he is true to the Holmes persona in that he is a bit prickly and distant, but he becomes more likable as you get to know him in the story.
Of course, Vincent Price chews the animation cels like so many Chee-tos as the villain Rattigan. He delivers as you might expect and again, should not be as forgotten a Disney villain as he seems to be today. I did take exception when, in the film's original theatrical release, that Price's performance was being touted as his first in animation -- that was actually as Irontail in the Rankin/Bass special, Here Comes Peter Cottontail.
Price was the only "big name" voice in the film with the exception of Melissa Manchester, who sings in the saloon scene. The use of stars was not as common a practice then as it is now. Manchester was actually added to the soundtrack in order to generate publicity to "today's" audience, yet Disney did not release a soundtrack album or a single version of her song (Varese Sarabande released a CD years after).
Manchester replaced Shani Wallis, who was going to sing the song before being removed for the "name." Wallis was one of my childhood crushes as the doomed Nancy in the Oscar winning Best Picture, Oliver! At least she was given a small speaking role at the end of the The Great Mouse Detective.
Anyway, the film's highlights include a Rube Goldberg-like "mouse trap" set by Rattigan to destroy Basil and his friends and the historic Big Ben sequence, one of the first to use CG as an effect device. It is still a compelling sequence.
But you'll have to hang on to your 2002 DVD edition of The Great Mouse Detective to keep the image gallery "scrapbook," and if you don't already have the cartoons "Clock Cleaners" and "Donald's Crime" on other DVDs. The new "Mystery in the Mist" Edition adds a "game" that is more of a short video called "So You Think You Can Sleuth" and the "making of" documentary from the previous edition.
If you never got a copy of this film before, it really is worth having -- unless you want to wait for a possible Blu-Ray, But who knows?
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