The Great Mouse Detective
US (1986): Animated/Mystery
Roger Ebert Review: 3.0 stars out of 4
80 min, Rated G, Color, Available on videocassette and
Cast & Credits:
Featuring the voices of:
Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Susanne Pollatschek, Candy
Candido, Diana Chesney, Evan Brenner, Alan Young, Melissa Manchester.
Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements, Dave Michener, and Bunny Mattison.
Philosophers have the notion of parallel universeswhole worlds
that are right next to our own, but in a different dimension, so that
we can't see them, even while our actions are mirrored with infinite
variations. Movie animators have a similar notion, which is that human
lives are mirrored on a smaller scale by the parallel lives of the little
cartoon characters who live down there closer to the floor.
Near the beginning of THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, the camera moves through
London, passing many of the familiar landmarks, before finally tilting
down and moving in toward a little doorway down near to the ground.
Inside there's a busy little mouse, a craftsman, hard at work. Like
so many domesticated cartoon animals, he is the very soul of bourgeois
respectability (I always liked it in the "Tom & Jerry"
cartoons when they showed the floor lamps and chintz-covered sofas inside
the mouse holes).
Before long, however, a mysterious figure appears who disrupts this
image of comfortable domesticity. And then THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE
launches its story, which depends on the conceit that London in those
days housed not only a great human detective (Sherlock Holmes), but
also a mouse who was every bit as good a detective.
The Sherlock Holmes legend is such a durable story that all sorts of
filmmakers have adapted it to their own ends, styles, and genres. Just
in recent years, we've seen Billy Wilder's THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK
HOLMES, Gene Wilder's SHERLOCK HOLMES' YOUNGER BROTHER, Nicholas Meyer's
THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION, and Steven Spielberg's YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMESwhich
told the story of the schooldays of Sherlock and young Watson, surrounded
by props and special effects borrowed from other Spielberg extravaganzas.
Here is the Disney version, told on a mouse scale in cartoon form, with
a freedom and creativity of animation that reminded me of the earlier
Disney feature-length cartoons. In recent decades, Disney and the other
animators had started to cut corners; the old-style full animation of
such classics as PINOCCHIO was simply too expensive to duplicate any
more, with its endless man-hours of drawing. So we began to get backgrounds
that didn't move, and actions that seemed recycled out of other actions.
Now, however, computer animation has taken most of the drudgery and
much of the expense out of animation, and the result is a movie like
this, that looks more fully animated than anything in some thirty years.
The movie's story is the usual silliness about evil villains and abducted
geniuses. Although the detective in the movie is not called Sherlock
Holmes (or Sherlock Mouse, for that matter), he is obviously cut from
the same cloth, right down to his ever-present pipe. And there is a
Doctor Watson character, who befriends a bewildered waif in the street,
and takes it to the great detective, who scents one of his greatest
What's fun is the carefree way the animators swing through their story,
using the freedom of the cartoon form to blend nineteenth-century realism
with images that seem borrowed from more recent special effects pictures.
For a long time, I was down on the full-length animated efforts of Disney
and others, because they didn't seem to reflect the same sense of magic
and wonderment that the original animated classics always had. Who,
for example, could ever equate ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS with SNOW
WHITE? But now, maybe thanks to computers, animated movies are beginning
to sparkle again.