A childhood favorite that I haven’t seen since, well, childhood, I was very anxious to see if I would still enjoy this Holmes-parodying foray into Disney’s classics or end up being disappointed as fond memories were abolished. Fortunately, I was happy to see that I still enjoyed it, and even given a newfound appreciation as Disney really seemed to have taken a risk with this movie. Even though this was during their period in which they didn’t try to pander to children as though they were psychological Faberge eggs just waiting to be shattered, it was still surprising to see. The theme is dark, there’s not much in the way of hijinks, and even the musical cues are limited to a pair with only a single one being a character’s spontaneous musical cue. There’s smoking, alcoholism, realistic guns and even a built up execution that doesn’t even try to be ambiguous; Disney would probably be scrutinized for airing this on TV nowadays. It’s a true pinnacle of an era of Disney creativity and flexibility that has been lost in time, in favor of a contrived sense of family-wholesomeness.
Inspired by the adventures of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes, The Great Mouse Detective: Mystery in the Mist Edition marks the directing debut of now legendary filmmakers Ron Clements and John Musker, creators of such Disney animated blockbusters as The Princess and the Frog, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. As Basil sniffs out one clue after another with unmatched ingenuity, kids and adults will delight in a heartwarming and suspenseful adventure that goes from Baker Street to the tower of Big Ben in the charmingly downsized London of Mousedom. An intriguing mystery, spectacular animation and unforgettable characters make The Great Mouse Detective: Mystery in the Mist Edition a devilishly clever family gift!
That said, while I found that I still love the movie itself plenty, I couldn’t help but be offset by how shockingly outdated the animation looks. This was mostly shocking because Disney’s animation style tends to be very timeless, and hardly ever so antiquated looking that it’s actually distracting. I’m not certain if it was purposely done to match the atmosphere of the era in which it’s set, which is believed to be in the 1890’s, or if might simply have been used to set it far apart from other Disney classics. Either way, it definitely takes some getting used to. One thing that continues to make me love this movie is that it is simply so blatant in its Holmes parody, in that it doesn’t even attempt to make you think it could be parodying anything else. It’s even complete with a silhouetted cameo of the famous Holmes & Watson duo using soundclips from an actual Sherlock Holmes movie. I have to admit that this movie was very prominently in the back of my mind as I watched 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes” with Robert Downey Jr., as his performance reminded me more of Basil rather than what I expected from an actual Holmes character. Of course, I confess that I actually haven’t seen any of the original Holmes movies, nor have I actually read the stories; it’s simply a passive fascination.
Although the animation was offsetting, I found myself still enjoying each character just as I had years ago; perhaps not as much with the peg-legged bat, Fidget, whom I found far more hilarious in my childhood than I do now. I’m not quite certain as to why he was less funny, but I simply think it’s because he was hilarious back then, but I exaggerated him in my mind over the years to expect more than had truly been there. Basil, himself, is still a brilliant character to watch and properly balanced with the pairing of Dr. Dawson. Both characters are written vastly different, and yet such a decent chemistry in their short tenure as partner investigators worked so well. However, I was worried about one bit of casting, which is the little girl, Olivia. I remembered pretty well what her voice sounded like, and I was slightly fearful that I would unfortunately find her to be annoying because of it. I quickly found that I was wrong, though, and she never even becomes grating. Despite her having the highest pitched voice of the entire cast, and certainly the most opportunity to be loud, she was handled properly without becoming just another annoying child character. The primary cast is ended with the film’s villain, Rattigan, who of course is the Mouse, or Rat in this case, version of Holmes’ nefarious equal, Moriarty. Voiced by the legendary Vincent Price, this is the most expressive character of the film as not only does he use as much physical display of his intent, but he even is the only character to have his own song – which he even gets two of! Granted, the second song is more downplayed and supposed to simply add a depressive atmosphere. There is another character that gets a song & dance number, but since it’s a burlesque number at a pub, it’s more of a plot device rather than character highlight.
Overall, I have to say this is Highly Recommended. It’s a fantastic look into the days of old when Disney was actually capable of balancing dark & light to make a well-rounded and entertaining adventure, rather than the shallow pieces of fluff they have been more commonly putting out within the past decade. Past that, it’s also an undeniably fun adventure story with solid writing, and some fantastic voice actors, including Alan Young. He’s not a main character, but still kind of steals the show if you’re familiar with him as his most-frequented role as Scrooge McDuck, or as the main human character, Wilbur Post, of “Mister Ed.”
Disney pushes out this rather superfluous DVD release of Great Mouse Detective on a single-disc DVD release. The set itself arrives in a standard Amaray case (an odd Eco-friendly version, with the recycle marking inside the case but without the plastic missing) with a reflective foil slipcover (no embossing here, sadly). Disc art is a plain grey wash and inserts include one for upgrading your DVDs to Blu-ray (which is kind of a tease, seeing as there is no Blu-ray version of this film available) as well as the Disney Reward Zone code. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and the technical presentation is quite good; the box claims it’s a “All-New Digital Restoration,” but they said that on the 2002 release too so I’m not sure if they’re just blowing smoke or if they’ve actually re-done the transfer for the film. It’s still a solid presentation regardless, and the audio, a DD5.1 mix, is equally as enjoyable although a bit lax in the surround and LFE department. Quite frankly the audio track seems to be more concerned with staying in the front channels than anything, which is a bit of a disappointment, but not altogether unexpected.
• So You Think You Can Sleuth? — An animated look at the history of detective work, complete with a crime-solving puzzle for the entire family.
• The Making Of “The Great Mouse Detective”
• “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” Sing-Along Song
There are two other extras listed on the back of the case but they’re more promotional tools than anything (one advertising Blu-ray and the other Digital Copies…neither of which are included for this release, so kind of a “neener, neener” type tease). The only actual new extra here is the “Sleuth?” game, which isn’t really worth checking out unless you’re five or so.
In the end this is a rather pointless re-issue for this film, but considering the old DVD release has been OOP for awhile this is a nice way to grab a rather underrated Disney toon with relative ease. The extras are sadly nothing to get too excited about, but if you’ve never seen this film then you’re really missing out—it may be part of Disney’s less lustrous era of animation, but it’s really quite fantastic. Recommended.
The Great Mouse Detective: Mystery in the Mist Edition arrives on DVD on April 13th.
Film review by Andrew
DVD review by Zach Demeter