Thursday, September 1, 2022

Basil of Baker Street is The Great Mouse Detective

Basil, the great mouse detective.
The 1980s was a rocky decade for Disney animated films. Several animators, led by Don Bluth, left the studio to create their own movies (e.g., The Secret of NIMH). Disney's much anticipated adaptation of Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron--the studio's first PG-rated animated film--fizzled with critics and the public. Even The Fox and the Hound (1981) and Oliver & Company (1988) were considered disappointments, though each made a profit. Fortunately, Disney ended the '80s on a high note when The Little Mermaid (1989) redefined the animated musical and won two Oscars.

Yet, there was another memorable 1980s Disney film that seems almost forgotten today: The Great Mouse Detective (1986). Based Eve Titus's book series Basil of Baker Street, it features a mouse detective modeled closely after Sherlock Holmes. In fact, Basil lives in Victorian London at 221½ B Baker Street--underneath Sherlock's famous quarters. In lieu of Moriarty, Basil is obsessed with capturing another diabolical genius: Professor Rattigan.

Professor Rattigan, voiced by Vincent Price.
The fiendish rat has kidnapped an inventive toymaker called Flaversham as part of his plan to become "the supreme ruler of Mousedom." When Flaversham refuses to help Rattigan, the professor threatens to imprison the toymaker's daughter Olivia. What he doesn't know is that Olivia has sought the aid of Basil of Baker Street.

While the screenplay lacks the sparkle and wit of Disney classics like 101 Dalmatians (1961), it's still an entertaining yarn filled with colorful characters and clever details. Anyone who has watched a Basil Rathbone Holmes movie will take delight in the scene in which Basil and Dr. Dawson (the Watson equivalent) use disguises to infiltrate a seedy dive by the docks. However, the film's highlight is the climatic confrontation between Basil and Rattigan, which takes place inside and outside Big Ben during a thunderstorm. I think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have been pleased!

Miss Kitty performing her number.
The outstanding voice cast features Barrie Ingham as Basil, Vincent Price as Rattigan, Alan Young as Flaversham, and singer Melissa Manchester as Miss Kitty. Price has a grand time as the bigger-than-life villain and even gets to sing in the film's biggest musical number "The World's Greatest Criminal Mind" (co-written by Henry Mancini). Although The Great Mouse Detective is not a musical, it includes two songs. The best of those is "Let Me Be Good to You," an amusing dance hall pastiche written and performed with style by Manchester.

Given Disney's propensity to revisit its animated classics, it's surprising that the studio never made a direct-to-video sequel or a TV series for the Disney Channel. I would have watched the further adventures of Basil of Baker and Dr. Dawson.

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