There was a time in the 80s where Disney was still putting out feature-length animated features yet most of them failed to catch on as instant classics. Many Disney fans are fond of them, but movies like 'Oliver & Company,' and 'The Black Cauldron' aren't exactly household names. Sandwiched between those two movies was another forgotten feature called 'The Great Mouse Detective.'
'The Black Cauldron' could be considered Disney's goth phase. It was a very dark movie considering the other titles in the Disney catalogue and it proved to be a failure at the box office. So, in order to distance them from the overly dark nature of 'Cauldron,' Disney went in the complete opposite direction for their next film, 'The Great Mouse Detective.' Disney reverted back to the happy-go-lucky type of storytelling that was used in earlier films like 'Robin Hood' and 'The Jungle Book.'
'The Great Mouse Detective' is Disney's take on Sherlock Holmes with their standard anthropomorphic characters. The movie is based on Eve Titus' "Basil of Baker Street" book series. Basil Rathbone (voiced by Barrie Ingham) is a mouse who lives beneath the world's most famous fictional detective. Basil emulates the great Holmes in curiosity, cleverness, and insanity, although there aren't too many tough puzzles for Basil to solve. After all, this is a movie aimed at kids so they need to be able to follow along with the mystery.
Basil is soon met by Dr. Watson's rodent doppelganger, Dr. David Q. Dawson (voiced by Val Bettin) and a little girl named Olivia (voiced by Susanne Pollatschek). Olivia's father, an expert toy-making mouse, has been kidnapped by the vicious fiend, Professor Ratigan (voiced by Vincent Price). Ratigan, like Moriarty, is Basil's nemesis. The two of them have been battling it out and Basil has yet to find a way to defeat his superior criminal mind.
I enjoy the light-heartedness of 'The Great Mouse Detective,' but it's easy to see why it never became a Disney classic. There are too many times where it feels more like a well-made Saturday morning cartoon, rather than a famed Disney animated feature. I get the same somewhat innocuous feeling watching it as I get whenever I catch an episode of 'Duck Tales.' It doesn't help that one of the characters is voiced by Alan Young, who also spent years voicing Scrooge McDuck.
It barrels through its plot relatively fast, only pausing for a few moments to give us a couple scenes that feel Holmes-esque, such as Basil and Dawson escaping an elaborate Rube Goldberg trap for example. The movie never really slows down to let us know who these characters really are. They're good enough revisions of Holmes and Watson, yet the movie seems to gloss over too much.
Like I said before, this is a movie aimed at children and was meant to be fairly easy-going following the turn to the animation dark side with 'Cauldron.' From beginning to end, 'The Great Mouse Detective' seems determined to remind Disney fans that they only tried going really dark for one movie and were now back to making happier stuff. Stuff that kids would enjoy but subsequently forget about moments later.
While I appreciate 'The Great Mouse Detective,' it isn't one of Disney's best efforts. It will always be considered a second-tier Disney title simply because it doesn't provide any real memorable scenes, characters, or songs. It's a decent movie, but overall it reflects the period of lackluster titles released by Disney in the early 80s before 'The Little Mermaid' came out.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Disney release comes in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. The 50GB disc is packaged alongside the DVD in a standard Disney keepcase. There is a slipcover provided with the same artwork as the case. Inside is a leaflet that contains a Disney Movie Reward code. The release is region free.
'The Great Mouse Detective' gets a very decent restoration from Disney. The 1080p picture isn't as refined as a transfer as Disney's tent-pole features get in their Diamond Editions, but it will likely please fans with its relatively clean appearance.
Like 'The Rescuers,' which came out only a few years before, 'The Great Mouse Detective' is a bit rougher around the edges than we might expect from a Disney restoration. That's okay, though, because as far as I can tell the movie has never looked this good and it accurately reflects the look and feel of the movie when it was released in 1986. You'll see some grain and grit here. Lines fluctuate in thickness constantly. The grainier image produces a noticeable softer appearance than the Diamond Edition transfers.
Colors are nice and bold though. Much bolder than I remember them being on the previous DVD release. Color fills are nice and solid, even with the heavy grain. There are a few color fills that fluctuate in color shades causing that part of the image to flicker just a tad. In my opinion, besides a few instances of noticeable scratches, it looks like the film had been nicely cleaned of any outside distractions. Other artifacting like banding or blocking was non-existent. This isn't a video presentation that will blow your socks off like you're used to seeing with Disney releases, but it's certainly very solid.
Disney has provided a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (sadly, there has been no inclusion of the show's original mono audio track in lossless form). Expanding the listening environment here doesn't have the same effect as it did with 'Cinderella' or 'Snow White.' Instead, 'The Great Mouse Detective' has a decent audio mix that never has any really impressive moments of note.
What you do get are lightly mixed rear channels that feature some ambient sound like when Basil and Dawson visit a crowded dive bar. A fight breaks out and you can hear some of the commotion playing in the surround channels. Dialogue is centered right up front and is clearly heard. I didn't notice any hissing or static on the mix. Everything sounded as clear as it possibly could. Overly loud sound effects were really the only aspect of this mix that I found a tad troublesome. They did drown out dialogue on a few rare occasions.
'The Great Mouse Detective' will always be considered a second-tier Disney title and that's okay, because it rightfully belongs in that grouping. However, it still has a lot to like about it. It's a much better prospect than say, the dismal 'Home on the Range' that we reviewed earlier this year. With a nice video transfer and solid audio, this one comes lightly recommended.