Feb 2, 2015

Review: Basil, the Great Mouse Detective (1986)

I was little and visiting my cousins when I saw Basil, the Great Mouse Detective for the first time on VHS. I can also tell you that it scared me quite a bit with certain dark scenes that could be almost considered to be jump scares out of a horror movie. That's something that's especially true with the main villain's peg-legged henchman Fidget, who had a nasty habit of popping in and scaring the bejeezus out of young me.

Watching it again after all these years, it was amazing how it felt only like yesterday since I had seen it last. Definitely got to credit Disney on creating such a memorable movie. Coming off the disappointing flop that was The Black Cauldron, Basil, the Great Mouse Detective was the movie that convinced Disney to continue making animated films and ushered in the great "Renaissance" that lasted until 1999.


Genre: animation, adventure, family
Directed by: Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, David Michener, etc.
Produced by: Burny Mattinson
Written by: Peter Young, Vance Gerry, Steve Hulett, etc.
Music by: Henry Mancini
Running time: 74 minutes
Production company: Walt Disney Pictures, Silver Screen Partners II
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures, Greater Union Organisation, Walt Disney Company, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $14,000,000
Box office: $38,625,550 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Barrie Ingham, Vincent Price, Val Bettin, Susanne Pollatschek, Candy Candido, Frank Welker, Alan Young, Frank Welker, Diana Chesney, Eve Brenner, Melissa Manchester, Basil Rathbone, Laurie Main



It's Olivia Flaversham's (voice: Susanne Pollatschek) birthday and she celebrates it with her loving toymaker father Hiram (voice: Alan Young). Fidget (voice: Candy Candido), a crippled bat in the employ of the evil genius Professor Ratigan (voice: Vincent Price), breaks into their home and kidnaps Hiram for some devilish plan. Desperate for help, Olivia along with Doctor Dawson (voice: Val Bettin) get famed detective Basil of Baker Street (voice: Barrie Ingham) on the case.


Basil, the Great Mouse Detective surprises a bit with its shadowy and at times, scary imagery for what is a simple family film. I'm always an advocate for children's movies that are slightly scary though and GMD is hardly the worst that I've seen compared to movies like The Brave Little Toaster let's say. It's just a little surprising when you have a bat face popping up suddenly more than once. It's probably enough to even make certain kids hide their faces until these scarier scenes are over.

Shadows are heavily focused on in GMD and they actually make certain scenes even scarier. Take the initial struggle between Hiram and Fidget for example; we can't see what's going on besides what the shadows that both characters cast on the wall as they duke it out. It has the effect of putting the viewer in little Olivia's shoes as she hides inside the cabinet, trying to peek at what's going on. It's a great opening scene and a good example of what's to come.

The animation isn't perfect all the way through though. I did notice that when the action started getting really hectic, everything looks like it's been sped up which doesn't quite look right. A big reason for this I believe is the budget, which was cut from its initial $24 million. That is my only real complaint however for the animation and where I definitely want to give credit is for the climactic Big Ben scene. The cogs and gears in the clock are one of the earliest examples of animated CGI and it looks spectacular even today.

Voice acting is competent and it's no surprise that the big highlight here is Vincent Price as the villain of the film. What's strange is that I'm absolutely sure he puts on an accent in his introductory scene. I barely could recognize him at all, but thankfully he drops it after that. Why would we want Price putting on a different accent anyway?

Vincent Price definitely seems to have fun with the role and the song he gets to sing is deliciously amusing. There aren't a lot of songs in Basil, the Great Mouse Detective, but they're all quite good. "Let Me Be Good To You" is maybe a little questionable for the kids since it's sung by a sultry songstress performing a of couple risque dance moves, but I don't think it really poses any harm.

Although uneven at times in creating suspense, Basil, the Great Mouse Detective is mostly a hit in the tension department. (Spoilers) The climax is of course the film's biggest success. When Basil goes down with Ratigan, you think it's all over as Big Ben chimes ten o'clock. Hearing the squeaking of the propeller from Ratigan's ship as Basil pedals his way back is just gorgeous gorgeous stuff. (End Spoilers) GMD is the kind of story that you can't help but want to fall into every narrative valley and scale every narrative peak.

Basil, the Great Mouse Detective can't really be considered among the all-time Disney classics. It's amazing all the same just how competent it is at drawing you in and not letting you go until the credits roll. Despite a limited budget, there are thrills and laughs a plenty to be had for anyone of any age. After all these years, TGMD is just as memorable to me as it was when I was a kid.



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