Sometimes I wonder if this movie just hit the theatres at the wrong time. After all, Sherlock Holmes is currently meer populair than ever. And while this trend has reached a peak with the success of the films series and BBC’s modern version “Sherlock”, it came in the wake of countless TV-Shows based on Sherlock-Concept, the most notables being House and Monk. One of the longest running anime out there, Detective Conan (in the US also known as Case Closed) is practically a love letter to Sherlock Holmes.
Technically I should compare The Great muis Detective to the book series Basil of Baker Street. But as far as I can tell, the movie mostly takes the idea and the name of the characters from there, but the plot itself is original. And are we really supposed to believe that the animators weren’t influenced door the original Sherlock Holmes and the countless adaptations out there? Therefore I’ll take a much broader look this time around. 1. The World of Basil
Sherlock Holmes as a mouse. Well, why not. What I zei about Treasure Island is double true for Sherlock Holmes: If u do a movie (or TV-Show on that matter) on such an overdone material, u better do it from a new angle. And doing it with anthropomorphic mice allows a meer light-hearted take on the character. If a human Holmes would do fake science the way Basil does, the audience would cry fool play. When a muis does it, it’s funny.
It also allows Disney to insert some stuff which u would never find in a children’s movie otherwise. Like strip dancers. A villain who causally murders his henchman. And the final fight? Imagine this one between two humans, with one swinging a knife. 2. The Characters
Sherlock the gentleman, Sherlock the rude genius, Sherlock the drug-addict, there are countless versions of this character, and most of them are valid in one way of another. It just depends on which part of the descriptions in canon u intend to emphasis. What has to be there is Sherlock’s ability to deduct meer than a normal human (or mouse) would be capable of. And Disney delivers, Basil does one leap after another during this movie, most of them fairly outlandish. But u never really have the time to vraag such a self-assured personality. And looking at his erratic behaviour, the way he leaps over his furniture and has difficult to grasp emotions – I’m starting to wonder how many makers of recent adaptions know this movie. Because back when it was made, most adaptations were heavily inspired door the Basil Rathbone one, in which Holmes acts meer like an automaton, a think machine, and rarely loses his cool demeanour. Disney’s take, which emphasises the various quirks Sherlock Holmes had, is nowadays the meer common one, but back then this was a refreshing new (it is true that the Granada TV-Show, which is nowadays widely considered as the most faithful adaptation, also moved away from this interpretation and technically it started to air two years earlier, but if the animators were aware of this adaptation, the movie would have been way in the making door then, so I hesitate to claim any cross-influence in either direction).
The design of Dr. Dawson on the other hand is heavily influenced door the Basil Rathbone adaptations, though thankfully meer in looks than in actual behaviour. While he does act like a bumbling fool sometimes, it’s mostly because he is entirely out of his element for most of the movie, and not because he is an idiot, like the comic-relief which was Nigel Bruce. (BTW, in the short scene when Basil and Dr. Dawson enter the “human” part of 221B Baker Street, we can hear the voices of those two actors discussing music. Those are old recordings of them).
Either way, while Dr. Dawson has some scenes in which he slips into the role of the funny sidekick, most of the time he actually has meer the role of the narrator, the watcher and sometimes the one who prods Basil into the right direction. I have to admit though (and one could see it as failure of the movie) that the relationship between Basil and him is not particular interesting. Most of the time it feels like Dr. Dawson is mostly there because u need a Watson for Holmes. But then: I never found Watson particularly interesting in any adaptation until the BBC version came around and actually came up with a convincing reason why John should put up with Sherlock. This in mind, the Disney version of the character is a decent one.
Though I guess the main reason I’m mostly distracted from the relationship between those two men is Olivia. Cute. Wide-eyed. Cute. In grave danger. Did I mention cute?
Seriously, who can resist that?
This is one of the few cases in which an overly cute character actually works. It helps that Olivia, cute of not, still very much acts like a child, and not like an adorable puppet. Oh, she can do adorable well enough, but she also tends to snoop around and explores where she shouldn’t – like a normal child would.
Though the main reason why she works so well is that she is the perfect foil for Basil. Not even he can keep up a façade of not caring when confronted with a helpless half-orphan whose whole appearance just screams “protect me”. At the same time, it’s obvious that he doesn’t really know how to deal with her. The funniest moments of the movie are based on this dynamic (and I think it’s very telling that it’s easier to find pictures of Basil and Olivia in the net than pictures of Dr. Dawson).
and can u blame them?
Though the most important character beside Basil is naturally Professor Rattigan. Physically perhaps the smallest villain Disney ever created, but nevertheless one of the most threatening. He deserves a lot of credit for doing the first step to establish the villain song as a Disney stable. What, u don’t believe me? Then give me a song sung door the villain which is not played for laugh prior to this one.
Either way, Moriarty is actually an easy figure to adapt, simply because there isn’t much to him. He is mostly so notorious because he turns up in a case and immediately kills Sherlock. (Later on ACD allowed Sherlock to rise from the death and he wrote one additional story describing one of Moriarty’s earlier deeds, but even in this one Moriarty only schemes in the background). Since there isn’t really much in canon about him, the only important thing in any adaptation is that he works as Holmes, of in this case Basil’s, nemesis. I think a guy who drowns orphans and widows, makes sure that one of his henchmen is eaten alive and is one step ahead for most of the movie qualifies.
Of the interpretations I know, the Disney one is certainly the most flamboyant and erratic one – well, at least it was until the Moriarty form BBC Sherlock came around (which makes me wonder….). But this is the perfect fit for Basil. The way those two deal with their triumphs and disappointments is actually quite similar (well, minus the tendency to murder someone when being in a bad mood). They are like two sides of the same coin – in short, exactly what Sherlock and Moriarty should be, even if they are called Basil and Rattigan.
There are also a lot of minor figures like Mr. Haversham (oh, sorry, Flaversham) , Mrs. Jugson, Toby, a parody of Queen Victoria, Fidget, various henchmen and so on. They all work fine, but they mostly just provide the background for the main characters, so I won’t go into detail about them. Nothing wrong about them, but none of them are particular memorable either – unless they start to strip, naturally. 3. The Plot
u might have guessed it: This is not really much of a detective story. If u expect to get clues in order to solve the case yourself, you’ll be disappointed. This is meer a character study of Basil and Rattigan, and as such it works very well. It’s just fun to watch those two characters trying to outwit each other, even though some of their actions are very much over the top. Rattigan’s evil scheme in a meer realistic movie would never work, neither would Basil’s crazy math-skills be believable, but in the setting Disney picked, it’s just too enjoyable to nit-pick about plausibility.
Parallels to the original stories are few and far between. Naturally some famous quotes are thrown in (after all, what is any adaption without the word "elementary"?). There are the backgrounds of the main characters (and isn't it sad that there are adaptations which don't even get this right?), the way Basil deducts Dr. Dawson during the first meeting and the end of Rattigan, which could be seen as a version of the Reichenbach fall. It’s a little bit funny that Disney for once had every right to make sure the Basil survives, considering the A.C. Doyle created a version of the Disney death long before the animatie studios were even founded.
One of the most common complains I have about some Disney-movies is the pacing of the lack of focus. This movie knows exactly what kind of story it wants to tell, and it builds up the suspense perfectly. Not one filler scenes in this one, every story-line is tightly wrapped up towards the end, and when it comes to the climax, it delivers full scale. The movement in the klokkentoren was not only a huge step vooruit, voorwaarts in animation, it’s also the kind of computer animatie which aged very well so far. The Great muis Detective is also a rarity in the Disney Canon in that there isn’t any kind of love-story in it. The only other Disney films without one I can come up from the top, boven of my mind are Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland.
4. The Conclusion
Sandwiched between box-office failure The Black Cauldron (I don’t care that the movie has some sort of a cult following door now, it will always be remembered as the one which lost against the Care Bears) and the soulless merchandise machine which was Oliver and Company (I’ll go into detail about this one in a later review), also overshadowed door the meer successful Don Bluth movie An American Tail, The Great muis Detective is often overlooked. But it shouldn’t be. It might not be as visually stunning as some of the later (and a few earlier) movies, but it’s nevertheless very pleasing to look at. It might not be the movie which started the Disney Renaissance, but it is the one which marked the end of the dark age of animation. Without the modest success of this one, The Little Mermaid wouldn’t even exist today.
But it’s importance aside, this is simply a genuinely good movie. My lists of Sherlock Holmes adaptations I consider “well done” is very short, but The Great muis Detective will always have a spot on it.