30 for 30: The Great Mouse Detective

Richard Petro

twitter @ThePetroProject

October 1st, 2019

"Ratigan, no one can have a higher opinion of you than I have, and I think you're a slimy, contemptible sewer rat!"

     For anyone that may have read some other previous articles I’ve written, it should come as no surprise when I say that The Great Mouse Detective is my favourite Disney film, ever so slightly edging out One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which it was a toss-up over which film I’d go with here. I decided on The Great Mouse Detective as I still feel like it deserves more attention than it’s gotten, and is always worth revisiting if you haven’t seen it in a long time (or, by chance, ever).

     The Great Mouse Detective involves a little girl, Olivia Flaversham, whose inventor/toymaker father is kidnapped by a henchman of the evil Professor Ratigan. She stumbles upon a newcomer to London, Major Dawson on her journey to find Basil of Baker Street, a famous detective to help with her case, before the three set out on a journey to reunite the father and daughter as Basil faces his greatest adversary.

     Really, it shouldn’t be too shocking that this would be my favourite Disney, as I’ve always been a huge fan of detectives, Sherlock Holmes stories, and the always wonderful Vincent Price. But The Great Mouse Detective stands out to me for reasons other than just my own personal preferences, it has a simple but compelling story made successful by its characters.
     Basil always stuck out for me, even as a kid, as a main character in a Disney film that I hadn’t necessarily come across before. Basil can come off as kind of a jerk at times, but he’s never unlikable. Basil’s jerkiness obviously comes from a lack of any real social skills stemming from the fact that he’s too in his own ego/brain, not realizing when he shouldn’t dive head first into certain subjects, perfectly encapsulated when he dismissively tells Olivia that maybe her mother knows where her father went, only for Olivia to sadly respond with “I don’t have a mother.” He immediately feels awful about the whole exchange, but still shakes off helping until he hears that the missing father is connected to his own ongoing quest.

     Basil’s initial self-indulgence makes perfect sense since he doesn’t seem to be the type to go out and make friends, or even want to. You don’t have to hear or see too much of his life prior to understand him. Of course, a lot of what lends to the film's charm is Basil's interaction with the other characters. It helps that he's has two people to work wonderfully off of. Dr. Dawson is an absolute sweetheart, someone with a big, kind heart who tries his best to help those around him. Olivia Flangerhanger (Flaversham!) is one of the sweetest, cutest child characters in a Disney film. She's caring and innocent hearted, while being pretty independent and strong willed for her age. While Basil and Dawson work well together as opposites that mirror Holmes and Watson, Basil and Olivia are the real star team amongst the main characters. Their interactions are perfect, from the constant mispronounciation of a last name to something as wonderfully adorable as getting a dog to listen, watching the two go back and forth is one of the great joys of the film.

     The real star of the movie though, understandably, is Vincent Price as Ratigan. Price had always wanted to voice a Disney character, and the marriage of his voice and personality to a character such as Ratigan was perfect beyond compare. Ratigan is probably the most underrated Disney villain ever; an evil, ill-tempered and egotistical rat that desperately tries to be something that he isn't. He portrays himself as a classy individual who is above all those around him, though it's obvious that he is anything but. Price is easily the best person to have voiced the criminal rat, his voice being charming enough to convey the class the character desires while filling it with an underlying darkness. His charm, though, only goes so far, and it doesn't take much to make him blow. Vincent Price's work here is one of my absolute favourites in the Disney canon, and not just because I'm biased to loving Mr. Price. Price's charm and elegance fills the character with a sleaziness he deserves, and Ratigan himself deserves to be remembered as one of the best villains created for Disney's vast library.
     All of this doesn't even mention the best parts of The Great Mouse Detective, being the absolutely incredible interactions between Basil and Ratigan. They're short and not too plentiful when compared to the whole runtime, but there's a reason why the two are (half) jokingly referred to as "ex-boyfriends". The in-your-face, "I've bested you", personal insults between the two are like watching two exes run into each other at a bar and chip away at each other with almost childish-level insults. It's kind of beautiful, and I wish there was more of the two of them somewhere in here.

     I've already talked way longer than I had expected for one of these, but that's without even mentioning the set pieces and locales. From a sleazy, questionable-individuals attended bar to the Big Ben, The Great Mouse Detective is filled with some fantastic action and tension. The films moves at a breakneck speed, never dragging on something for too long while never feeling like it isn't letting moments have time to breath. It's a wonderfully made film, and absolutely worth revisiting time and time again.