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Great Mouse Detective: Mystery in the Mist Edition, The (DVD Review)

7 Apr, 2010 By: John Latchem

Street 4/13/10
$19.99 DVD
Rated ‘G.’
Voices of Barry Ingham, Val Bettin, Vincent Price, Alan Young.

A lot of significance was attached to The Princess and the Frog as a return to form for the Disney animation studio, but history shows it’s just another cog in a cycle that has stretched back decades.

In the late 1970s, for example, the studio was reeling in the wake of Walt Disney’s death, and the legendary animators known as the “Nine Old Men” were starting to retire. There was serious doubt the studio could have any success with the new crop of animators, especially when Don Bluth walked out during production of The Fox and the Hound. And the less-than-stellar showing of The Black Cauldron in 1985 seemed to prove the naysayers correct.

But in 1986 the studio rebounded with the modest hit The Great Mouse Detective, based on Eve Titus’ 1958 book Basil of Baker Street and its follow-ups. Though it finished behind Bluth's own mouse movie, An American Tail, at the box office, The Great Mouse Detective was successful enough for the Disney animation studio to move on to Oliver & Company in 1988. With Oliver, the studio was still playing catch-up to Bluth, whose The Land Before Time broke box office records for animation. But the momentum of the two Disney movies eventually led to the renaissance in feature animation that would carry the studio through the end of the century, embodied by The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.

The Great Mouse Detective belongs in that subset of Disney stories that create parallel culture for animals, a technique also seen in The Rescuers and “Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers.” In this case, the major characters are mice analogs for the cast of the “Sherlock Holmes” stories. Basil, who lives underneath Holmes, and Dr. David Q. Dawson help a little girl find her father, a toymaker who has been kidnapped to aide the latest evil scheme by Prof. Ratigan. There really isn’t much separating this from a straight Holmes caper, except for the clever miniaturizations of the trappings of Victorian London.

As one of the first animated films to utilize CGI, The Great Mouse Detective offers several dazzling sequences, particularly a final showdown inside Big Ben, that animation couldn’t have dealt with previously.

The film has an annoying habit of breaking into songs that don’t seem to fit the mood (one number feels like a jazzy tune from Chicago), and Vincent Price doesn’t quite offer the menace one would expect from the heavy. Otherwise, the movie holds up pretty well (and the release of this DVD only two weeks after the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes remake is surely no coincidence).

This “Mystery in the Mist” edition carries over two extras from the 2002 DVD: a sing-along of the Ratigan song and “The Making of The Great Mouse Detective,” a featurette that was fine in its day but now cries out for a proper retrospective companion. Instead, the only substantial new extra is “So You Think You Can Sleuth?,” a brief history of detective work.

Disney also slapped their usual promotional materials on here, such as the cheesy Blu-ray primer with “Suite Life” stars Dylan and Cole Sprouse.

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