Among the sequences which impress is the first appearance of Ratigan when – with some dapper foot-work and much swirling of his opera-cloak – he sings the praises of his blackguardly reputation as ‘The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind’, in an incongruous mock-Hollywood set flowing with pink champagne; and the scene in which Basil and Dawson escape by the skin of their teeth from an elaborate death-machine, triggered by the arm of a wind-up gramophone and utilizing axes, revolvers, suspended anvils and a common mouse-trap.
But the undisputed highlight of the film is its nerve-jangling climax. Having abducted little Olivia, Ratigan carries her off in a miniature air-ship, pursued by Basil, Dawson and Flaversham in a Heath-Robinson contraption constructed out of a sardine-can, a Union Jack and some Jubilee balloons. After a dizzy night-time pursuit across the roof-tops of London, they crash through the face of Big Ben, and a wild chase ensues within the works of the clock. It is a staggering animation set-piece, combining conventional drawn-animation for the characters and computer-generated graphics to create the interior of Big Ben.
The seemingly free-floating camera follows Basil and Ratigan as they run and leap through the constantly moving set with its whirring wheels, gears, cogs and ratchets. It is a breath-taking sequence which demonstrates how the computer can be used to serve rather than rule the art of animation.
What is curious about The Great Mouse Detective is the Disney Company has shown so much nervousness towards the project (following the release of Steven Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes), to the extent of abandoning its original title, Basil of Baker Street, and, it is rumoured, even considered dubbing the English voices with American accents for the U.S. release. That, in the event, did not happen, and the film grossed $18 million in its first month, but even that wasn’t sufficient to deter the company from its decision to play down the Holmes-connection in, of all places, Britain. Nevertheless, the film looks set to do well with English audiences. And so it should: little Basil is a truly Great Mouse Detective, and The Great Mouse Detective is a truly great little movie.
Printed in Animator Issue 17 (Autumn 1986)