The Great Mouse Detective

The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Vincent Price
Extras: Featurette, Stills Gallery, Sing-Along, Cartoons, Trailers

The Walt Disney Studio’s animated fare from the 1970s through the mid-1980s is much maligned among animation fans and it’s certainly true that no real classics emerged during that period. Still, a fair number of highly entertaining films are included in that eclectic mix. Such is the case with 1986’s "The Great Mouse Detective."

Loosely based on the Sherlock Holmes stories, this nice little film is best remembered for its groundbreaking use of computer animation used for the climactic Big Ben clock tower scene. That bit of trivia aside, the movie itself is really quite good and features a wonderful voice performance by none other than Vincent Price.

Set in Victorian era London, the tale centers on the attempts of one Professor Radigan the rat (Vincent Price) to usurp the crown of the mouse queen. His henchman — a bat named Fidget (Candy Candido) — is sent to abduct Hiram Flaversham (Alan Young), a toymaker whose talents Radigan needs to complete his diabolical scheme. Flaversham’s young daughter, Olivia (Susanne Pollatschek), turns to the famed mouse detective Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham) for help. With his trusty sidekick, Doctor David Q. Dawson (Val Bettin), Basil sets to sleuthing.

What’s perhaps most refreshing about "The Great Mouse Detective" is the unique nature of the story it tells. It’s not a fairy tale, it isn’t packed with sappy songs, and it features some truly evil characters. Vincent Price is at his over-the-top best and the rest of the voice talent is great as well.

Presented in 1.66:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, the transfer for this new DVD release is, in a word, stunning. The image is as sharp as the sometimes rough animation allows while colors are wonderfully vibrant and stable throughout. Most surprising of all, there’s nary a nick or blemish anywhere on the print which is nothing short of amazing given the age and relatively low stature of the film. Incidentally, the opening titles refer to the movie as "The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective" — a moniker the film picked up for its 1992 re-release — indicating that, at the very least, that portion of the transfer came from the newer elements.

Audio comes in English, Spanish, and French <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix>es. The soundtrack is nice and clear and features good dynamic range with sharp highs and an abundance of deep bass. Surrounds are used mostly for atmospheric and musical effects while the front soundstage is nice and wide and full of life. Fans will be more than pleased with this audio mix.

As an added bonus, the DVD includes a fair number of extras. First up is a vintage 8-minute featurette entitled "The Making of ’The Great Mouse Detective.’" This is a bit light but does offer some production shots as well as interviews with the cast.

Next up are a 15-page scrapbook of production stills and a sing-along for "The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind."

Also included are two classic animated shorts in keeping with the themes of the feature film — "Clock Cleaners" starring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy; and "Donald’s Crime" featuring Donald Duck and Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

Rounding out the extras are trailers for nine upcoming Disney theatrical and video releases. Oddly enough, no trailer for "The Great Mouse Detective" is included.

"The Great Mouse Detective" was a harbinger of things to come from Disney. Not only did it feature an early attempt at digital animation (which, oddly, enough, is better integrated with the cel animation than in many more current films) it was also the first co-directorial effort from Ron Clements who later went on to co-direct "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin" — two undeniable animation classics.

All that aside, the film is in and of itself a great little adventure that doesn’t pander to the audience or fall back on any easy animated movie cliches. This one tells an original story and has a lot of fun doing it.

Disney’s new DVD release is a real treasure trove for fans as it features a sparkling video transfer, excellent audio, and even a smattering of bonus features. What more could one ask for?