Great Mouse Detective: Mystery in the Mist Edition, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers checks in on the little door beneath Sherlock Holmes' estate...
On the night of a young mouse named Olivia’s birthday, her toymaker father, Hiram, is kidnapped by a peg-legged bat. Olivia, whose mother is long dead, escapes unharmed, and journeys in search of Basil of Baker Street, the Great Mouse Detective (who, conveniently enough lives within Sherlock Holmes’ walls). Lost looking for Basil’s specific address, Olivia happens upon Dr. David Q. Dawson, who has just returned from a tour of military duty in Afghanistan (apparently British mice fought there too). Dawson agrees to help, and soon the travelers find Basil, who isn’t particularly interested in their cause until he realizes it’s likely intertwined with his on-going pursuit of his arch-enemy, the evil Professor Padraic Ratigan.
Though it was released in the heart of Disney animation’s ‘70s and ‘80s downtime, I’ll always reserve a soft spot for The Great Mouse Detective, which might be the first run Disney animation release I ever saw in theaters. It’s been a long time since then, so I was really looking forward to a revisit. The revisit is, I’m afraid, mostly characterized as disappointing, as the film does mostly earn its status as a lesser cannon film, at least with regard to modern and classic era expectations. The production values are lacking, the pacing is rocky, the story isn’t really fleshed out, the animation is a bit off, there are only three songs (one of which plays in the background on a phonograph), and the sound design is flat – all signs of a lower budget, and generally less interest from the studio. Without meaning to sound particularly dismissive, I’ve say the film looks more like it was made for the small screen, and does carry an air of anonymity. Apparently there’s a good reason I don’t really remember much of the film in terms of plot or imagery.
The animation is a little rough, but the character expression and movement is vintage Disney. The cell movements don’t meld with the painted backgrounds, but the film certainly has a style apart from most of Disney’s other films. This is a dark movie in tone and appearance (which is less surprising when one considers it was the follow-up to The Black Cauldron). The design team takes most of their major cues from classic Sherlock Holmes films, including darker, foggier compositions that pick up on the pseudo-gothic UK overcast used by many the Basil Rathbone films, and even the Hammer Horror version of Hound of the Baskervilles. The storyline doesn’t really sustain itself for the feature runtime, but as a series of set pieces the movie fills the space beyond a TV special length satisfactorily enough. I’m particularly fond of Ratigan’s Rube Goldberg deathtrap, but most viewers likely remember the climax, including a massive set of CG enhanced gears, which was a pretty big technical achievement for the time.
Amateur animation historians should probably be aware that nothing appears to have been censored from the film. The characters still get wasted on (drugged) ale, they still smoke cigarettes, pipes and cigars, and there’s still a burlesque scene (I swear the lyric is ‘I’ll take off my clothes/Hey fellas/There’s nothing I won’t do/Just for you, but apparently the word is blues).
So here’s the thing, I was prepping a laundry list of complaints about Disney not releasing The Great Mouse Detective on Blu-ray, but now that I’m actually watching the film I find it hard to believe this particular film would look much better in high definition. The print is pretty grainy, which makes me assume, based on Disney’s usual treatment of their animation, that this is pretty much the film’s natural state. I’ve not seen the original DVD release, so I cannot compare the grain, clarity, or colour quality, but based on the release’s ‘dump-like’ quality I’m guessing the two transfers are pretty similar. Detail levels are sharp enough to see the grain in some of the background paintings, but the animation style really doesn’t lend itself to high definition. The pen and ink edges are thick and black, and the cell paint is kind of blotchy, not to mention only single shaded. HD might have made for brighter colours, but The Great Mouse Detective is generally such a dark and foggy film it doesn’t really matter.
The film’s lower budget, and pre-digital era design leads to one of the less busy Dolby Digital 5.1 revamps in digital Disney release history. The aural basis is most obviously a stereo surround, and the remixes best touch is the proper centering of the vocal elements. The music appears to have been mixed from separate tracks, and is the major stereo element. The music does feature a presence in the center channel as well, especially the clarinet solos, but the change-over is kind of off during the sing-along moments, which somewhat awkwardly toss the vocals performances in the center without any instrumental accompaniment (the instruments are all moved to the stereo channels). There are maybe two instances of the central vocals bleeding out into the stereo channels for a second, but it’s rare enough to ignore. The scene were all the wind-up toys are turned on as a distraction features a fair amount of surround channel involvement, but overall the production features a mostly frontal mix, and there generally isn’t a lot of ambience on the track. Effects are usually very pointed, and specific to on-screen action.
This new release of The Great Mouse Detective, dubbed the ‘Mystery in the Mist’ edition, is pretty clearly a dump made with aims to cash-in on the release of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. I cannot really compare the image or sound quality, but the new extras don’t appear (according to specs) much of an upgrade, if any at all. Things start with ‘So You Think You can Sleuth’ (4:40) a very brief look at the history of private detectives. It’s so quick it barely counts even as a featurette, but it’s interesting enough to garner at least a half hour version, minus the ‘game’ aspects (the history part takes about two minutes). The new extras are completed with ads for Blu-ray, Digital File, and other Disney releases. The old extras include ‘The Making of The Great Mouse Detective’ (7:50), an EPK (likely aired on the Disney Channel) that barely registers as informative. There’s a little bit of behind-the-scenes interview with the animators, the producers, the song writers, and some of the actors. Things are wrapped-up with a sing-a-long version of ‘The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind’ (2:00).
The Great Mouse Detective isn’t as charming or memorable as I’d like to think it is, but it features a stylistic dark side few Disney animation films have ever bothered achieving. It’s likely that the bleak visuals, and darker edged storytelling weren’t what 1986 animation audiences were looking for, which partially explains why the other 1986 period mouse movie, Don Bluth’s An American Tale, was the year’s bigger box office success (the fact that Bluth’s movie is just generally better certainly helped). This re-release has little to offer in terms of new extras, but the A/V quality seems to stand up, based on assumptions I’ve made about the condition of the source material.
Review by Gabriel Powers
All ages admitted
Release Date: 13th April 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Extras: So You Think You can Sleuth, The Making of The Great Mouse Detective, The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind Sing-a-Long
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson
Cast: Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone, Melissa Manchester, Barrie Ingham
Length: 77 minutes