“Shot Through the Heart” is a weekly segment in which I rant about a story that means the world to me. Each week we’ll go over a film, book, short story, or game that touched me in ways that are hard to put into words without them just turning into word vomit. This week we’re talking about an often ignored Disney animated film – The Great Mouse Detective!
C’mon everyone, this has Vincent Price as a hammy villain that actually winds up being terrifying. How is this not most people’s favorite Disney movie?
When Hiram Flaversham (Alan Young), talented toymaker, is kidnapped by the evil Prof. Ratigan (Vincent Price) his daughter Olivia (Susanne Pollatschek) seeks out Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham) with the help of Major Dr. David Q. Dawson (Van Bettin) in order to track them down. That’s it, that’s the plot. It’s now out of the way and we can talk about what’s so incredibly wonderful about this movie!
I honestly find this film endearing, from the adorable way the vicious Basset Hound lovingly obeys little Olivia to the bat with the peg-leg, it’s all so charming. This is one of the more frightening Disney animated films, incorporating dirty saloons (and a drunken sidekick) and cruel villainy to make a much darker movie than we’d been used to. In 1986 no one was quite used to Disney reigning supreme anymore, with their legendary renaissance still 3 years off, and the idea of a magnificent film coming from their animation teams was scoffed at. This little number was trotted out, a strange Sherlock Holmes homage that cast a horror legend as the enemy and allowed him to chew on all of the animated scenery, and it was a film compared to Disney’s golden age by Roger Ebert. Despite mixed reviews elsewhere, the film was a total success and went on to be a canonical film when some of us talk about Brilliant Disney.
To me, the whole thing feels like the perfect Sherlock Holmes film. It’s not based on any one story, and it shouldn’t be. It takes inspiration from several stories, but the story arc is pulling further from bits of the Basil of Baker Street series of children’s books. It’s a mishmash of ideas that manage to create one of the most brutal films in animation. Seriously, within this film a mouse is eaten by a cat as punishment for a slip of the tongue, a child’s toy is destroyed to display what might happen to her, and the finale is a dark and vicious display that is less a fight scene than it is the hero getting his ass kicked. Little-kid-Clint wasn’t ready for that amount of pure violence, and I consider that scene one of my first horror film moments.
Besides the fear and discomfort of those scenes, this is an absolutely delightful adventure film. Something about a proper English gentle-mouse that is out to battle for the lives of such adorable English citizens is very charming, and calls to attention something I’d forgotten – Disney is fun, not just the gluttonous money-monster that it’s become. Major Dawson dancing with the chorus line after a drugged beer, the herky-jerky movements of the robo-queen (which is clearly not real, a nice and silly touch that mocks the entirety of the plan from moment one), even the idea of a bat with a peg-leg; each disparate element seems so goofy but they all work in tandem to produce a chorus of proper British skullduggery on Ratigan’s part and a heroic effort on the part of Basil. I mean…come on, Ratigan’s plan is to replace the queen with a robotic toy that he can then marry and inherit the kingdom from. That entire idea is insane, and yet it works onscreen because of the goofiness that somehow grounds itself in London society. It’s an oxymoron that balances itself out.
I know this isn’t everyone’s favorite Disney movie. Hell, it’s not even mine (Aladdin is so good, right?). But this is a special one to me, and more importantly, I think it’s one that gets overlooked quite often. Silly, charming, grim, and terrifying at points, The Great Mouse Detective still ranks high on my list of Disney films. Because of how ignored it usually is, I think there’s a lot of you out there that still have one more Disney flick to see and that should be exciting! Pop it on, eat it up, and just fall in love like a young Clint did 25 years ago.