This still-enjoyable movie from Disney was among the first to use CGI, or computer-generated imagery.
Disney began doing cartoons the hard way with Snow White, which featured laborious hand-drawn cel-by-cel movements and a multiple image camera that moved characters and backgrounds at different speeds as a story progressed. Later cartoon productions were clunkier and produced with much less attention to detail, which showed. By the middle of the last century, the character-driven Warner Brothers cartoons were valued, but those and Disney classics are the only ones remembered today.
Besides good animation, this comic film is a loyal, mouse-driven derivation of the Sherlock Holmes stories and books written by Arthur Conan Doyle and published between 1892 and 1927.
Its story begins in London when a toymaker is kidnapped after giving his daughter a handmade gift. The daughter, Olivia, seeks help from a gentleman, Dr. David Q. Dawson (Watson.) She needs help to find Basil of Baker Street (named after Basil Rathbone who played Sherlock in a the mid-20th century film series, no doubt,) to find her father.
Dawson is a kindly fellow, and together the two find Basil’s mousehole under the Baker Street apartment where a gentleman upstairs (Sherlock?) plays a violin in silhouette in a window in the evening moonlight.
Basil’s landlady, Mrs. Judson (Hudson in the books) welcomes Olivia in a motherly way, and Basil agrees to help find Olivia’s father, who has been kidnapped by an agent of the dastardly Ratigan (Professor Moriarty.)
From there, the adventures and conflicts build and build, climaxing finally in battles over and inside London’s most famous timepiece.
This film is fun to watch for children and adults. It also is true enough to the character of Sherlock (who always has been what we would now call “on the spectrum” but whose hard shell is cracked by the distress of innocent victims) and Watson to prepare children for later literary or film versions of Conan Doyle stories.
Besides being more visually arresting, the film is anchored more in history than popular culture of the current day. Almost 35 years after its release, Mouse Detective retains interest because it refers to old stories that don’t rely on tropes like Lego/DC superheroes, Pokemon characters and twerking animals. (Twerking was a 1980s dance phenomenon that was said to have ended in 2013, but you wouldn’t know it by more recent children’s animation.)
If you share time with a young person who has seen this movie, by the time the person is 10, for instance, you can enjoy the Rathbone movies that date to 1939, or the still-enjoyable British Granada television series that features Jeremy Brett as Sherlock. A young person who has enjoyed Mouse Detective many times (as children do with favorite books or videos) will appreciate instantly Sherlock’s deductive reasoning, his reliance on Watson for human interaction and his absolute and unswerving focus on solving mysteries.
In short, this cartoon is nearly 35 years old but still is worth enjoying.
This movie was enhanced by the participation of two film legends.
The first was the late Henry Mancini, who scored the film and is most famous for “Moon River” the song (with lyrics by Johnny Mercer) for the Breakfast at Tiffany’s film (that I mean to see someday) and the “Pink Panther Theme” from the Peter Sellers movie series.
If you have a moment, enjoy the first minute or so of this Mouse Detective scene, in which the three heroes search for clues in a factory of wind-up toys (a perfect setting for a Disney movie.) The musical accompaniment matches the action perfectly. Mancini also contributed catchy music for Ratigan and his goon team.
The second is also-late Vincent Price, who voices the character of Ratigan, a rat yes who aims to replace the mouse monarch of England on the1897 occasion of the actual Queen Victoria’s 50-year jubilee.
Price died in the last century after a long film career as a master of evil. You can almost hear him twirling his mustaches as he reads his lines with devilish glee
Contemporary parents are getting mildly leery of this film because it includes a mouse chanteuse singing and stripping off (some) clothing in a performance at a sleazy riverfront bar, and because Dr. Dawson is made briefly silly after being served a mickey at the same locale. So while film experts recommend the movie only for children over the age of six, some parents are upping the minimum recommended viewing age to eight.
Honestly, I don’t know how those parents protect their children from all the other coarsening content of popular culture, but if they manage to protect their children from 1986 Disney cartoons in which honorable good guys prevail in efforts to help frightened children, they must have their hands full every time the children consult computer tablets or leave the house.