'Mouse Detective' lacks the spark of great Disney

February 15, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

The true mystery that "The Great Mouse Detective" never really solves is how the estimable Disney studio had the nerve to release it in 1986 and re-release it in 1992.

A dingy, dismal distillation of the Sherlock Holmes canon into a rodent universe, it lacks the pep and charm of both earlier and later Disney animated features. To compare it with "Beauty and the Beast" is to insult the latter. There is no comparison. It's not even as good as "Steamboat Willie," which introduced Mickey to America in 1930.

Our Hero is one Basil of Baker Street, a mouse who abides in a rococo suite of rooms under the floorboards of No. 10 Baker St. (Once, when he's exiting, he meanders through the big house and the shadows of S. H. and Dr. W. play upon the wall, and we hear some impenetrable dialogue about German music, all to no effect.) Basil, in so far as I can tell, has no discernible personality, except for his occasional riffs on a Holmesian theme: He repeats, unconvincingly and much abridged, Holmes' legendarily brilliant litany of deductions which enabled the sleuth to ascertain that his new roomie was a surgeon recently returned from hazardous duty in Afghanistan. But that's the only time his character ever pops to pseudo-life.

In this version, Watson is a rotund mouse now called Dawson. Why the marginal variation in names, which will only serve to irritate older viewers and confuse the younger ones just warming up to the glories (here unevoked) of the one, the true Sherlock Holmes? Anyway, this Dawson looks more like a badger or a porcupine than a mouse, if you ask me.

The caper these two embark upon seems derived more from Steven Spielberg's "Young Sherlock Holmes" than anything in Conan Doyle's exquisite prose. In the mouse universe underlying and paralleling Holmes' Victorian London, a professor of evil called "Ratigan" kidnaps a mouse toy maker and gives him instructions to fabricate a replica of the Mouse Queen Victoria. The toy maker's cute, weepie little daughter snivels her way to Basil and with Dr. Dawson the two set out to discover the reason why, which turns out to be another mad-scientist-wants-to-rule-the-world plot, as dreary now as it was in 1986 or 1886. In one of those Spielbergesque extravaganzas of excessive hubris, the grand finale finds our heroes interrupting the diamond jubilee to prevent a mechanical Victoria from turning the realm over to Ratigan.

There are about two seconds of technically impressive animation in a climactic sequence set inside the meshing gears of Big Ben, in a welter of shifting perspectives and dizzying camera angles; but otherwise the general level of invention and charm is way off.

And there's this other thing. Remember how Disney always obeyed Orwell's dictum that all animals are equal but some animals are more equal? See, that always irked the hell out of me, you know, how Mickey, a mouse, and Donald, a duck, had Pluto, a dog, for a pet. A dog could eat a mouse! Any dog could eat ANY mouse! I mean it made me REALLY MAD. Like, STEAMED. Anyway, in this one, Basil, a mouse, has a big pet called Toby, who's a dog. Excuse me? A mouse with a dog for a pet? Again? I'm getting mad all over again.

'The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective'

Directed by Mark Herman.

Released by Disney.

Rated G.


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