What do you need to know about this, the twenty-sixth animated feature from Walt Disney? Just that while there were at least five books starring Basil, the mouse detective, there has only been just this one single movie based on those books. Not a sequel, not a Saturday morning television series, not an Ice Capades version or Broadway show, not even one of those money-grubbing straight to video knock-offs that pop up like a polyp on a middle-aged guy’s colon.
Disney was no doubt smarting from the fact that The Black Cauldron proved an extremely expensive and stinky stew back in 1985. Surely, this cheaper and more conventional tale of a mouse who has to foil the schemes of a rat to take over England with a robot queen built by an expert toy maker, was a very attractive follow up project to try and get back in the black.
Discounting the fact that there is surely a big difference between making a wooden train and an android that has to fool an entire nation, the movie annoys because of the dumb idea that all the mice in England have studiously replicated Victorian society right down to their fictional detectives. Think of it as a holodeck program if Lt. Geordi from Star Trek: The Next Generation had a rodent fetish.
Even if you’re the type of lunatic who doesn’t mind finding rat turds in your Fruit Loops though, you won’t be terribly engaged by this movie, especially the first forty minutes of it, which includes an unfortunate musical number sung by Vincent Price!
The movie opens with a toymaker getting kidnapped and his daughter going to find Basil so that he can try and rescue her father. Along the way she runs into Dr. Dawson, a tubby chap with a moustache who is the Dr. Watson mouse to Basil’s Sherlock. Am I the only one who is less than impressed with someone who writes a bunch of books that mimics Sherlock Holmes, only with mice?
Precious concept aside, this little kid that is looking for her dad will have you looking under your sink for the rat poison, chiefly because of her squeaky voice. Thankfully, she’s captured halfway through and we get to focus on the growing relationship between both single men. I’m not trying to start anything here, but Basil did convince Dawson to dress up as a sailor and visit a waterfront bar with him.
Being an open minded sort, I’ll admit that the bar scenes were the best. Where else in a Disney movie can you see an animated cat shimmy around in a garter singing about making some guy feel good? Basil and Dawson even had someone slip some roofies into their drinks!
After Dawson finishes dancing on stage with Melissa Manchester’s Miss Kitty Mouse, he and Basil head off into the sewer after the evil Ratigan’s henchman, Fidget, who leads them into a trap.
A trap that had Fidget in a bottle dressed up like a little girl! Did I mention that Fidget was a bat with a wooden leg?
Fidget is the real break out star here with his raspy voice and peg leg. There really isn’t a better moment in the film than when Fidget leaves the bar and he’s still singing the Manchester song to himself.
Basil and Dawson manage to escape the Rube Goldberg-esque trap Ratigan devised for them, but before completely leaving that scene, I must remark on the most diabolically twisted aspect of Ratigan’s death trap – he left the record player playing an LP of Vincent Price singing endlessly about saying good bye and stuff! A diabolically evil trap indeed!
There’s a big finale in the gears of Big Ben and the scene marks the first time that traditional animation and computer animation were melded together, thus starting a long and crappy trend in cartoons.
Questionable computer animation aside, the regular animation in this one, particularly the character designs, weren’t very impressive and looked really cheap and flat. Basil, Dawson and the rest looked like Disney characters from those budget conscious TV shows like Ducktales or Rescue Rangers, appearing quite flat and lifeless. Besides, how many ugly brown mice am I expected to have to look at in a movie? At least one of the mice in The Rescuers was white.
The movie also seemed to more interested in hurtling Basil and company from one manic event to the next without any time in between to establish exactly who these rats were. The movie is really one long chase scene, but certainly won’t leave you breathless.
The interplay between Basil and Dawson (homoerotic subtext aside) wasn’t memorable or interesting and you weren’t left with any desire to see these two crack a case again. In fact, you’ll probably feel like firing up one of Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes movies after watching this pallid effort.
Ratigan is an okay villain and Price was an obvious and good choice to voice him, but frankly, it’s the Fidget action figure that you’ll be wishing came with your Happy Meal.
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