Ink & Pixel: The Great Mouse Detective

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has been granted permission to broaden its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy genres. I hope that you enjoy this bold new direction for the column. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

Nostalgia is an interesting phenomenon, is it not? In recent times, many characters, franchises, and fads have made their way back into popular culture. As a result, properties like My Little Pony, Doctor Who, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have experienced an unprecedented resurgence in their popularity. The result of which is that admirers both young and old have been inspired to re-establish fandoms based on their adoration for characters and worlds that, with enough time, would have otherwise become nothing more than click-bait for a Buzzfeed list article.

One such fandom that has cropped up in recent times hails from the critically acclaimed BBC television series, SHERLOCK. Lovingly referred to as “Sherlockians”, fans of the Baker Street sleuth are most notably known for their unquenchable thirst for a good caper, an admiration for endearing chemistry shared between two male protagonists, and oh yeah … Benedict Cumberbatch's exquisitely chiseled cheekbones . Still, quite a number of years before Cumberbatch and Freeman were the subject of many a steamy fan-fiction, Disney had their turn in creating a set of characters inspired by the dynamic duo when they set free THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE.

Released in the year 1986, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE was the 26th feature animated film to be added to the Disney Animated Classics collection. Directed by a total of four men (Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener, and John Musker), this animated mystery film was based upon the children's book series Basil of Bakerstreet by author Eve Titus. All five books in the series were published by McGraw-Hill, the first of which was printed in 1958. The undeniably intelligent book series featured artwork by Paul Galdone, and told of the adventures of Basil, and his personal biographer Doctor David Q. Dawson. Together, while living in the basement of Sherlock's Baker Street flat, Basil and David worked together to solve mysteries pertaining to their own mouse-related community. Fun Fact: I actually read these as a child, and they were wonderful.

In Disney's THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, a young mouse by the name of Olivia (Susanne Pollatschek) is left terrified after her toymaker father, Hiram (Alan Young), is abducted by scraggly looking peg-legged bat named Fidget (Candy Candido). Fearing for her father's life, Olivia seeks the aid of the renowned mouse detective, Basil (Barrie Ingham), and his companion-in-crime solving, David Q. Dawson (Val Bettin). Before long, Basil and David discover that Hiram has been mouse-napped by the nefarious Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price), who plans to abuse the toymaker's talents by forcing him to build a robotic clone of the Queen of England. Once in possession of the robot, Ratigan plots to abduct the queen and replace her with the robot doppelganger. To which the evil professor will then be free to manipulate the mechanized royalty to his will and whim – thus bringing both the rat and human kingdoms to their knees.

Truth be told, the makers of  THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE had quite the challenge on their hands when making this film. Much of this was due in part to Disney's previous animated feature, THE BLACK CAULDRON, under-performing at the box-office. Oh sure, CAULDRON received a score of positive reviews from critics, but alas, good word from on high was not enough to get folks into the theaters. As a result, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE was under a tremendous amount of pressure to make up for the loss, and all of this with a budget of only $10, compared to the $24 million requested.

Neither the pressure nor the budgetary deficit, however, were about to stop the makers of DETECTIVE from pulling out whatever stops they could in order to make their film stand out. Thus, in an effort to dazzle audience members, the directors asked that their art team find some way of making the animation for DETECTIVE different from what their adoring public had seen in the past. Accepting the challenge, the artists and animators looked to computers to help enhance the art of the film. With the use of computer-generated-imagery, team Disney concocted the film's backgrounds and layouts using a complex vector mapping system to make the mouse detective's world come alive.

Vector mapping? Yeah, think of it like a series of wire-frames, all bent, proportioned, and positioned to create landscapes that you can then print out and trace onto paper. Essentially, the artists would build the world digitally and then use their hands-on skills to draw atop the printed graphics. The whole process became this sort of Frankenstein marriage of old school hand-drawn cels working in conjunction with a relatively new means of creating animation. Although, it should be noted that  THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE was not the first Disney film to employ CGI techniques, that credit goes to, once again, to THE BLACK CAULDRON.

Regretably, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE did not perform as well as The House of Mouse had hoped. Which is a bit odd when considering that it pulled a lifetime gross of $38,625,550 within Canada and the United States, which is well above its $10 million dollar budget. I suppose it just wasn't enough to be crowned a success in the eyes of the powers that be. Then again, money worked a bit differently back then, no? Inflation, bah. It's okay though, because Disney's next animated feature film was THE LITTLE MERMAID, a movie that positively re-defined the way people believed in Disney animation.

For what it's worth, I'm a big fan of THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. I broke at least two VCRs by watching the film repeatedly, which is not to be blamed on my perfectly normal and healthy obsession with Miss Kitty Mouse. Seriously, my Dad used to read me portions of the old Sherlock adventures, so falling head over heels for this Baker Street-inspired animated caper was by no means difficult for me to do. I'd also like to add that the film holds up rather well in modern times, and that sweet CGI animation is still as mesmerizing and crisp as it was when it first hit theaters. Honestly, it's elementary to understand why it's still one of many people's favorite Disney films to date. Did you see what I did just then? You did? Well then, there's no getting anything past you. Indeed, I know I can be corny from time to time. That, friends, is no mystery. Heh, see you next time.


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.