Sunday, October 18, 2009

"i am NOT a rat!"

I am going to indulge for a bit in one of my favorite childhood movies. This underrated movie started me on a path, at the tender age of five, that eventually led to a curiosity that developed into a full-blown obsession with the Victorian world.

I am talking about the Disney animated film The Great Mouse Detective (1986).

image source: Filmwerk

This is by far one of the best movies Disney has ever made. Based loosely on the children’s book series Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus, the movie follows the exploits of Basil as he tries to save Queen Moustoria and all Mousedom from the plots of the evil Professor Ratigan.

Why you should IMMEDIATELY rent it from a video store or order it on Netflix and watch this movie:
  1. Basil of Baker Street is the mouse world’s version of Sherlock Holmes. He lives beneath Holmes’ flat on Baker Street.
  2. Professor Ratigan is about 1,000 times better than Professor Moriarty, the Sherlock Holmes character who he was modeled after, simply due to more face time (Moriarty only got one measly little story in which he hardly appears at all) and more newsworthy crimes such as stealing the Crown Jewels and attempted regicide.
  3. The villain is a rat who denies he’s a rat throughout the film and owns a cat. He also has the best personality of any villain ever- a mix of suave dandy with insanity bubbling beneath the surface. The perfect charismatic villain.
  4. Professor Ratigan is voiced by Vincent Price, the most famous B-list horror movie actor of all time (think original House of Wax and House on Haunted Hill.)
  5. The score is composed by the famous Henry Mancini, composer of the immortal Pink Panther theme. He wrote the two songs Vincent Price sings for the film.
  6. VINCENT PRICE SINGS TWO SONGS IN THIS FILM. He was in his 70s at the time and he sounds terrific. See “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” and “Goodbye So Soon.”
  7. Every single song in this film is amazing. This isn’t some stupid children’s film with happy-go-lucky ditties of no substance. All the songs have a reason, either to introduce a character or forward the plot. The song “Let Me Be Good to You,” written and performed by pop singer Melissa Manchester, is in a scene in a bar with a sexy showgirl mouse. These aspects definitely make the musical scenes more interesting for the adult viewer to say the least.
  8. No sappy romance/love story. Straight up adventure, with an endearing story about a girl trying to find her kidnapped father.
  9. Violence, drinking and smoking are prominent, which completely adds to the 19th-century criminal underworld feel of this film. One character even gets drugged. This would drive the PC police of today nuts. I can see it now: “Smoking, in a DISNEY ANIMATED FILM? You’re corrupting our kids! Now they’ll start smoking!” Ahem, I first saw this film when I was five. I don't smoke, I drink little, and although I am a fan of very violent movies (300, V for Vendetta, Snatch, Fight Club, and The Boondock Saints to name a few) the only weapons I have are pepper spray and kitchen knives. Seriously, just enjoy the damn movie, let your kids enjoy it, and stop worrying what it's doing to their brains.
  10. From Wikipedia:
    The layouts were done on computers, and the use of video cameras made a digital version of pencil testing possible. The movie is also notable for its early use of computer generated imagery (CGI) for a chase scene that takes place in the interior of Big Ben. The movements of the clock's gears were produced as wire-frame graphics on a computer, printed out and traced onto animation cells where colors and the characters were added. The Great Mouse Detective is sometimes cited as the first animated film from Walt Disney Pictures to use CGI; in reality, 1985's The Black Cauldron has this distinction.
  11. I may be wrong on this one, but it’s the earliest film of which I know that features a showdown in Big Ben. The other ones I can think of immediately are Sherlock (2002) and Shanghai Knights (2003)
  12. The climax of the film gave me nightmares for years after I saw it. The only other Disney animated film to do that to me was the climactic battle between Prince Philip and Maleficent the Dragon in The Sleeping Beauty (1959), which I also saw when I was five. Why is that a plus? Because it still makes that scene exciting to watch, even 17 years later.
Other than that, this film actually has many steampunk elements in it, although I would hardly classify it within a steampunk genre. Mechanics and machines are used for devious ends. There’s a robot queen, a dirigible, and a showdown amidst the wheels and gears of the most famous landmark in London, built during the Victorian era. Basil’s use of the clock’s workings to his advantage is actually what defeats Ratigan in the end.

A short clip from the clock tower sequence:


  1. I cannot for the life of me remember if I've ever seen this movie... I think I'm getting it mixed up with that movie about mice immigrants who sing "Somewhere Out There"...

    Anyways, I love your list of reasons to watch it. Number three is my favorite. It's hilarious to me that the rat claims he's not a rat the entire time. That sounds very funny.

    Your mention of Vincent Price got me thinking about Edward Scissorhands. Vincent Price plays the inventor. I was wondering if that movie has any elements of steampunk in it? This is the clip with the invention at the beginning of the film... there are a lot of mechanics involved, so I thought it may qualify.

  2. That's a hard question to answer about Edward Scissorhands. Steampunk generally focuses on technological advancements that never happened in the 19th century, but is not restricted to this definition. Considering that Edward Scissorhands appears to be a modern word, it may not be steampunk simply because it's not in the 19th century. But the inventor's machines appear to be steam-powered, which would fit a common aspect of steampunk technology.

    So my answer is... depends on the interpretation. I would say no. I think Edward Scissorhands is more gothic than steampunk.

  3. In no way am I an authority, but I am glad that you (Lauren) said it depends on the interpretation. After all, Edward began as a machine if I remember the plot correctly. I think this could potentially give him a "steampunk Jesus" quality.

    I think it is fair to say that steampunk has to exist in the 19th century, though. However, it would be interesting to contemplate how steampunk style would exist say amongst the technological age. I guess this risks existing outside of the genre, but after all these are just ways to categorize things. If it was done good enough, no one would care.