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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Great Mouse Detective is a Disney tribute to Sherlock Holmes that has potentially frightening themes such as kidnapping, blackmail, and world domination. Although it's rated G, it does feature a menacing evil genius who wants to kill the reigning Mouse Queen and uses his creepy henchman bat to commit crimes. There are also a couple of cartoon-violence scenes (a pub brawl and a climactic duel) and notable drinking/smoking scenes. But for young tweens -- especially those interested in detective mysteries -- this should be a fun bet.
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What's the story?
THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE is Disney's tribute to Sherlock Holmes mysteries. In 19th-century London, Mr. Flaversham (voiced by Alan Young), a toy-maker mouse, is suddenly kidnapped, so his faithful daughter Olivia (Susanne Pollatschek) convinces the famous detective Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham), who's aided by a curious Dr. Dawson (Val Bettin), to search for the girl's missing father. Basil quickly deduces that the evil genius Professor Ratigan (the one-and-only Vincent Price), masterminded the kidnapping to further his plans to off the Mouse Queen and install a robot Flaversham creates in her place, thereby ruling all of Britain's mouse population. Basil and Dawson follow the clues around London, even bumping into the real Sherlock Holmes along the way in one memorable scene. At one point Olivia is taken hostage, so Basil and Dawson kick up their efforts to save her, her father, and the Queen before it's too late.
Is it any good?
Director Ron Clements (who went on to direct several Disney favorites) imbues his delightful mouse tale with a nod to all familiar with Holmes stories. Based on Eve Titus' popular children's book series about a Victorian mouse detective who models himself after Holmes, The Great Mouse Detective contains all of the elements of a good mystery: an initial crime, an innocent party in search of help, a series of clues that help Basil and his newfound assistant Dr. Dawson all across London (often on the back of the real Holmes' pet hound Toby) to find where the not-quite-clever-enough villain is hiding. Children, even kindergarteners, will be able to follow the action and learn about the basics of sleuthing and suspense.
The city of London plays as a big a role in the plot as any of the characters, and Clements and company lovingly detail major landmarks such as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace -- the big chase scene inside Big Ben is a notable early example of CGI. The animated set design aside, the scenery chewing star of this production is obviously Price, who somehow had never been asked to voice a Disney villain until this 1986 production, just seven years before he died. Price's every word as the dastardly Professor Ratigan is deliciously evil sounding. The unflappable Basil (voiced elegantly by Ingham, a veteran British theater actor), is naturally up to the challenge of confronting and defeating the greedy Ratigan, but it's the tension between the two characters that makes this a treat to watch even for adults.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why stories like The Great Mouse Detective about detectives solving crimes are so engrossing. Is it because in this case, it's clear who's good and who's evil? How are mysteries with obvious villains and heroes different than mysteries where you don't know who committed the crimes being investigated?
What other movies feature an "evil genius" with plans for world domination? Parents, discuss with your kids the significance of legendary actor Vincent Price voicing the mad rat character.
For older kids or families familiar with Sherlock Holmes stories: how closely does the plot follow a Holmes mystery? Why are absurdly clever detectives such a popular "type" in crime stories? Did you know the Sherlock Holmes in the movie is voiced by the actor who played him in the classic 1940s films?
Roy Disney said this movie was in the "mouse cannon" of Disney films, because the studio was founded on a mouse. What are some other great Disney mice movies?
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