So, after the song ends, Dawson and Basil follow Fidget to Ratigan’s lair. Only to discover that Admiral Ackbar was right and --
IT’S A TRAP!
-- Because Ratigan was waiting for them the whole time.
So naturally, Ratigan ties Basil and Dawson up and places them inside his Rube Goldberg-like death machine that will trigger when the record that is playing the song “Goodbye so soon” ends.
With his foes fate seemingly sealed (yay alliteration) Ratigan sets out for Buckingham palace. Basil at first deduces that things are hopeless, but then is able to outwit the trap and free the three of them. They set out for Buckingham palace as well.
At Buckingham, we see Ratigan put his plan into action by kidnapping the Queen and replacing her with a robot decoy that will bestow upon him absolute power. Yeah, it’s a kid’s movie, just go with it.
In the middle of Ratigan’s announcement of his newly bestowed ruler ship, Basil and co. show up and expose the phony Queen as such. Ratigan and Fidget take Olivia as hostage, flee to a dirigible, and sail away. Basil and Dawson fashion a make-shift hot air balloon out of books, a flag, and -- naturally -- some balloons and take off to rescue Olivia.
As the balloon flies close to the dirigible, Basil jumps on. This causes them to crash into Big Ben, where Ratigan pursues Basil through the gears of the interior of the clock.
Now I can talk about the use of CG in this movie as it was the technique employed to create the gears.
I think Black Cauldron may have had some elements that were also generated by computer; so that means this isn’t technically the first time it was used in a Disney animated film. However in that film, it was only used to render objects like ships, so this sequence marks the first extensive use.
It’s also fascinating that even though the gears were created in the computer, they didn’t have the capability of actually combining the CG elements with the hand drawn characters inside the computer. For that, they had to print out a line drawing version of the gears, Xerox it onto cels, paint, and finally photograph it just like any other piece of animation would be at the time. The ability to do all this digitally didn’t come until a few years later.
The sequence itself still holds up pretty well. It starts out very slow, and then builds in tempo as the camera moves get more violent and the cuts get quicker. There’s no dialogue except for a few incidental grunts either. I also like how there’s no music when it first starts, with only the echo of the gears turning heard. It’s really what you could call pure cinema.
So, Basil saves Olivia from being crushed by one of the gears and gets outside onto the hand of the clock face so that he can get her to her father who is waiting on the hot air balloon. After he does this, Ratigan also comes out and the two face each other for the final fight.
Oh yeah, by this time, Ratigan has transformed into some kind of demonic creature. It’s not exactly explained but I’m guessing the point was that beneath his elegance and sophistication he’s nothing more than a common sewer rat.
Anyway, the fight that ensues is actually rather violent for a family film. Granted there’s no blood or anything, and it only lasts for about a minute and a half. But still, that’s more than you get in a lot of other films. That was always one complaint I had about certain Disney movies when I was a kid, that they weren’t violent enough; Particularly Peter Pan and Robin Hood. Sure they do build to satisfying enough climaxes, but compared to other versions, they always left me wanting more.
So anyway, Ratigan finally knocks Basil off the clock’s hand, but he manages to grab onto the dirigible that is stuck in the side of the clock face. The clock strikes 10:00 and Ratigan falls off the hand, grabbing Basil on the way down. We assume Basil is dead for a moment but are then relieved when we see him peddling the propeller that was part of the dirigible that he was holding onto.
And so our heroes are all reunited. The next day at Baker Street, Olivia and her father thank Basil and Dawson before leaving to go do… something.
Dawson is about to depart as well, when a young woman comes in asking for Basil’s help on another case. Our story ends with Dawson agreeing to become Basil’s permanent partner.
You know now that I think of it, this is one of the few Disney movies the company has done absolutely nothing else with since they made this movie. Of all the movies where a sequel would actually make sense, this one seems the most fitting. Did anyone really want to see Cinderella II? Of course not, the story was over at the end of the first movie. But here you could have Basil and Dawson go on adventure after adventure and it wouldn’t feel like a retread at all. Plus the original series the movie was based on had 6 books in it, there’s got to be enough material there for something.
It is possible that the reason they didn’t was because right around that time Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers was being developed. I couldn’t find any info confirming this, but it makes sense.
I just realized I’ve gone all this time without mentioning the film’s directors. This movie actually had 4 which is usually not a good idea, but it ended up working okay here.
I think it’s also interesting that this is pretty much the only film-noir Disney has ever produced. That might have been one of the things I loved so much about it. It’s dark, violent, and gritty, but also has a lot of charm and pathos and humor to balance it out.
Well, I could talk forever about this stuff, but this post is already almost 4000 words so I guess it’s time to wrap it with me saying check out this movie if you haven’t already because I really think it’s one of the best animated films of all time.