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24th Feb 2014, 1:00 PM Inspirations: Great Mouse Detective Part I

So this post ended up being really long, so I decided to break it into multiple parts. This is part 1 of 4:


Inspirations - The Great Mouse Detective Part I

Hello, and welcome to another edition of inspirations, where I tell you about something that has impacted me in some kind of deep and meaningful way. The subject this time is the 1986 Disney animated film: The Great Mouse Detective.

First, a little back-story on me: Generally, I’ve found the films that impacted me are the ones that just happened to be around when I was growing up. The film in question just happens to be one of them. I watched this movie over and over as a kid. To this day I can quote a good portion of the dialogue by heart. The only other movie that was probably watched more often was Toy Story, which is also on my list to write about.

A little anecdote: It had actually been taped off the Disney channel on to VHS. My parents did that kind of thing a lot; it was their way of saving money I guess. In fact, a lot of the movies we had were like that. The Rescuers, 101 Dalmatians, and Little Mermaid are some of the titles I remember fondly that used this method. I’m not sure why this is relevant, but it made me feel nostalgic writing it, so whatever.

Anyway, over the course of this post, I will go through the story, stopping at certain points to talk about the different elements. So here we go!

The setting is London. I’m not exactly sure what year it’s supposed to be, but I’m assuming it’s the same as whenever Sherlock Holmes takes place in since that’s what it’s parodying. It definitely isn’t modern. The thing we are made aware immediately is that the world this story is going to take place in is a world populated by anthropomorphic mice.

Now, we’ve seen this kind of this in other movies like Cinderella, The Rescuers etc. But the thing that makes this movie a little unique is that the mouse world never in any way interacts with the human world.

 I do enjoy these films as well, but there’s always a part of me that wishes the mice in The Rescuers (or that cat that looks like Ollie Johnston) didn’t talk to the humans. I would have been more okay with it if they had made it look like it was happening in the girl’s imagination or something like that. But they establish this relatively realistic setting. I don’t think the two ideas gel together very well. It works better in something like Jungle Book, because that’s more of an allegory.

There’s not really any reason why they have to in Cinderella either, the story would be almost exactly the same, except maybe the first sequence.  It works a little better there because it’s a fairy tale and they do have the fairy godmother so there is magic that exists in that world. But they never say the talking mice are a result of magic or anything like that.

I guess I’m getting off on a rabbit trail, but what I’m saying is I think cartoons should make up their minds about whether they want to be allegorical or naturalistic. This is one of the few that I think strikes a good balance. One other is The Secret of N.I.M.H.

So we begin the film by meeting Dr. David Q. Dawson, a mouse army surgeon who has just returned to London from Afghanistan.

Now right away there’s something interesting. He says he was with the army. So the mice have an army. Why?  What the hell were they doing in Afghanistan?  But, I guess the reason it works is because it’s just humanized enough that you buy it.

This is something I’ve also run into in my own stories because I have implied that the mice have religions and things of that sort. In order to make this work I’ve had to make them a little more humanized than when I first started the series. That’s also another interesting thing, there’s a cat and a dog in this movie. But they are treated as more or less realistic animals, even more than my characters, they don’t even talk. Only the mice are humanized (except for Fidget, a bat who acts as the sidekick to the villain, and there’s like a lizard in one scene).

He comes across a little girl named Olivia, who is crying in an alleyway. Dawson asks her what the trouble is, and we move to a flashback where she recounts the story about how her father, a toymaker named Flavisham, was abducted. She says she is trying to find Basil, a world famous detective who lives on Baker Street, to ask if he will help her find her father. Dawson takes pity on the girl and the two head to Baker Street to find Basil.

They arrive at the home of Basil, but he is out the moment. The maid welcomes them in and makes them some tea. Olivia examines with curiosity many of Basil’s chemistry implements. Just then, someone arrives. It is revealed to be Basil in disguise.

I’d like to take this moment to say what a great character this is. For one thing, he’s kind of a dick. But yet I totally and completely like him. That’s very interesting isn’t it? There’s this thing about how the main character has to be likable, and I guess it’s true. But the problem is that most people think the way to do that is by making him uninteresting. The thing is, just because you might not have a reason to actively dislike a character doesn’t mean you automatically like him either.

In fact, there are a lot of great main characters that aren’t very nice people most of the time: Woody in Toy Story, Jack Lemmon’s character of C.C. Baxter in The Apartment, Hugh Laurie in House, and I’d be damned if I don’t put my own character in that list as well.

I think these characters work is when the audience can understand where the character is coming from. With Basil, it’s obvious that he is a brilliant detective.  So I can help but admire him.

He’s also a bit scatterbrained, so he might not even be aware that he’s being insulting to the people who are trying to talk to him. If we were the ones he was talking to, then of course we’d be annoyed, but the fact that it’s happening to someone else creates humor.

Click for part II