DVD Review: “The Great Mouse Detective: Mystery in the Mist Edition”

The resurgence of Walt Disney Animation is usually traced (get it?) back to The Little Mermaid, but as with most pop history, that’s not 100 percent accurate — though its efforts weren’t necessarily rewarded at the box office, the studio started its uphill climb years before Ariel longed to be part of our world. Case in point: 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective, which used a nifty voice cast and some early CGI/hand-drawn hybrid work to bring the Sherlock Holmes classics to kids.

Adapted from Eve Titus and Paul Galdone’s Basil of Baker Street books, The Great Mouse Detective uses a neat conceit — a sleuthing mouse named Basil who happens to share an address with Sherlock Holmes — to take advantage of the Holmes mythos without turning human characters into talking animals, a la Disney’s Robin Hood. (In a neat touch, cinema’s most famous Sherlock, Basil Rathbone, voices Holmes here, via some cobbled-together audio from an earlier film.) Detective isn’t a mystery in the traditional sense, given that the audience knows pretty much right away who the bad guy is — but that’s a forgivable sin, since the villain in question is voiced by a perfectly ominous Vincent Price. Nothing against Broadway vet Barrie Ingham, who plays Basil, but this is really Price’s show; it’s a shame there weren’t any sequels, because he could have turned the dastardly Ratigan into one of Disney’s top-tier villains.

As you might expect, given the film’s inspiration and the era in which it was made, The Great Mouse Detective could be a little intense for young kids — the storyline revolves around the kidnapping of a toymaker (voiced by Mr. Ed‘s Alan Young) and a plot to depose the Queen. There’s also some (gasp!) smoking, as well as various other forms of rather innocuous non-cartoonish behavior that parents may not want to explain. (Or you can just roll the dice and hope for the best — neither my two-year-old nor my four-year-old were bothered by any of it.)

So what makes this “Mystery in the Mist” edition so special? Well, for starters, Detective has been out of print for a spell; the last edition was a two-disc remaster released in 2002, which was apparently long enough for the Disney elves to apply a fresh coat of (slight but noticeable) digital restoration and a Dolby surround soundtrack. If you missed the last reissue, and don’t feel like paying collector’s prices for a used copy, this is the Mouse you seek. Just don’t expect much from the bonus materials, which are actually lighter than the ’02 edition; the most interesting thing here is a somewhat perfunctory making-of featurette, and it’s surrounded with features both unnecessary (a bit on how to use Disney’s digital copy technology) and obnoxious (a commercial for a Suite Life Blu-ray).

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