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Released one year after Disney’s highly-touted The Black Cauldron fizzled and three years before The Little Mermaid reinvigorated theatrical animated features, The Great Mouse Detective is a nice little diversion that holds its own charms and foreshadows the success to come more than recalls the failures of the past.

221½ Baker Street

Second DVD release timed with Rober Downey, Jr.?
Second DVD release timed with Rober Downey, Jr.?

Following a tried-and-true Disney formula, The Great Mouse Detective revolves around a child separated from family and that child’s resourcefulness in the face of adversity. In this case, that child is a mouse named Olivia and the spunky kid enlists Dr. Dawson and the legendary Basil of Baker Street to find her father.

It turns out her pa, a gifted toymaker, was kidnapped by the evil Prof. Ratigan (voiced by the truly legendary Vincent Price). And it just so happens Ratigan is Basil’s vile nemesis and constant threat.

Yeah. Think Sherlock Holmes. The sleuthing genius and 221B Baker Street’s most famous resident makes a couple cameos in the movie, twice as a violin-playing silhouette, the other courtesy of Basil Rathbone’s voice and The Red Headed League.

With Basil of Baker Street, Disney mines the brilliant, moody, deerhunter-wearing territory of Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, offering a level of entertainment for older viewers while also taking plenty of creative license with the source inspiration to keep wee ones engaged.

It’s Elementary, My Dear Dawson

Ratigan’s nefarious plan is a crazy concoction involving a robot, the queen, and control over London’s mousedom. It took 10 screenwriters, tinkering with source material gleaned from books written by two authors, to come up with the screenplay of this sprite 74-minute movie. Among those writers are folks who’d go on to add titles such as Aladdin, Pocahontas, and The Little Mermaid to their resumes.

What they came up with plays nicely with kid-friendly humor and a couple cool action set pieces, one involving a Rube Goldberg-inspired escape and another surrounding Big Ben’s mechanical belly and outer face.

The end result is something smarter than might be apparent at first glance. For those who choose to puzzle it together, there are plenty of Holmesian references that can be read into the material, whether it be in the characterizations, the imagery or the storyline. Other Disney-themed sight gags are also to be had.

Serving as Dr. Watson’s doppelganger, Dr. Dawson meets Basil for the first time and serves as the narrator for Basil’s latest adventure. Concluding with a conversation leading into another adventure, a sequel never materialized for London’s great mouse detective. But, given there were 13 years between The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under, plus the never-ending popularity of direct-to-video sequels, the door to 221½ Baker Street should be considered always open.

DVD Extras

It’s something of a mystery in its own right exactly how much value Disney puts on this particular property. The release of this new “Mystery in the Mist Edition” DVD could be seen as simply an opportunity to cash in on the huge success of Guy Ritchie’s vigorous reintroduction of Sherlock Holmes. On the one hand, the lack of effort put into the supplements makes the release something of a joke. On the other hand, the movie has been given a great-looking digital restoration. Then there’s that whole thing with Basil wearing a spiffy green outfit on the DVD’s packaging, an outfit not once donned during the movie.

The only new Basil-related item is So You Think You Can Sleuth?It’s billed as a game, but it hardly qualifies as such. This 5-minute segment begins with a history of sleuthing, stretching it quite a bit to include Adam and Eve (the first crime scene, essentially). Then there’s a silly case involving a missing cookie; guessing “whodunit” serves as the “game” element. There’s precisely zero percent opportunity for interaction..

There are also a couple bits that fall into the category of shameless cross-promotion.

It’s a little cheeky to include a commercial for upgrading to Blu-ray on a DVD without a Blu-ray edition, but such is the case with Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray Is Suite!

The same can be said of Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies on the Go: Digital Copy. Again, utter cheek. There’s no digital copy for The Great Mouse Detective.

Returning for another go from the original DVD is The Making of The Great Mouse Detective (1.33:1, 8 minutes). It’s a decent look at the making of the movie, serving up the typical collection of interviews. The most interesting bit is an animator geeking out over the movie’s big first: Blending computer animated backdrops with hand- animated characters. And it’s also good to see Vincent Price chat about his e-vil character.

And there’s also The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind Sing-Along Songbook, which is Ratigan’s song (minus the monologuing) with karaoke subtitles.

Not included from the 2002 DVD are the scrapbook and two animated shorts ( Clock Cleaners and Donald’s Crime). Instead, the disc is loaded up with 11 sneak peeks and other commercials.

Picture and Sound

The disc jacket boasts of an all-new digital restoration, presenting the feature in what is labeled as 1.78:1 widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 screens. It does look great and fresh; it’s the kind of clean presentation that serves the hand-drawn nature of the movie very well. However, there is one major caveat: The end credits suddenly shrink to something along the lines of a mutt ratio between 1.66:1 and 1.78:1. A little sleuthing will be necessary to determine if this new edition does true justice to the movie and replicates the theatrical presentation, or simply offers up a “full screen” equivalent now that 1.78:1 is the standard TV screen ratio. Stay tuned, dear reader.

The audio is well done, particularly when the aural presentation opens up a bit during songs sung by Vincent Price and Melissa Manchester. Even so, this is a 24-year-old movie and the audio favors the front channels, with sparse activity from the rear speakers. The options are English, French, and Spanish — all in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound.

Also available are subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.

How to Use This Disc

Watch the movie and enjoy sleuthing with Basil of Baker Street.