In honor of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday, May 22, this month I present:
The Great Sherlock Holmes Endeavor!
Directed by: Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener, John Musker
Starring: Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Vincent Price
Like a lot of people my age, my first encounter with Sir Arthur’s characters was Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective. I still love this movie (and have it on DVD). The main character is a mouse named Basil, who lives in a well-appointed little apartment underneath the floorboards of 221b Baker Street with his trusted friend, Dr. Dawson. There’s even a mouse Mrs. Hudson who gets apoplectic when Basil shoots the throw pillows.
The animation is high quality and the voice acting is great too, especially Vincent Price as Ratigan (rat Moriarty). As with any Disney film there are songs–but only three, two of which are sung by Mr. Price himself. Don’t worry, they’re fun not annoying. Aside from those, the original score by Henry Mancini enhances the story very well.
The writing and characterization are surprisingly good for a children’s film. Ratigan is a much more over-the-top, scenery chewing villain than any Moriarty I’ve yet seen, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Dawson gets into more trouble than Watson does, but he isn’t Nigel Bruce-esque embarrassing comic relief. There is subtlety in the portrayals of Basil and Dawson. Like the originals, Basil is tenacious and intelligent, and Dawson warmhearted and supportive. This is a kids’ movie though, so there is going to be some slapstick and sillyness…but it’s funny (it’s not a bunch of toilet humor, which can get tedious very quickly).
The movie is actually two degrees from Doyle–being based upon the Basil of Baker Street books by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone–but it fits right in with the feel of the original Holmes…right down to Basil smoking a pipe and going undercover in a bar. Yes, smoking and drinking–and that’s no bubble pipe and fruit juice. While undercover at the bar, our characters even see the local chanteuse sing a mildly sensual song (“Let Me be Good to You”–think Marilyn in Some Like it Hot sensual) and dance the can-can with her fellow mousettes. There are even a few revolvers!
This movie would never be made nowadays. It is rated G, but that’s an 80’s G–this would probably be a PG these days (or even a PG-13 because of the tobacco use). Try to make this movie today and there would be parents threatening to boycott Disney (good luck with that) and angry pundits ranting on TV faster than you could say, “elementary my dear Watson.” I watched this movie a ton when I was a kid and I’m not a big drinker, nor do I smoke, nor do I want to overthrow the British monarchy and install myself as a tyrant, but hey, whatever.
Interesting fact: The sequence from which the following still was taken, a fight on the gears in the Clock Tower, was the first major use of computer animation in a feature-length film.
The Bottom Line: Yes this is animated and *aimed at kids* but I feel comfortable putting it right next to other Sherlock Holmes movies. It isn’t Holmes made nauseating and cutesy and watered down for kids–it is the same Holmes, just made more accessible for kids. And there are tons of inside jokes for adult Holmes fans. So watch it by yourself, watch it with your PG-ready kids.
Next time: Basil Rathbone!