July 2, 1986 – The 26th Disney Animated Feature, The Great Mouse Detective, is Released to Theaters
“It was the eve of our good queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the year Her Majesty’s government came to the very brink of disaster.”
On July 2, 1986, the animated feature The Great Mouse Detective was released to theaters. Based on the popular book Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus, which was in turn based on the stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this was the first Disney animated film to use innovative computer generated animation combined with hand-drawn characters, as seen in the final match inside the workings of Big Ben. The film was directed by John Musker, Ron Clements, Dave Michener, and Burny Mattinson. It starred Barrie Ingham as Basil, Val Bettin as Dr. Dawson, Vincent Price as Ratigan, Susanne Pollatschek as Olivia, and Alan Young as Hiram. Vincent Price would later say that this was one of his favorite roles.
The film was originally titled Basil of Baker Street, but the marketing department decided that the name had to be changed to The Great Mouse Detective. The filmmakers disagreed with this decision, and a (fake) memo from the head of the animation department, Peter Schneider, was sent out to everyone, including Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was less than thrilled with its content. The memo stated that due to the renaming of Basil of Baker Street, all the Disney animated films would then be renamed: Snow White became Seven Little Men Help a Girl, Dumbo became The Wonderful Elephant Who Could Fly, and Peter Pan became The Amazing Flying Children. The memo was leaked to the LA Times, and eventually the contents ended up as a category on the hit game show, Jeopardy.
The film, set in 1897 London, opens on Flaversham’s toy shop, where Hiram Flaversham is surprising his daughter Olivia for her birthday with an animatronic ballerina. As the two celebrate, a suspicious bat breaks into the store and kidnaps Hiram, while Olivia watches from a hiding place. Shortly after, Dr. David Q. Dawson, who has just returned to London from service in Afghanistan, comes across Olivia, who is searching for a Basil of Baker Street to help find her father. He offers to help her, and they come across 221 ½ Baker Street, where they wait for the detective to arrive.
As they wait, the two are startled by the hurried entrance of a Chinese mouse carrying a gun, only to find that it is Basil wearing a costume. He seemingly ignores Olivia as she tries to explain her case, while he runs around doing various errands. It is only when Olivia mentions that her father was taken by a bat with a pegleg, that Basil agrees to take her case, which he believes will lead him to the capture of the bat’s boss, the evil Professor Ratigan. Across town, Hiram is seen working reluctantly on a project for Ratigan, and when he refuses to work any more, Ratigan threatens to hurt Olivia. At this threat, Hiram decides his only option to protect her is to finish Ratigan’s evil scheme.
As Basil, Dawson, and Olivia go over the case, the kidnapping bat, named Fidget, appears in the window, and Olivia shrieks. Basil and Dawson quickly go after the creature, following a trail he left behind. Although Basil tries to force Olivia not to follow the pair, she goes with them to help them on the case. They meet up with a Basset Hound named Toby, who happens to be the dog of famous detective Sherlock Holmes. With Toby tracking the scent, they trail the bat to a human toy store, where he steals uniforms from toy soldiers. They don’t catch him, but they find an important clue to understanding Ratigan’s plan: a list of important supplies.
Using the toys as a distraction, Fidget captures Olivia and escapes. Dawson sadly blames himself for Olivia’s capture, but Basil assures him they will rescue her and stop Ratigan’s schemes. As they race back to Baker Street to plan their attack, Ratigan surprises Hiram with a special visitor that will ensure he finishes his task: Olivia. Ratigan, initially elated that Fidget brought back everything he was supposed to, quickly loses his temper when he finds that Basil of Baker Street is now on the case.
Back at Baker Street, Basil deduces the origin of the list, a seedy club near the waterfront. Disguised as sailors, he and Dawson sneak in to a bar called the Rat Trap, and while Dawson is distracted by the showgirls Basil keeps a careful eye out. Their drinks are drugged by the bartender after they inquire about Ratigan, but they are able to find and follow Fidget, who had stopped in for a drink. As they travel through the sewers, they find the location of Ratigan’s lair. They are caught in a trap when they arrive, and are left to be killed by various torture devices while Ratigan leaves to carry out his plan. Ratigan and his crew quickly head to Buckingham Palace, where Queen Victoria is preparing for her Diamond Jubilee celebration. The members of Ratigan’s gang quickly hijack the guards and bring the queen a “present” – a robotic version of herself. The queen is then captured as Ratigan’s plan becomes clear: Ratigan will use the robot to have the queen name Ratigan as her royal consort, giving him the power to control the throne.
Back at Ratigan’s lair, Basil has seemingly given up, saddened about how Ratigan has outwitted him. As Dawson tries to console him, Basil suddenly gains inspiration from a stray line of Dawson’s lecture. Motivated once again to defeat his adversary, Basil saves the group, and they quickly head to Buckingham Palace, arriving in the nick of time to save the queen from being eaten by Felicia, Ratigan’s pet cat. From backstage, Basil takes over the controls of the robot, exposing Ratigan’s plan and reuniting Olivia with her father again. Unfortunately, Fidget manages to free himself, takes Olivia, and escapes with Ratigan. After they chase each other around the skies of London with Ratigan’s flying contraption and Basil’s use of balloons, Basil and Ratigan’s final showdown takes place within Big Ben. Both Ratigan and Basil fall from the clock tower, but as Olivia, Hiram, and Dawson begin to mourn the detective’s demise, Basil emerges from the clouds, using a propeller from Ratigan’s flying contraption to keep himself airborne.
Basil and Dawson are honored at the queen’s Jubilee, and Olivia and Hiram depart for home. Dawson plans to find his own place to live in London, but Basil offers him a chance to stay at his flat and be his assistant. Shortly after, a woman appears at their door, imploring them for help. As the camera pans out, Toby is seen at their window, listening in on the case.