The Great Mouse Detective is a 1986 animated feature produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, originally released to movie theaters on July 2, 1986 by Walt Disney Pictures. The 26th animated feature in the official canon, the film was directed by Burny Mattinson, David Michener, and the team of John Musker and Ron Clements, who later directed Disney’s hit films The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. The film was also known as The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective for its 1992 theatrical re-release and Basil the Great Mouse Detective in some countries. The main characters are all mice and rats living in Victorian London.
Based on the children’s book series Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus, it draws heavily on the tradition of Sherlock Holmes with a heroic mouse who consciously emulates the detective; Titus named the main character after actor Basil Rathbone, who is best remembered for playing Holmes in film (and whose voice, sampled from a 1966 reading of “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League” was the voice of Holmes in this film, 19 years after his death). Interestingly, Sherlock Holmes also mentions “Basil” as one of his aliases in the Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Adventure of Black Peter”.
After the failure of the Disney animated feature film The Black Cauldron, this simpler film proved to be a success upon its initial release in 1986. As such, the new senior management of the company were convinced that their animation department was still a viable enterprise and this set the stage for the Disney Renaissance.
In London, circa 1897, a young Scottish mouse named Olivia Flaversham is celebrating her birthday with her toymaker father, Hiram. Suddenly, Fidget, a crippled bat with a peg leg, kidnaps Hiram. Fidget takes Hiram to Professor Ratigan who commands him to create a clockwork robot which mimics the Queen of the Mice so Ratigan can rule England. Hiram refuses to take part in the scheme, whereupon Ratigan orders Fidget to capture Olivia so he can feed her to his pet cat, Felicia.
Olivia searches to find Basil of Baker Street, a world-famous detective and Ratigan’s archnemesis. Returning to London after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Dr. David Q. Dawson stumbles upon Olivia, and helps her find Basil’s residence. At first, Basil is reluctant, but when Olivia mentions Fidget, Basil realizes his chance to capture Ratigan. Basil and Dawson take Toby, Sherlock Holmes’s pet dog, to track Fidget’s scent, where they find him in a toyshop stealing clockwork mechanisms and toy soldiers’ uniforms. Fidget later traps Olivia by ambushing her from inside a toy cradle. Basil and Dawson pursue Fidget, but become entangled and fall behind. While searching the shop, Dawson discovers Fidget’s checklist, to which Basil does some chemical tests to discover the list came from the riverfront near the Thames. Basil and Dawson disguise themselves as sailors and go into a tavern called the “Rat Trap” and follow Fidget to Ratigan’s headquarters. They are caught, and Ratigan ties them to a spring-loaded mousetrap connected with a Rube Goldberg machine. Ratigan sets out for Buckingham Palace, where Fidget and his accomplices kidnap the queen. Basil, along with Dawson, deduces the trap’s weakness and escape just in time.
Back at Buckingham Palace, Ratigan forces Hiram to operate the toy Queen, while the real Queen is taken to be fed to Felicia. The toy Queen declares Ratigan the ruler of all Mousedom, and he announces his tyrannical plans for his new “subjects”. Just then, Basil, Dawson and Olivia save Hiram and the real Queen, and apprehend Fidget (along with Ratigan’s other henchmen). Basil forces the mechanical queen to denounce Ratigan as an impostor and tyrant while breaking into pieces. The crowd, enraged by Ratigan’s treason, start climbing onto him and defeating his shanty guards. Ratigan frees himself and escapes on his dirigible with Fidget, holding Olivia hostage. Basil, Dawson, and Hiram create their own craft with a matchbox and some small helium-filled balloons, held under the Union Jack. Ratigan throws Fidget (who can’t fly) into the Thames River presumably to his death, and then attempts to drive the dirigible himself. Basil jumps on to the dirigible to confront Ratigan, causing him to crash straight into the Big Ben. Inside the clock, Basil rescues Olivia and safely delivers her to Hiram. Ratigan fights Basil until the clock bell tolls and Ratigan plunges, taking Basil with him. However, Basil manages to save himself just in time.
Back at Baker Street, Basil and Dawson recount their adventures, as well as the queen’s gratitude for saving her life. Afterwards, the Flavershams leave to catch their train. As Dawson tries to leave, a distraught new client persuades both Basil and Dawson to help her. Finally, Basil proclaims Dawson to be his “trusted associate, Doctor Dawson, with whom I do all my cases”.