Tuesday, March 6, 2012

#26: It's elementary, my dear Disnerd

(c) Disney
The Great Mouse Detective, 1986
watched February 25, 2012 

The story is a familiar one, based on a children's book called Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus, which intentionally draws its characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective. With all the recent Holmes adaptations, I think this movie stands up with the rest of them. Granted, the plot is significantly simpler than that of BBC's modern day series, or Guy Ritchie's effects-laden films. But the mouse detective has his own charm. (I wonder if Disney creatives sit around thinking, how can we make this into a mouse movie?)

Just like Holmes, Basil of Baker Street has that same quirky brilliance that makes his character lovable. It cracks me up that he can figure out the location of the villain's lair by the kind of paper used in a lost note, but cannot for the life of him get Olivia's last name right. It's Flaversham, if you were curious.

However, it is sometimes hard to distinguish if the detective's motive is to do justice, or if he simply can't resist a good mystery. For example, just before the climax, Basil nearly gives up as he lays tied to the mouse trap set for his demise, feeling completely humiliated and outwitted. This seems to be the action of someone who's more about appearing clever, and less about doing what's right.

Ratigan, on the other hand, has all the airs of your classic pompous villain whose sole purpose in life is to take over the world (or in this case, all "Mouse-dom"). At first, I was struck by the contrast of his over-the-top persona to the subtleties of Holmes' iconic villain, Professor Moriarty. I can hardly imagine Moriarty singing at the top of his lungs while swinging from chandeliers and drinking champagne.

But Ratigan does share with Moriarty the same denial of his real identity: a base, vulgar, completely corrupt bad guy. This is seen clearly in his adversity towards being called a rat, even though that's exactly what he is. (Apparently in Disney films, rats are bad and mice are good. Thank God for Pixar.) Additionally, Ratigan, wearing an elaborate tuxedo and cape, carries himself as someone very classy and sophisticated. This whole act is quite literally shed during the final scene, however, as Ratigan devolves into his true self, ugly and violent

And so, interestingly, we see both the protagonist and antagonist dishonest with themselves about who they are. Basil strives to be the smartest and cleverest, but along the way he saves not only a kidnapped child and her father, but also Queen Mouse-toria (yup, they went there) and all of Mousedom from an evil takeover. He becomes the accidental hero. Ratigan claims to be worthy of the power he tries to possess, but in reality, he's a rat - both literally and figuratively.

As much as we like to present ourselves as clever, moral, pretty, successful, rich, powerful, popular, or whatever adjective you prefer, ultimately our actions speak much more loudly. It's not what we say we are but what we do that defines us. How we act, the choices we make, these are a natural outflow of our true character. If you met the brilliant observer Basil, what conclusions might be drawn about you?


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