It All Began with a Mouse: The Great Mouse Detective

            Walt is famous for saying, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” It’s entirely appropriate, then, that my Disney project concludes with a film populated by mice. I’d never seen The Great Mouse Detective before, though it is one I would like to watch again. It’s enjoyable, and it’s one of those films where you notice things as an adult you’d never have noticed as a child.
            There are a few notable instances of this. First, there are several smoking characters. In the 1980’s, perhaps this was less taboo. Not only does the villain Ratigan smoke cigarettes, but our hero Basil smokes a pipe. The film is set in 1890’s England, making the pipe historically accurate, but it’s still a little unsettling to see a beloved character taking part in negative behaviors, akin to the villain’s vices. Another instance is in the song the female mouse sings in the pub scene. She starts out innocent enough, but then loses most of her clothing and sings the line, “Hey Fellas/ I’ll take off all my blues/ Hey Fellas/ There’s nothin’ I won’t do/ Just for you.” She’s wearing a blue costume at the time, and I thought she sang she’d take off all her clothes. She also encourages the men to drink their beer, and let her be good to them, all the while doing a provocative, Vegas-show-girl-esque dance. It isn’t anything I’d be worried about my (future) kids seeing, but it is something I noticed as an adult.
            Along the note of music (I had to include at least one terrible pun!), the interesting musical aspect of this particular film is that aside from the show girl, only the villain and his posse sing. All the musical numbers are allotted to the villain. It’s the villain’s songs in recent animation that frighten me the most, particularly those in The Princess and the Frog, and Tangled.Ratigan’s songs aren’t frightening, but they aren’t exactly jolly, either.
            The animators used a variety of techniques to give the movie the slightly noir, mystery air that it carries so well. The sweet opening with Olivia’s gift, the flower-ballerina, is absolutely precious, making the sudden kidnapping of her father jarring. In fact, I thought the peg-legged bat was much larger than he actually was at first, because I was frightened of him. Things I’m afraid of often grow in size in my mind, which is why my family makes fun of me for calling them in to kill what they call tiny and I call rather moderately sized spiders.
            Another effect the animators used to create a sense of mystery is the use of shadows. Nearly every climactic scene shows part of the action in shadow. This makes the action less frightening at times, such as when Ratigan feeds one of his henchmen to his giant cat; this same technique also increases the emotion at other times, when our heroes are in danger.
            Speaking of heroes, I love Olivia, her father, and Dr. Dawson. I think they’re marvelous characters. Dr. Dawson stops to help Olivia out of the goodness of his heart, and it nearly costs him his life. On the other hand, Basil of Baker street was entirely uninterested in helping Olivia until he discovered her missing father was a clue that could lead him further in his pursuit of Ratigan. It wasn’t until he saw a benefit for himself that he agreed to help her. That’s certainly not a very positive personality trait. During the clock battle, he and Olivia help each other, though he does prioritize her safety by handing her off to Dr. Dawson and her father without just jumping on the make-shift airship himself. When he and Dr. Dawson are trapped and tied to the death-chain-of-reaction, he gives up all hope. It isn’t until Dawson goes ballistic on him (thank goodness for that) that Basil wizens up and finds a way out of that mess. For someone who is so smart, he sure wasn’t smart in that situation.
            I can see that Basil has some good qualities, as he does use his intelligence for good. He also very nearly sacrifices himself in order to escape Ratigan and keep the future Ratigan-free.
            While the film credits the “Basil of Baker Street” book series as its inspiration, my Sherlock source tells me much of the film follows the plot of a particular Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mystery. There’s even a sound clip from the most famous Sherlock actor of the 40’s, Basil Rothbone, in the film. Our hero Basil is also named after this most famous actor, according to IMDB, at least.
            Technologically speaking, this film is quite a milestone for Disney. For the first time, traditionally animated characters were set against a CGI produced background for the clock fight sequence. This particular technique would be adjusted and improved until its perfection for Tarzan, which seamlessly incorporated the two mediums in 1999, 13 years after Great Mouse Detective was released.
             These Disney films helped propel me through the roughest winter I’ve ever experienced, my first full winter in Alaska—complete with record-breaking snow accumulation. They got me to summer, when I can open the windows and let the breeze blow that winter mindset right out the window. The courage that Disney heroes and heroines exemplify encourages me regularly, whether I’m just taking a walk, or taking a walk up a mountain (which I did, yesterday). I may not have made it to the summit (too much rock climbing on my weary legs at the end), but I made it to the grassy plain below the summit. There I sat in the warm mixture of grass and dirt, marveling at the view of the mountains ahead and farms below, feeling the sun on my face and arms. Much like those Disney characters at the end of their story, I felt, for a few moments, simple joy and peace. And it was blissful.
The view from my grassy plain.
           These characters and their fictional plights have helped me work through my grief and sorrow at the passing of my father, and focus on the things I did get to experience with him instead of dwelling on the events that he’ll miss. Perhaps it is most appropriate that my husband and I conceived our first child while I rediscovered the beginning of my love for animation, from before The Lion King,to finding myself where I am today, seeing new animation in theatres more often than live action movies.
            The hardest part about expecting doesn’t have anything to do with the physical aspects, but rather the emotional difficulty of the timing. It’s been difficult to not dwell on the things my Dad won’t see, the fact that this child and our future kids won’t know him except through the multitude of stories I share with them. But once again, Disney has seen me through it. I haven’t been able to watch The Lion King since my Dad’s death, but I know I can, and will, get through the scene where Simba realizes his Dad is gone. Thinking about it now makes me teary, but soon enough I’ll be able to process it. Like Rafiki says, “He lives in you,” and I know he does. I also know he’s looking out for me by the little things that occasionally happen. For instance, at 3 a.m. the day I flew into Florida to be with my family, mere hours after I learned of his death, I put my iPod on shuffle while I put on make-up and braided my hair. The first song to play was ‘Circle of Life’, followed by the one Elvis song I own (my Dad was a huge Elvis fan), and finally my Dad’s favorite Garth Brooks song: ‘The Dance’. I knew he was with me in that moment just as I did when I found a perfect conch shell, crab free, on a beach known for only producing crushed shells. There are small moments, when the wind blows the hair off my face or we get a legitimate rain storm instead of just an annoying drizzle, that I feel him with me more than ever. And I’m eternally grateful for those moments of peace, be they Disney inspired or simply there.
            Personally, this film was a milestone for me. It signals the end of my first project, (re)Discovering Disney. It also signifies the completion of my first non-children’s book, which is both scary and amazing. The grueling editing process still lies before me, as does the terrifying search for a literary agent and publisher. But as a lifetime of Disney films have taught me, I’ll get through it. As long as I keep my faith, keep going and stay positive during the worst of the storm, I’ll get through it.

**As a side note to Facebook friends, please don’t mention the expecting on Facebook. Thanks 🙂 **

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