The Great Mouse Detective Film FAQ
Written and compiled by Diane N. Tran
© Tranimation Art & Entertainment, 12 December 2008

What is the Great Mouse Detective?

Directed by Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener, John Musker, and Ron Clements, The Great Mouse Detective was the 26th animated feature film released by Walt Disney Animation Studios after a small groups of animators wanted to pull out of the production of The Black Cauldron (1986).  Based on the popular children's book series by Eve Titus about a little mouse detective named Basil of Baker Street living the life and career of Sherlock Holmes and, with his loyal friend and biographer, Dr. David Q. Dawson, they investigate the crimes of London.  Taking place in Victorian London, England, the film is centred on a little girl [mouse] named Olivia Flaversham, who seeks the help from a famous detective, Basil of Baker Street, to find her toy-maker father who was kidnapped by a peg-legged bat.  As the case expands, Basil and his new friend Dawson uncover a dastardly crime's link to his archenemy, Professor Ratigan, plotting to take over the Crown.

First released in 02 July 1986, its US theatrical release title was The Great Mouse Detective; in the UK, it was released as Basil - The Great Mouse Detective.  For some odd reason, audiences seemed confused by the name-switch.  In 1992, the film was re-released on video and laserdisc under a new title, The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective.


When did the idea of the film first come to Disney?

Ron Clements, co-director and co-writer on The Great Mouse Detective, was quite the Sherlockian fanatic; he, in fact, achieved his career at Disney due to a fifteen-minute short on Sherlock Holmes on his portfolio reel.  The idea for a Sherlock Holmes animated project was first kicked around during the production of The Rescuers (1977).  Conceptuals for a "Sherlock Bones" were drafted but nothing solid until Clements suggested the idea based on Eve Titus' popular Basil of Baker Street books, however the idea didn't stick because it was simply too close to the Rescuers.

Between the release of Fox and Hound (1981) and the production of Black Cauldron (1986), Clements returned to the idea of Basil of Baker Street, teaming up with fellow animator, John Musker, desiring it to be very different from Rescuers:  The main difference is "there are no humans involved in the story at all," quoted Ron Clements; "It's an adventure that takes place in a miniature world hidden away from our own.  The characters have their own reality; they are quite real and menacing in their own world.  The animators haven't been limited to drawing talking animals in clothes."


Why is the film considered important?

After so much failure since the death of the great Walt Disney, the family management of the Company ended in June 1984 when then-president and CEO, Ron Miller, Walt's son-in-law, resigned under fire after fending off corporate raiders take-over attempts from financier Saul P. Steinberg.  Disney executives voted Michael Eisner, former Paramount president, as chairman of the board and CEO; Frank Wells, former Warner Bros. vice president, as president and COO; and Jeffrey Katzenberg, a long-time associate of Eisner's, as studio chairman.  To make matters worse, the future of animation was being threatened:  The majority of Disney's talent, time, and money — $25 million, in fact, the world-record sum at the time for an animated feature — were concentrated on an epic animated film, The Black Cauldron (1986) for ten years; at the same time, the Disney Animation Department were moved to a run-downed, ugly warehouse, as the Animation Building was being confiscated by the new management.

As the new management team and a new animation team was faced with the immediate task of completing The Black Cauldron, which was long overdue and long over-budget, the Animation Department had nothing to do and passed the time with chair races, cel sliding contests, and Trivial Pursuit games.  However, a smaller crew smuggled away from the fiasco of Black Cauldron and had been working on a different feature with a much smaller budget, headed by two animators, John Musker and Ron Clements.  Roy E. Disney (Walt's nephew), the company's top shareholder and vice-chairman of the board at the time, dragged Eisner, Wells, and Katzenberg to the empty Animation Building where over forty storyboards for Basil of Baker Street were lined a wing, down a few halls and through several rooms.  Miller had been the film's producer until he was abruptly dismissed and the project was left idle for six months awaiting a decision, yet neither Eisner, Wells, nor Katzenberg knew what they were looking at, as they never had experienced an entire film told in cartoony sketches pinned to boards.  (Eisner had been familiar with storyboards when he was in charge of children's programming at ABC Television; Katzenberg had seen one storyboard for action scenes in live-action movies; and Wells was used to scripts.)  Nevertheless, Basil of Baker Street was "okayed" and history was in the making:

It was the first feature that tested the "new" generation of the Disney Company.  And, historically, it was the feature-length animated film to use computer-generated imagery (CGI) and it was the first time traditionally-animated characters were put inside a computer-generated background.  This was, also, one of the longest fight sequences in a Disney animated feature, clocking about four minutes.  On 02 July 1986, under the enormous shadow of its more expensive processor, which was a critical and colossal box-office failure the previous year, the re-titled The Great Mouse Detective would receive warm reviews and excellent financial success.  The movie grossed $18 million in the United States in the first month after its release — an astounding feat by any standards — and talled $26 million; it was able to get Disney Animation Studios out of the bankruptcy hole that the Black Cauldron left behind.  The Great Mouse Detective shone with magic colours and proved that a good film requires a good story and interesting characters rather than money.  Hollywood could learn from this!  Disney refers to GMD as "a creative experiment" for the new executive, the second-generation animators, and caused a great innovation in the future.  The story, design, and development took four years in pre-production, but the actual animation took only one year.  Because of GMD's success, Disney started to spend more time on the "developing" track.  This greatly assisted in creating better stories, arranging ideas, and planning production.  It was also the film that began splitting the Department into several projects, instead of one, like Black Cauldron, thus allowing an animated feature to be released about every eighteen months than every four years.


Who are the voice talents?

The British veteran actor, Barrie Ingham, brilliantly voiced Basil of Baker Street and the drunken Bartholomew.  Mr. Ingham is well-known, multi-award-winning personality on stage, television, and film on both sides of the Atlantic.  After military service as a Royal Artillery officer, Mr. Ingham spent a year with the Manchester Library Theatre Company, followed by two years at London's prestigious Old Vic Theatre, graduating through several Shakespeare productions to leading roles in London at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre, the English Stage Company, and the Mermaid Theatre Company as leading man in many West End musicals, plays, and revues.  He recently starred on the Broadway hit, Jekyll and Hyde, as Sir Danvers Carew, performing from 28 April 1997 to 07 January 2001 at the Plymouth Theatre, New York City.  He has made over two hundred appearances in American and British television and motion pictures, combining his career as an actor with that of director and producer.  He was among the finalists who auditioned for the role of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004).  Mr. Ingham was professor at the University of Texas in Austin, theatre consultant to Baylor University, and is artistic advisor to the Shakespeare Society of New York.  His two one-man shows have played world-wide.  Sorry girls, yes, he is happily married with his wife, Tarne, whom he met during their first theatre job, and together they had four beautiful daughters, and too many grandchildren to count!

Originally, Musker and Clements wanted to cast actor Ronald Colman as Professor Ratigan, but animator Glen Keane was determined to cast another for the part after watching the film comedy, Champagne for Caesar (1950), starring the late, great veteran actor, writer, art connoisseur, raconteur, lecturer, chef, gourmet, critic, and something of a 20th-century Renaissance man, Vincent Price.  Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Price travelled through Europe, and studied at Yale and the University of London.  He made his screen debut in 1938; after many minor but memorable roles as handsome, suspicious characters, and he began to perform in low-budget horror movies, such as House of Wax (1953), as a wheelchair-bound, disfigured sculptor out to seek revenge on the man who murdered his "children," achieving his first major success with House of Usher (1960), as an incestuous brother obsessed with the tragic history of his family and his sister.  Known for his distinctive, steely, creaky, atmospheric voice and his quizzical, mock-serious facial expressions, he became an international star in a series of acclaimed gothic horror movies during the 1950s and 1960s; although, he also remembered for his corny but "egg-static" role as the villainous Egghead in the 1960s Batman, and was said that he mischievously started an egg-throwing fight in the studio while making his episodes.  Mr. Price would later abandoned films in the mid-1970s, concentrating his talents on mouth-watering cooking programs for television.  He was a friend to horror-film greats, such as Boris Karloff, Béla Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, John Carradine, and Basil Rathbone.  He died of lung cancer in 1993, at the age of eighty-two, just six days before Halloween and, eerily, just three days before his biography was aired on A&E.  He had long suffered from emphysema and Parkinson's disease, which had forced his final film role as the kind-hearted inventor in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (1990) to be much smaller than intended.  Price proclaimed Professor Ratigan as his favourite role!

The late comedian, actor, singer, musician, and gravel-tone voice talent Candy Candido, who entertained audiences for sixty-six years, voiced Fidget, the peg-legged bat, as well one of the barroom patrons that booed, "Get off you eight-legged bum!"  Born in 1913, he was a bass player and vocalist for the Ted Fiorito Orchestra in the 1930s and 1940s, but was sadly placed in only minor roles on film, unable to shine his great talent.  That is, until his talent as a "trick vocalist" provided him with the opportunity for voice acting; his first experience was the voice of the grumpy Apple Tree in the 1939 MGM box-office smash, The Wizard of Oz.  He also did the voice of the Crocodile Constable in Robin Hood (1973), Goon in Sleeping Beauty (1959), and the Indian Chief in Peter Pan (1953).  Mr. Candido appeared in a couple of Westerns during his long and varied career, such as the 1938 film, Cowboy from Brooklyn, starring Dick Powell and Ronald Reagan, and the 1959 Republic gem, The Plunderers of Painted Flats, with John Carroll, George Macready, and Joe Besser, and filmed in the unique "Naturama" widescreen.  He briefly teamed with Bud Abbott for a personal appearance comedy tour in the early 1960s after Lou Costello died.  Candy Candido died in his sleep in 1999 at the age of eighty-five.

Renowned Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, musician, and actress Melissa Manchester, was born in the Bronx, to a musical family of Jewish descent; her father was a bassoonist for the New York Metropolitan Opera.  At an early age, she learned to play the piano and the harpsichord at the Manhattan School of Music and Arts, started a singing career by singing commercial jingles at the age of fifteen, and becoming a staff writer for Chappell Music while attending New York City's High School of the Performing Arts.  She studied songwriting at New York University with Paul Simon, later appeared on the Manhattan club scene, where she was discovered by Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, who took her on as a backup singer in 1971.  Her debut solo album, Home to Myself, was released in 1973.  Two years later, her album, Melissa, was her first top ten hit, with "Midnight Blue," and she collaborated with singer Kenny Loggins to co-write his 1978 hit duet with Stevie Nicks, "Whenever I Call You Friend."  In 1979, Miss Manchester made the top-ten with her own single "Don't Cry Out Loud."  The next year, Manchester became the first singer to have two movie themes nominated for an Academy Award:  "Through The Eyes of Love" from Ice Castles (1978) and "I'll Never Say Goodbye" from The Promise (1979).  In Great Mouse Detective, she wrote the song "Let Me Be Good To You" and even sung the song as Kitty, the showgirl at the Rat Trap Saloon; she also wrote the theme song from the Disney direct-to-video sequel, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure (2001).

Val Bettin is a fairly elusive actor on film and television, doing the voices of Dr. David Q. Dawson and a cameo as a thug guard, but is no stranger to the theatre.  He has done several voice talents for the Aladdin films and television series as the Sultan of Agrabah, as well as Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles as the devious Egon Pax.  Then-eight-year-old Glaswegian Susanne Pollatschek voiced the Scottish "every-child," Olivia Flaversham.  It is comparatively rare that American moviemakers use a genuine Scottish actor to provide a Scottish voice, but judging by the performance and the fact she was nominated for the Young Artist Award, the US ought to do this more often!  Sadly, Great Mouse Detective is Miss Pollatschek's only known industry credit.  Veteran voice-actor Alan Young, who did the voice of Hiram Flaversham (Olivia's father, the toymaker), is perhaps most famous for the near-perfect Scottish accent for Scrooge McDuck in the animated hit series, DuckTalesDiana Chesney was Basil's long-suffering landlady, Mrs. Judson; Eve Brenner was Her Majesty Queen Moustoria; Ellen Fitzhugh, a well-known librettist, was the tough barmaid from the pub; Shani Wallis was the Lady Mouse from Hampstead at the end of film; and an assortment of thugs and guards were voiced by Walker Edmiston, Wayne Allwine, and Tony Anselmo.  Mr. Allwine and Mr. Anselmo are also well-known veteran voice talents of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

Do you know who did the great Sherlock Holmes' voice in the movie — even though the dialogue was barely five seconds?  It was none other than the Basil Rathbone, who had portrayed Sherlock Holmes for over thirty-five years on film, television, and stage!  He had been dead for nineteen years at the time; nevertheless, Disney used a sound-clip of "The Red-Headed League" from the radio show, The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939-1947).  However, instead of Nigel Bruce, the voice of Dr. John H. Watson was Laurie Main, who performed the Doctor in a horrible short-film, The Clue According to Sherlock Holmes (1980), opposite Keith McConnell, but perhaps he is best known for hosting and narrating the children's series, Welcome to Pooh Corner (1983-1996).


Who were the supervising animators to which characters?

Responsible for some of the most memorable characters in the "New Golden Age" of Disney Animation, Winsor McCay Award and Annie Award winner Glen Keane was supervising animator for Ratigan; he designed all the GMD main characters, except Basil.  The son of Bill Keane, an illustrator best known for the daily comic-strip, The Family Circus, had left Disney officially for over fourteen months, working as a freelance artist on Ratigan in GMD.  His debut work was featured in The Rescuers (1977) as the character animator for little orphan Penny, and Elliot the Dragon in Pete's Dragon (1977).  He was supervising animator for the Bear in The Fox and the Hound (1981); Fagin, Sykes, and Georgette in Oliver and Company (1988); the Beast (and the Prince) in Beauty and the Beast (1991); and Long John Silver in Treasure Planet (2002).  Currently, Keane returns, this time, as animation director of Disney's upcoming CGI film, Rapunzel (2010).

Also playing a part in some of the most memorable characters in the "New Golden Age" of Disney Animation, Silver Gryphon winner and two-time Annie Award nominee Mark Henn was supervising animator and designer for Basil.  His debut work was in Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983).  He is best known as the supervising animator for Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989); Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991); Jasmine in Aladdin (1992); Young Simba in The Lion King (1994); and the title heroines in Mulan (1998) and The Princess and the Frog (2009).

Hendel Butoy was supervising animator for Dawson.  His debut work was in The Fox and the Hound (1981).  Most recently, he was the supervising animation director for the segments Ottorino Respighi’s "Pines of Rome" and Dmitri Shostakovich's "Piano Concerto #2, Allegro, Opus 102" in the epic, Fantasia 2000 (1999).

From animator to live-action director-producer, BAFA's Children's Award nominee Rob Minkoff was supervising animator for Olivia.  His debut work was The Black Cauldron (1985) as an in-between artist.  He was director of two Roger Rabbit shorts, Tummy Trouble (1989) and Roller-Coaster Rabbit (1990); he was co-director of The Lion King (1994).  He became a live-action director of Stuart Little (1999), Stuart Little 2 (2002), The Haunted Mansion (2003), and The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), as Robert Minkoff.

Winsor McCay Award winner Andreas Deja was the supervising animator for Queen Moustoria.  His debut work was The Black Cauldron (1985), where he worked together with animator-turned-director, Tim Burton.  He was the supervising animator for the title character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988); King Triton in The Little Mermaid (1989); Gaston in Beauty and the Beast (1991); Jafar in Aladdin (1992); Scar in The Lion King (1994); the title character in Hercules (1997); Lilo Pelekai in Lilo and Stitch (2002); and Mama Odie in The Princess and the Frog (2009).

Anne Award winner Ruben A. Aquino was the supervising animator for Mrs. Judson.  His debut work was The Black Cauldron (1985).  He was the supervising animator for Ursula in The Little Mermaid (1989); Maurice in Beauty and the Beast (1991); Adult Simba in The Lion King (1994); Chief Powhatan in Pocahontas (1995); Shang and Fa Li in Mulan (1998); David Kawena and Agent Pleakley in Lilo and Stitch (1997); Denahi in Brother Bear (2003); Mildred and Willerstein in Meet the Robinsons (2007); and frog-ified Tiana and Prince Naveen in The Princess and the Frog (2009).

Mike Gabriel was the supervising animator and designer for the big animals, such as Toby and Felicia.  His debut work was The Black Cauldron (1985).  He served as one of the storymen, character designers, and supervising animators in Oliver and Company (1988).  Gabriel made his feature directing debut co-directing the animated sequel, The Rescuers Down Under (1990), which was notable as the first Disney feature to use the Oscar-winning technology known as CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), a digital post-production process that allowed for unusual camera positioning and a wider array of art direction options.  He was a story artist for Pocahontas (1995) and the CGI film, Bolt (2008).


How was the Big Ben sequence accomplished? Who were the supervising animators of the sequence?

Historically, GMD was a technological achievement in early animation, as the first feature-length animated film to use computer-generated imagery (CGI) and it was the first time traditionally-animated characters were put inside a computer-generated background.  With the "new" invention of the first commercial (film-less) electronic camera, it was the first time digital pencil tests were possible and may not have been without it.  The two animators responsible for the achievement of the famous Big Ben sequence were:

Computer graphics consultant Tad A. Gielow (or Tad Gielow) created and animated fifty-four moving gears, winches, ratchets, beams, chains, and pulleys in the interior of Big Ben, produced as 3D wire-frame graphics on a computer, which were later transferred onto animation cels via pen attached to a robotic arm.  The characters of Basil and Ratigan were created and animated separately, working the challenge of ever-changing perspectives and unusual angles, by animator Phil Nibbelink, and the characters were later composited onto the background cels.

Gielow, also, served as the computer graphics engineer for Oliver and Company (1988) and Pocahontas (1995), software developer for Mulan (1998), and head of the computer graphics department for The Iron Giant (1999).  Nibbelink's debut work was in The Fox and the Hound (1981) as a character animator.  Nibbelink was a character animator for The Black Cauldron (1985), supervising animator for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), animation director for Casper (1995), co-director of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) and We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (1993), and was the director, writer, editor, animator, and voice-actor of Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss (2006) through his own company, Phil Nibbelink Productions.


How many times was the film theatrically released? What was the gross total?

Twice, the original theatrical release was in 02 July 1986 as The Great Mouse Detective, with a US gross of $25,336,794.  The second theatrical re-release was on St. Valentine's Day 1992 under the revised title, The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective, with a US gross of $13,288,756.  That's a total of roughly $38,600,000.

The making of the Black Cauldron over-budgeted at $44,000,000 and only grossed in the US a low $21,000,000 in early-1984.  That meant Disney was — $23,000,000 in red debt.  With the premiere of GMD in summer 1986, Disney finances up with $2,336,794 to spare!  Hurrah!


Is another theatrical re-release planned?

So far, no.


Which awards and nominations did it receive?

The film has been graced by some very prodigious awards and nominations:

Winner of:

  • Golden Reel Award (1987) for Best Sound Editing

Nominated for:

  • Young Artist Award (1987) for Exceptional Young Actresses in Animation, Series, Specials, or Feature Film to Susanne Pollatschek
  • Edgar Allan Poe Award (1987) for Best Motion Picture


What are the other foreign titles for the Great Mouse Detective?

The film GMD went by the following titles:

  • Catalan:  Bàsil, el ratolí detectiu
  • Brazil:  As Peripécias do Ratinho Detetive
  • China (Cantonese):  Shen tan miao shu
  • China (Mandarin):  Miao miao tan
  • Denmark:  Mesterdetektiven Basil Mus
  • Finland:  Basil Hiiri, mestarietsiv
  • France:  Basil, dètective privé
  • West Germany:  Basil der große Mäusedetektiv
  • Italy:  Basil l'investigatopo
  • Japan:  Olivia-chan no dai bouken
  • Mexico:  Policías y ratones
  • Netherlands:  De Speurneuzen
  • Norway:  Mesterdetektiven Basil Mus
  • Poland:  Wielki Mysi Detektyw
  • Portgual:  Peripécia de um Ratinho Detetive
  • Russia:  Velikij myshinyj detektiv
  • Spain:  Basil, el ratón superdetective
  • Sweden:  Mästerdetektiven Basil Mus
  • United Kingdom:  Basil - The Great Mouse Detective
  • United States:  The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective (re-issue)

    Did Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes influence the film?

    No.  Pre-production of the GMD started in 1981, when production on Black Cauldron was already in full swing.  After everything was ready and set, the actual animation started non-stop by autumn 1984.  The Granada Sherlock Holmes TV series, starring actor Jeremy Brett as the title role, premiered in American television until 14 March 1985 on PBS, which is less than two months before GMD was released.  Therefore, the famous Granada series could not possibly have been an influence on the film.

    The Holmes actors who did influence the film were Basil Rathbone, Ronald Howard, Peter Cushing, and Robert Stephens.


    Where does Basil of Baker Street lives?

    The address, in the film, was 221½ Baker Street, the basement (or cellar) of Sherlock Holmes' building.


    What is the name of the waterfront barroom?

    Ironically, the Rat Trap Saloon, located directly above Ratigan's sewer hideout.