Friday, April 02, 2010

Watching The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Apologies for the obviousness of that title.

I don't necessarily have much to say about this movie--it's a light, fun adventure; not in the top tier of Disney movies, but certainly one of the better efforts made during the confused period between Walt's death and the creative renaissance heralded by The Little Mermaid. It has a few fun musical numbers, and Ratigan--voiced by Vincent Price is a pretty great, hyper-theatrical villain. He hates to be called a "rat," you see, so the film's climax, where he suddenly becomes less anthropomorphized and more frightfully ratlike is even more effective (possibly also vaguely crypto-racist, but what the hey).

Here's what I'm left thinking about, though: if this story--in which Ratigan has an evil plan to overthrow the mouse-queen of mouse-England and have his own reign of terror--has been written a hundred years previously, it would have been seen, accurately, as a transparent manifestation of imperial anxiety of the sort seen in innumerable pulp/adventure novels of the time and satirized by Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent. A sinister, foreign-sounding criminal mastermind who isn't even the same species as the rest of us usurping the throne from the rightful ruler? Come on.

But the thing is, it wasn't released in 1886. It was released a hundred years later, when questions of Britain's imperial status are entirely a moot point. So the question becomes: are these undercurrents of the story entirely anachronistic and vestigial, or should we read them as relating to the current, American threat du jour of the time (communism, presumably)? I don't have a definitive answer, and it's pretty late, so I am going to leave it at that for the time being.


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