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As you’ve read through this series, you’ll note that many of these ‘disturbing’ moments come from the villains in the story and The Great Mouse Detective is no exception. Based on the Basil of Baker Street book series by Eve Titus, the film follows the titular Basil, a mouse detective who operates on the same deductive principles as Sherlock Holmes (and it just so happens Basil’s tiny home is located at 221B Baker Street).
His nemesis and obsession is the evil genius Ratigan (voiced brilliantly by Vincent Price). Ratigan is “the Napoleon of crime” with ambitions of taking over the mouse world. He himself is a giant rat, but he hates to be reminded of it, to the point that he will have his own henchmen killed if they refer to him as a rat.
For most of the film, Ratigan presents himself as a perfectly poised gentle-mouse, but there are hints that he’s hiding a big secret. For one, every time he gets the least bit upset, all of his henchmen quake in terror, as if expecting some monster to come out. Second, especially when Ratigan finds out that Basil is on the case of the missing toymaker, the rat is visibly seen holding back a wave of fierce anger (so much so that his face turns bright red), just barely managing to hold it back.
But the final straw comes when Basil ultimately ruins the villain’s plans to take over Mouse England. A furious Rattigan makes a run for it in his dirigible, with the young Olivia (the toymaker’s daughter) as a hostage. Basil gives chase however in a hastily rigged craft of his own (aided by Dawson and Olivia’s father) and they chase Rattigan all over London before the rat, distracted by Basil jumping aboard, crashes headlong into the clock face of Big Ben!
Deep inside the clockworks and gears, Rattigan seeks to eliminate Basil once and for all (and at least be rid of his nemesis even if his plans are ruined), but Olivia foils this by biting down on his hand, distracting him long enough for Basil to trap his cape in some gears before leaping down to rescue Olivia (who was kicked into the works by Rattigan) from being crushed. Basil saves the young mouse just in the nick of time and when the trapped Rattigan sees the pair getting away…his anger finally boils over, leading into one of the more disturbing sequences in the pre-Disney Renaissance canon.
Technically speaking, this sequence is historic because it’s one of the earliest uses of CGI animation in a Disney film (though not the first). The clock gears of Big Ben are all computer animated, with the hand-drawn characters laid on top. According to the animators, this is what allowed them to create the sequence where Ratigan runs in, up, and through the gears during the chase. I also love to draw attention to Henry Mancini’s music for this scene: as Ratigan comes into frame behind Basil, listen closesly as the music starts. The melody is on a piano and is broken down into several interlocking segments with differing rhythms; just like the clock gears in Big Ben!
As Basil and Olivia reach the top of the clock tower, we look back to see a monstrous Ratigan, all poise and polish gone, running on all fours up through the gears, clothes in tatters, inarticulately growling as he pursues his quarry. He’s partly in shadows, and partly lit up by lightning flashes, which only adds to his menace. We can see now why his henchmen were so afraid; beneath that calculating veneer…Ratigan is a complete monster!
As the enraged rat gets ever closer, Basil tries desperately to get Olivia to safety before the villain can get to them, but their craft is just out of reach. Finally, just as the rat leaps for Basil, he tosses Olivia to her father, who catches his daughter with relief. But the nightmare is just starting for Basil: he’s in the clutches of Ratigan as they fall all the way down onto the hands of Big Ben in the pouring rain. The rat is determined that this time, Basil isn’t getting away from him: “there’s no escape THIS time Basil!” He uses his claws, visibly razor sharp, to slash and maul the detective, wanting to make him suffer for daring to humiliate the rat time and time again. It’s a spine-chilling moment, as you can hear Basil’s groans of pain (though in typical Disney fashion there isn’t a trace of blood to be seen).
Ratigan moves in for the kill and with one blow sends Basil flying off into the abyss (just missing the hands of his friends) and seemingly to his death. An overjoyed Ratigan crows that he’s finally won! But a voice from below replies: “On the contrary, the game’s not over yet!” Unbelievably, Basil has taken hold of the wreckage of the dirigible and Ratigan’s special bell, which he now mockingly rings. Just at that moment, the clock strikes the hour and the vibrations send a stunned Ratigan tumbling off, but not before he latches onto Basil and brings the mouse down with him!!
It seems to be the end for both Basil and his nemesis, but the detective has one last trick up his sleeve: when he fell, he took the propeller from the dirigible with him, and now he uses it to fly back up to his friends as the storm finally passes.
Despite the happy ending, this scene with Ratigan always scared me as a child: the transformation is so complete that he doesn’t seem like the same character anymore. And that scene where Basil gets literally mauled by this monster, it’s hard to believe sometimes that this movie was made for children. Because if you really think about it, if that scene were done realistically, there should be blood everywhere, not to mention broken bones from that fall onto the clock hands. It amazes me that in the very next scene Basil isn’t bandaged up in a few places.
What do you think of Ratigan’s final transformation into a horrific monster? Did this scene disturb you also? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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For more Disturbing Disney, see also:
Disturbing Disney #1: The Coachman in Pinocchio (1940)
Disturbing Disney #2: The truth of Pleasure Island in Pinocchio (1940)
Disturbing Disney #3: Escaping Monstro from Pinocchio (1940)
Disturbing Disney #4: Dumbo loses his mother (1941)
Disturbing Disney #5 The death of Bambi’s Mother
Disturbing Disney #6: Faline vs. the dogs (1942)
Disturbing Disney #7: Cruella wants to do WHAT??
Disturbing Disney #8: The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met (from Make Mine Music, 1946)
Disturbing Disney #9: Dr. Facilier’s Fate (The Princess and the Frog, 2009)
Disturbing Disney #10: The rat in Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Disturbing Disney #11: Clayton’s Death in Tarzan (1999)
Disturbing Disney #12: The Bear from The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Disturbing Disney #13: “Smoking them out” in The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Disturbing Disney #14: The Salt Trap in The Jungle Book (1994)
Disturbing Disney #15: Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia (1940)
Disturbing Disney #16: King Triton destroys Ariel’s grotto
Disturbing Disney #18: The Queen’s assignment for her Huntsman
Disturbing Disney #19: Cinderella’s dress is destroyed (1950)
Disturbing Disney #20: Quasimodo is crowned ‘King of Fools’ (1996)