A Comparison of the Great Mouse Detective and Sherlock Holmes
*Author's Note: First off, I own NONE of the movies, books, etc. mentioned in this, and I tried to give credit to the original creators throughout. These are merely some observations I've made about the similarities between the movie The Great Mouse Detective and Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure there's more that I've missed, but this is just my own personal views of two of my most favorite things in the universe. Enjoy!
Anyone who has ever seen Disney's The Great Mouse Detective, which is based off of the Basil of Baker Street books by Eve Titus, knows that the hero of the story, Basil, is obviously the Sherlock Holmes of the mouse world. But what other traits does one of Disney's most underrated films share with the famous canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?
First off is the time period in which they take place. The opening title of The Great Mouse Detective shows that it is 1897 in London. Sherlock Holmes' cases spread over a large time period, from I think the early 1880s or so in A Study in Scarlet to 1914 in His Last Bow. So it's safe to say that both take place in late Victorian England.
After Flaversham's kidnapping and the opening credits, we are introduced to Dr. David Q. Dawson, obviously modeled after Dr. John H. Watson. Both are military men. Watson explains in A Study in Scarlet how that he served as a surgeon in the 2nd Afghan War, but was sent back to England after being injured in the shoulder by a Jezail and also suffering from some tropical illness. (Interestingly, in later stories, Watson indicates that it was his leg that had been shot.) Dr. Dawson is much more vague, saying that he had "just arrived in London after lengthy service in Afghanistan."
The two doctors are also alike in their personalities. Both show great concern for others: for example, Watson with his patients and Holmes' clients, and Dawson with the little girl Olivia. I especially thought that Dawson showed a strong sense of protectiveness toward Olivia throughout the movie, from taking her hand in hand to Basil's and making sure that he would do something to help her, to keeping an eye on her in the toy shop, to doing whatever it took to rescue her from Ratigan's clutches. Both doctors are also very brave. Watson was always known to carry his trusty service revolver during Holmes' cases (which saved their lives more than once). And who could forget the memorable mousetrap scene where Basil has just about given up all hope, but Dawson is able to encourage him even in the face of certain death. So both doctors are of course very supportive of their detective friends, putting up with their eccentric habits and sticking with them to the end.
The only major difference I see between Dawson and Watson is their appearance. I know, of course…one's a human and one's a mouse…can't get much different than that! But I guess what I mean is their body shape. Watson's friend described him as being "thin as a lath" (not sure what that is) in A Study in Scarlet. Of course, after being injured and sick for months, I suppose he would be very thin. But this is much different from most portrayals of Watson, which show him as being short and chubby, as Dawson is. (This is part of why I loved Jude Law as Watson in the latest Sherlock Holmes movie, although I can't believe they made him taller than Holmes!...but perhaps we'll save that for another time.)
Holmes and Watson actually make personal appearances in The Great Mouse Detective; well, at least we catch glimpses of them. As Dawson and Olivia approach Basil's flat at 221 ½ B Baker Street, which happens to be located directly under Holmes' flat, we see Holmes' silhouetted against the top window as he plays the violin. We also see this same silhouette at the end of the movie as well. We can also see Holmes' and Watson's shadows on the wall when Basil and the others go to see Toby. I believe the dialogue between Holmes and Watson in this scene comes from a radio show of "the Adventure of the Red-Headed League" (This info comes from the Game's Afoot! Website. If you haven't been there, go check it out. Seriously.)
As Olivia looks around Basil's flat, we can see how much of a clutterbug he is. Untidiness is one of the many traits Basil shares with Holmes. In "The Musgrave Ritual," Watson tells how Holmes keeps his "tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very center of his wooden mantelpiece," and also expresses his horror at Holmes' destroying documents. Basil's flat is much the same; papers, books, portraits, and other random articles have accumulated on his mantle, and as the camera sweeps around the room, we see Basil's chemical table, which if full of curious looking items, and an absolute mess. Basil also uses various things such as a grandfather clock and even a suit of armor on which to hang his clothes, rather than a normal coat rack or closet.
So in the next scene, we finally meet Basil of Baker Street…or, well, a rather obese Chinese mouse. But we learn that this is merely one of Basil's many disguises. He actually closely resembles Holmes: he is very tall compared to the other mice shown in the movie, and has a long, hawk-like nose like Holmes. And of course, they share the same fashion sense: Basil dons the famous Inverness cape and deerstalker cap, and even wears a robe when relaxing at home as Holmes does. Even Basil's name has significance. Basil Rathbone is perhaps one of the most famous actors to portray Holmes, and I believe Eve Titus chose the name "Basil" as a tribute to him. It's also interesting to note that one of Holmes' aliases was "Captain Basil" in "The Adventure of Black Peter," and that Basil and Dawson go undercover as sailors later in the movie.
Next, Basil displays his brilliant skills of deduction. He is able at a glance to know that Dawson is a Doctor who just arrived from military duty in Afghanistan just by observing a single stitch on his coat sleeve! Holmes is also well-known for his methods of deduction, and could also deduce a person's occupation and other such information by observing things like their hands, knees, sleeves, and shoes. When Watson appeared astounded, Holmes merely stated that he could see everything that he could, but that he did not observe. Dawson also shows amazement when Basil does it, and Basil just says, "Elementary, my dear Dawson."
That phrase is actually another reference to Sherlock Holmes. Although the phrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson" is very well-known, Holmes never actually said it. In "The Crooked Man," it actually reads: "'Elementary,' said he." I'm not sure where "Elementary, my dear Watson" came from…but it was used in later films, which is probably how it gained popularity.
Next, to Dawson's horror, Basil shoots a pile of pillows, scattering feathers everywhere. One of Holmes little eccentricities was that he often resorted to indoor target practice when he was bored, but he aimed at a wall, carving the initials V. R., which I think stands for Victoria Regina, or "Victoria Reigns." (At least, that's what the footnote in my book says).
Hearing the commotion, poor Mrs. Judson bursts in and berates Basil for destroying her pillows. Of course, we can see that she is clearly based off of Holmes' landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Watson/Dawson, Judson/Hudson…see the pattern?). Contrary to what most people think, she is NOT their maid…she is their landlady, meaning they pay her to live there. Actually, that's what brought Holmes and Watson together in A Study in Scarlet: Holmes had been considering moving in there, but he couldn't afford it himself, and since Watson was in need of a place to stay also, they decided to be roommates and split the rent. Anyway, both ladies have their hands full with their tenants, what with their admitting some rather unsavory characters inside, filling the house with noxious fumes from their chemistry experiments (and also the risk of blowing up the place to bits), among other things. I think both ladies must have LOTS of patience, considering they haven't thrown their tenants out on the streets yet. While Mrs. Judson doesn't play that large of a role in the movie, Mrs. Hudson on the other hand often proves to be a big help to Holmes. (Warning: Spoiler Alert!) In "The Adventure of the Empty House," Holmes has a bust of himself sitting in front of the window to make his enemies think he is there when he is really elsewhere. But in order to make it look realistic, he has Mrs. Hudson crawl on her hands and knees in order to stay hidden as she rotates the bust every so often, making it appear as if it has moved. Mrs. Judson is probably most famous for her delightful cheese crumpets.
When Basil examines the bullet from the gun under the microscope, he cries out in despair when he realizes he has come to yet another dead end, and falls into a sort of depression. This is another trait he shares with Holmes. He would become depressed especially if there was nothing to do. He told Watson that if he had no work, his mind was like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces. To fill these periods of inactivity, he would play the violin, another trait that Basil shares: although in Eve Titus's books Basil was a horrible violin player, but quite excellent with the flute (another tidbit from The Game's Afoot!) Holmes would also perform various chemical experiments to fill his boredom. But when those were not enough, he would resort to cocaine use, which wasn't illegal in England at that time. Watson did not approve of this, saying that this was Holmes' only vice. But Basil only smoked a pipe and cigarette in the movie.
To try to cope with his depression, Basil picks up the violin and begins to play a sad, melancholy tune. At first, he shows no interest in helping Olivia, that is, until she mentions that he was kidnapped by a peglegged bat. Basil's mood changes completely as he deduces that her father was kidnapped by a henchman who works for the nefarious Professor Ratigan. Here he points to a picture of the rat on the mantelpiece. This reminds me of the portrait of Irene Adler that Holmes kept from "A Scandal in Bohemia." (Now, I'm not saying Basil has a portrait of Ratigan because of romantic interests…*shudder*. I mean I think both detectives kept those portraits because although they were foes, they held a lot of respect for them. Adler, whom Holmes referred to as "the woman," was one of the only people to ever outsmart Holmes, and Basil describes Ratigan as a "genius" and "the Napoleon of Crime.)
We can definitely see that Ratigan, Basil's nemesis, is based off of Sherlock Holmes' archenemy, Professor James Moriarity. From their titles, of course both villains are Professors, or ex-professors, as is more likely. They are both incredibly smart, equal in intelligence with Holmes and Basil. They are the head of vast criminal organizations, with many subordinates and thugs at their command (although I highly doubt that Moriarity's men danced and sang about their evil plans…but hey, you never know…). And both absolutely HATE the detectives for their meddling. Ratigan seems a bit more dapper, getting his thugs to do most of the dirty work. But he's still pretty dastardly, as the thugs sing about him drowning widows and orphans. Holmes' first encounter with Moriarity is one of my favorite scenes in the entire canon. Both Holmes and Basil spent most of their careers trying to defeat their archenemies, and both nearly end up being killed themselves in the process.
The major thing with Ratigan is that he despises being called a rat. In Eve Titus' books, he was actually just a very large mouse (yep, another fact from The Games Afoot). But in the movie, it is clear that he is a rat…however, if anyone dares to call him that, they become a snack for Ratigan's rather large cat, Felicia, who he summons with a ring of a small bell kept in his pocket.
To be continued in Part 2…