A better than you remember entry from the corridors of Disney animation during their wan years following Walt’s death and before the success of The Little Mermaid. The film is often written off as it failed at the box-office, but it reveals a rare vibrancy and attention to detail, not to forgo its daring leanings toward a Looney Tune style mania, that had all but been stamped out due to growing costs and a general lack of effort.
The emergence of computers is one reason that the backgrounds zing again, a tasty Victoriana touching base with all a tourist guide’s worth of London memorabilia. Two of the tumble of directors, Ron Clements and John Musker, were forging ahead, twisting the enemy microchips to their own uses and measuring up a future for the medium. They would become very much its guiding lights with The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. What they grasped was that kids had changed a bit from Uncle Walt’s day, and while they wanted a good story, they also wanted zany. This Basil works less in the Basil Rathbone mould than the Basil Fawlty, a hyperactive pipsqueak, never quite in control. One dazzling helter-skelter escape sequence has the rodent hero defy any number of choppers and anvils, to catch a photo-op with perfect precision at the end. It’s also good to hear the sonorous thrum of Vincent Price’s immortal voice as twisted Moriarty-alike Professor Ratigan.
The music is never forced on us, leaving it the story to whisk us along, actually a bit too briefly, to its climax in and about Big Ben, a sequence in no short supply of genuine thrills. Compared to the lumpy, over-laden efforts that finally put paid to Disney’s animated arm a second time around, this is a real treasure.