Video / Audio
The first thing that becomes obvious is that this title hasn’t merited Disney’s usual fastidious restoration job. But what’s more curious is the overtly heavy noise on the film, an issue where Disney usually errs on the opposite side. Especially in the opening shot, the combination of grain and noise mixes with the fog and takes some time to figure out where one begins and the other ends. Some will no doubt find this to be a faithful look to what they remember, but its overabundance seems to point to the fact that it was one of the studio’s more rushed conversions. Flicker is also an issue throughout, and the two things work to make a patchy looking picture.
More unfortunate is the rather dull color palette that remains throughout the entire film. Almost all hues seem muted, as if faded and dulled with time. Granted, the dark setting of most of the scenes is certainly a stylistic choice, but none of the colors particularly pop, and when dealing with restorations that we’ve seen Disney perform time and again for Blu-ray, this one rather curiously maintains something closer to a “before” look, with faint colors and low contrast. Detail is reasonably intact, but even it betrays the film in spots. This is still better than the film has looked on DVD, but is only a slight upgrade, hampered by what could have been with Disney’s usual restoration in tow.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is stable, if heavily front-centered. Character voices are occasionally unevenly mixed during the picture, with both elder and younger Flavershams being the most affected, but this is only an issue in a few scenes. The few musical numbers are rather well balanced, and the voices of Basil, Dr. Dawson, and Ratigan stay consistently positioned, which is good as they comprise the bulk of the speaking time. The audio certainly isn’t a failure by any means, although it only occasionally ventures beyond an enhanced stereo mix (although there are a couple of scenes where the rear speakers really spring into action).
There are but three brief supplemental items included, although they are present on both Blu-ray and DVD discs. The first is “So You Think You Can Sleuth?” (SD, 4:41) which after a woefully scant overview of British detectives offers a quick case to solve. It’s a forgettable addition, but might entertain kids during its run time. “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” (SD, 2:00) gives a follow-the-bouncing-ball treatment to this song excerpt from the film. And finally, “The Making of The Great Mouse Detective” (SD, 7:53) is an unfortunately truncated but interesting collection of interviews of the making of the movie. Interesting bits include quick interviews with Vincent Price, composer Henry Mancini, and one of the animators who discusses their first use of computer graphics in the film.
The Great Mouse Detective is a surprisingly enjoyable film, even if it’s less “Disney” in feel than most of the studio’s other feature animations. Instead it seems to strive for Sherlock Lite, which it manages ably and delightfully. The character voices are exceptionally acted, and while some might find it a tad slower-paced than some Disney titles, this is partly due to its intention to play it more straight, as it were, and less cartoony. It’s a shame that the restoration simply isn’t up to Disney’s usual standards, as the delightful animation often feels trapped under a faded layer of time. But as a movie this is one of the studio’s true hidden gems that hopefully will find a new audience with this release. The Great Mouse Detective releases October 9.