Disney Studios breakthrough began with mice. More specifically, it began with its first successful animated short, Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey Mouse. Yet throughout the years, there have only been a handful of Disney animated features starring mice. So now it’s time to compare the first two animated mice feature films from Disney Studios. It’s time to see whether The Rescuers or The Great Mouse Detective is the better movie. Well, more like which of these movies I prefer.
Just a note – I won’t be keeping score for which of the two movies wins more categories, because I don’t believe that all categorical wins are equal. If one movie wins more categories but all in tight races, while the other is vastly superior in a more important category, it’s the better film. Of course I’m still breaking this into categories to make this easier to follow, using the same categories as my first vs post.
The Rescuers stars Bernard and Miss Bianca, two mice from the rescue aid society. Bernard starts the movie off as a janitor for the society. He’s superstitious and nervous about his first mission, but he’s also great at both planning and leading others. That is when he feels brave enough to lead. Bianca is more adventurous and emotionally driven, but this also makes her the more emotionally venerable of the two. The two of them make a great pair, both as rescuers and romantic partners.
In The Great Mouse Detective, you got Basil and Major Dawson. Basil is an eccentric private eye with a mind incredible enough to rival Batman. He sometimes gets distracted by his thoughts and he’s not always a very sensitive man, but he grows over the course of the movie. Dawson is the more compassionate of the two, but at times he’s a bit bumbling. He often helps Basil stay focused, but he’s also frequently fascinated by how brilliant Basil really is. It’s hard not to be fascinated with him. Like the Rescuers they balance each other out, and Basil likely wouldn’t succeed against Professor Ratigan without Dawson.
Both of these movies feature great main characters, and they work in different ways. The Rescuers is a more dramatic movie, and its characters are more dramatic as a result. The Great Mouse Detective is more of a pure fun adventure film, and its main characters fit that mood perfectly. In the end, these are all great characters that work in different ways. I’m actually going to declare this category a tie.
The supporting cast in The Rescuers is kind of vast. Penny, the girl that needs rescuing, is written and voiced specifically to be cute. It’s not to the point where she’s annoying, and it works for the movie’s tone, but there isn’t much to her besides being cute. Besides Penny, there’s the bird that acts as a plane ride for the mice, and there are all the mice dwelling in the swamp where their rescue mission begins. Unfortunately, most of these characters are one-dimensional and don’t show up for too long. Some of them are amusing, but most of them just exist.
The Great Mouse Detective’s cast is narrower and more focused. Hiram and Olivia Flaversham, an inventor and his daughter, are the two most significant supporting characters. Hiram clearly cares for his daughter. Even though he very much disagrees with what Ratigan is using him for, he begrudgingly builds a robot for the rat when his daughter is clearly in danger. He’s not in the movie much, but his character is developed enough. Olivia is very well balanced. She’s emotional when her father first disappears, but she proves herself as a strong young girl. She shows a lot of determination when Basil ignores her at first, and she doesn’t let him push her around. At times she’s cute, but she never overdoes it. There are other supporting characters that each show different personalities to balance out the movie, but it would take a while to talk about them all.
The Great Mouse Detective is the clear victor in this category. Olivia alone beats the entire supporting cast in The Rescuers, and her father is pretty good too. Even ignoring them, The Great Mouse Detective’s supporting cast is more varied, shows more personality and is just more fun to watch.
I won’t waste your time with this one. Madame Medusa in The Rescuers isn’t a bad villain by any means, but she’s really just a trashy pawn shop owner who kidnapped Penny just to find a legendary diamond. Professor Ratigan in The Great Mouse Detective isn’t just the better villain of the two, but he’s up there with the best Disney villains of all time. He’s evil and he loves it. He’s devious and manipulative, to the point where he can rival Basil’s brain. He’s also kind of terrifying when he unleashes himself at the end of the movie. Well, he’d be terrifying to a mouse anyway. Besides, how can you beat the great Vincent Price as the voice of Ratigan?
Another category I won’t waste your time with. The Rescuers suffered from Disney’s limited budget at the time. It’s not necessarily bad, but there’s nothing special about it either. Since most of the movie takes place in a swamp, a lot of the backgrounds look the same. There is good use of shot angles, especially during the scene where Penny is searching for the diamond. I’ll give the movie that much.
The Great Mouse Detective is by far the better film from an animation standpoint. The backgrounds make full use of the London backdrop, whether it’s Basil living in Sherlock Holmes’s basement, Ratigan’s headquarters being in an old barrel or the fight in the human toy shop at night. It’s also the first Disney animated movie to have an environment completely rendered by computers, and that makes for a very dynamic and exciting climax. It’s both more technically impressive for its time and its art style is more creative.
The Great Mouse Detective wins by a huge margin here.
These two movies are very different in tone, and that’s never clearer than their soundtracks and their accompanying songs.
The Rescuers is by far the darker, more emotional film. The soundtrack emphasizes that darker mood very well, with somber tunes in the first half of the movie, and dark tracks during the movie’s more intense moments. The songs feel dated, but they fit the tone of the movie very well. “The Journey”, sung during the opening credits, sets up the movie’s mood perfectly. The “Rescue Aid Society” jingle is just that, a jingle, but it’s used very well at a moment where Bernard and Bianca are losing faith, to help remind them of what they’re fighting for. “Tomorrow is another day” is a pure 70’s style romantic pop song. I don’t feel like the songs aged well, but they do suit the movie.
The Great Mouse Detective’s soundtrack is a lot more bouncy and fun. After you watch the movie, you may find yourself humming the theme song in your head for a couple hours. There are only a couple songs, and they’re not necessarily anything special from a musical standpoint, but they’re fun lounge numbers. Vincent Price actually sung Ratigan’s lines in his songs, and he’s not bad. He puts the kind of energy and passion into the lyrics that just make the songs work. The fact that all the songs feel like lounge numbers helped them age better as well.
From a soundtrack standpoint, it’s actually hard to pick the victor here. While Detective’s soundtrack is catchier and more memorable, the Rescuers’ soundtrack evokes a deeper emotional response. Both movies feature songs that also fit their respective movie’s mood as well. That said, Detective’s songs have aged better, and that’s the difference maker here. The Great Mouse Detective features the better music.
While none of the previous categories are trivial by any means, the story is the most important category of them all.
The Rescuers is about two mice working a rescue operation for a human child. It’s a very strange concept, sure, but the movie makes it work. Penny’s story is a tragic one. She’s taken from an orphanage by a selfish, greedy pawnshop owner who just wants a diamond, possibly ruining this young girl’s life. The pawnshop owner is emotionally abusive and manipulative. Despite this, the girl remains defiant and tries to escape multiple times. It’s hard to say too much else, because this movie is very much character driven by Bernard and Bianca. It’s the character driven aspect that makes this movie work better than I thought it would.
The Great Mouse Detective is about a brilliant detective who’s chasing down a master criminal. It’s somewhere between Sherlock Holmes s and James Bond. There aren’t too many plot twists or surprises, partly because the 74 minute length didn’t give much room for that, but there’s a lot of exciting action to move the story along.
Like the lead characters category, this one is actually pretty close. It’s like trying to choose between a dramatic, character focused story and a fun, plot driven story. Neither style of storytelling is more valid than the other – it’s just a matter of preference. The Great Mouse Detective takes better advantage of its setting, while The Rescuers fully embraces its strange concept and makes it work. This may sound strange considering Detective won every other category, but I’m going with The Rescuers on this one. I generally prefer stories about characters, and character driven stories by extension. It also faces an uphill battle with a story concept that’s harder to work with. I’m not saying it’s the better story, but I prefer the character driven narrative in this case.
Before I got to the Rescuers, I thought that comparing these two movies would be pointless. I thought that The Great Mouse Detective was by far the better movie in almost every way. Although I do still think it is the better movie, the Rescuers does have some very good points. In a lot of ways it’s more of a Don Bluth style movie with its emotionally driven story and its darker tone, and that works in the movie’s favour. It remains a bright spot in a dark period for Disney Studios, and there’s a reason why it’s Disney’s first animated movie to ever get a theatrical sequel. With all that said, The Great Mouse Detective features a more enjoyable supporting cast, one of Disney’s greatest villains in history, and it simply aged better. That’s why it’s the better movie, and why more people remember it fondly. At the same time, I can fully understand why someone would prefer The Rescuers out of these two.
Who knows – it might be worth comparing The Great Mouse Detective with The Rescuers Down Under as well.