The Little Mermaid is credited for bringing about the Disney renaissance of the late 80s, early 90s. It was indeed the first of a string of features that for many are up there with the five features that started the studio. But the roots of that movement are not found in that movie, but in The Great Mouse Detective. This is because the executive liked the movie so much, and were happy with the box office receipts and critical reaction that it gave them faith that animation could be great once again (Sure, they released the maligned Oliver & Company a year later, but it was probably in production by then). While I don’t think it is a great movie (sorry Wolfy), it is a great improvement over the studios last efforts, and I can definitely see the seeds of what would be the Disney renaissance.
First the negative. I found the take on Sherlock Holmes with mice to be rather clever, I didn’t like the path the story took. The story was extremely predictable (sure all Disneys are, but I should expect more from a detective story). You could argue that it works well within the parody realm, but this takes its self too seriously to be considered a parody. Also, at times I downright hated the characterization of Basil. At first he is an asshole, then once the mystery starts it is like the Sherlock we all love, then he turns into a baby when everyone laughs at him. And it didn’t help that the voice performance was uninspired.
Besides that, everything else is good. You can tell that Ron Clements and John Musker had a hand in directing this as there are some scenes that fit with their upcoming films like The Little Mermaid and The Princess and the Frog. In fact, many of the scenes in the movie are fantastic, particularly the denouement in Big Ben. The rest of the voice performances are outstanding, particularly Vincent Prince as Ratigan, who brings a charming menace to the role that the writers couldn’t give him (seriously, his plot to achieve what he wants is so stupid). The animation is great, as is Henry Mancini’s score.
The Great Mouse detective was fun, but not great. It is however much better than the four or so lazy movies that came before it. If anything, I respect it more since it brought about the Disney Renaissance.