No Mystery About It: The Great Mouse Detective Is A Fun Family Movie

Courtesy: Disney Home Entertainment

Everybody knows the name and face of Mickey Mouse.  The iconic figure has been the face of Disney since his creation.  And he’s still the most famous animal figure in the movie world to this day.  As famous as Mickey might be, he isn’t the only mouse to grace the silver screen in the annals of Disney’s movie history.  Next to Mickey and Minnie, most audiences probably instantly think back to Bernard and Miss Bianca A.K.A. The Rescuers.  There is at least one more mouse whose name is likely less prominent in audiences’ minds when asked about famous Disney figures.  That mouse is none other than Basil of Baker Street.

Basil is the mouse counterpart to author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective, Sherlock Holmes.  He’s the star of Disney’s 1986 animated feature, The Great Mouse Detective.  The Great Mouse Detective has never enjoyed the popularity of The Rescuers or of any of Mickey Mouse’s adventures.  But it’s still a fun movie for any fan of mysteries.  One factor that makes The Great Mouse Detective enjoyable is the understanding of how much work went into bringing this film to life.  While it’s somewhat short, the bonus “making of” featurette contains some information that will make for a new appreciation for this story.  In that same vein, the work that went into bringing The Great Mouse Detective to life included making a believable story and equally believable characters.  All of this combined makes it a movie that deserves more attention and credit than what it has gotten in the almost three decades since its debut.

The new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack re-issue of The Great Mouse Detective includes a short bonus “Making of” featurette pointing out that it took four years for this movie to come to life.  It goes on to point out that a major reason (of not the reason) was the combination of computer based graphics and hand drawn animation.  This movie was the first ever in which Disney actually used computer graphics to any extent.  As viewers will see in the bonus feature, a lot of work was put into making the final conflict between Basil and Ratigan happen.  The feature points out that the clockworks inside Big Ben were created largely by computer.  That meant taking extensive lengths in order to mix the CG and hand drawn animation without losing the film’s integrity.  The animators behind this mix and the rest of the movie’s animation are to be commended for the work put into making this happen.

The animators behind The Great Mouse Detective went into painstaking detail in order to make its animation stand out.  So did the writers responsible for making the story happen.  Viewers don’t have to have read the books on which this movie is based to be able to enjoy it.  It’s a simple story that presents a good guy (Basil), a bad guy (Ratigan) and a mystery.  Even more interesting is that in its own way, the writing staff behind the movie made it even more believable in that they made Basil flawed.  Here is a character that starts out as a pompous, arrogant individual.  But as the story progresses, audiences see him become warmer and more caring towards Olivia Flaversham.  Olivia originally comes to Basil after her father is abducted by Ratigan’s henchman Fidget.  Basil’s personal growth and his relationship to Olivia is a secondary storyline to that of his search for Ratigan.  But it makes the story more heartwarming, and in turn, more enjoyable.

One of the most important factors of any movie script’s success is suspension of disbelief.  The Great Mouse Detective has a story that easily allows audiences to suspend their disbelief.  As a matter of fact, the main story and its intertwining story will pull in audiences with ease.  No story is believable without equally believable characters.  And believable characters are exactly what the movie has.  Basil’s personal growth makes him more relatable and endearing to audiences.  On the other side of the spectrum, Professor Ratigan is equally vile and despicable. If there’s one thing that Disney has always had the ability to do, it’s creating great villains.  And thanks to the voice acting of the late, great Vincent Price, Ratigan jumps off the screen.  He wastes little time establishing himself as an all out bad guy.  That he feeds other mice to his “pet” cat without remorse is itself worthy of the title “evil.”  Audiences will instantly find themselves booing him.  That means from Price to the writers, everyone involved in bringing Ratigan to life did everything right.

As one can see, so much went into bringing The Great Mouse Detective to life.  From making the art to the story to its characters, the work involved in making this movie a reality paid off.  It is a good movie not just for fans of the mystery genre, but for anyone who is a fan of Disney’s history.  The new Blu-ray/DVD combo pack is available in stores and online now.  It can be ordered direct via Disney’s online shop at http://www.disneystore.com/the-great-mouse-detective-special-edition-blu-ray-and-dvd-combo-pack/mp/1319926/1000316/

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New Carol Burnett Show Re-Issue A Great Piece of TV Nostalgia

Courtesy: Time Life/Star Vista

Television today is largely anything but family friendly.  As Peter and Lois Griffin joke in the opening to Seth McFarlane’s hit cartoon, Family Guy, “all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV.”  While that line is meant entirely in a tongue-in-cheek manner, there’s a certain modicum of truth to it in today’s television culture.  Thank goodness for companies such as Time Life.  Time Life officially released yesterday what is one of the greatest sketch comedy/variety programs of all time and one of the greatest family friendly programs in television history in The Carol Burnett Show.

Time Life released “The Carol Burnett Show:  Carol’s Favorites” yesterday.  The six-disc compilation contains seventeen episodes considered among the “best” of the show’s roughly eleven year run on CBS.  The episodes compiled for this new set leave no doubt that Burnett’s show was one of the influences behind NBC’s Saturday Night Live.  The sketches from this show clearly hint at the bits that would come from the latter.  The Carol Burnett Show even spawned a little show called “Mama’s Family” that would last a total of six seasons on television.  Saturday Night Live, on the other hand, has tried multiple times to spin off its sketches to both the big and small screen with little success.  That goes to show the importance and staying power of The Carol Burnett Show to this day.  It’s even been spoofed by a number of television shows that have come since.  And after all, it is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

“The Carol Burnett Show:  Carol’s Favorites” is a wonderful collection for those who are unable to pick up the complete twenty-two disc collection.  That collection was released yesterday alongside this compilation.  It contains every episode from the show’s run.  Among some of the best episodes included in the six-disc “Carol’s Favorites” are the ones that include the hilarious skit, “The Family.”  That skit was the precursor to Vicki Lawrence’s hit TV sitcom, “Mama’s Family.”  Fans of “Mama’s Family” will be happy to know that on this set is the very first episode of “The Family.”  Guest star Roddy McDowall even gets his own role in the skit.  McDowall is just one of a bevy of guest stars to make appearances on the show.  Also appearing on the show in this compilation are the likes of:  Joan Rivers, Johnny Cash, The Jackson 5, Steve Martin, Betty White, Vincent Price and loads more.

From the original skits to the guest stars, The Carol Burnett Show offered so much great entertainment for the entire family.  That’s not all that makes this set such a great addition to the library of any classic television fan.  The set’s packaging is another bonus.  While the box may seem slightly bulky, the packaging for the discs themselves is very impressive.  Three inserts hold all six discs inside the box.  Each disc has its own spot on the inserts, thus protecting them and increasing their longevity.  This may come across as something minor.  But the longer the discs last, the more families will get to enjoy this TV classic.

The packaging goes a long way to making “The Carol Burnett Show:  Carol’s Favorites” a joy for families and fans alike.  But one would be remiss to ignore the most obvious factor of this set that makes it such a joy.  That factor would be the footage itself.  There are those who would speak badly of the footage quality.  But as with so many shows from that era, watching it from its original airing recordings is like listening to an original classic jazz song on vinyl.  The static on those old original vinyls creates a certain sense of nostalgia.  In the same vein, seeing this show as it originally aired will bring back that sense of nostalgia, too.  Trying to enhance it would only decrease that sense of nostalgia.  So kudos to Time life for keeping it how it was. 

There are shows that deserve to be resurrected on DVD and blu-ray.  And then there are those that are better left dead.  The Carol Burnett Show is one of those shows that belong in the prior category.  Despite what some critics may have to say, this newest reintroduction of this classic show is quite welcome.  Now a whole new generation can experience what is an example of television with real heart.  “The Carol Burnett Show:  Carol’s Favorites” is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via Time Life’s website, http://timelife.com.

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House On Haunted Hill Is Scary Fun For The Whole Family

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

B-flick or not, House on Haunted Hill is one of the greatest horror movies of all time.  It’s also one of Vincent Price’s finest moments.  It’s one more piece that shows the importance of classic movies.  Rather than being over worn by unnecessary violence, special effects and sex, this black and white classic relies on storytelling and acting to grab and hold the audience’s attention.  The storytelling itself is perhaps the most interesting factor in House on Haunted Hill.  Being that this story is an ensemble piece, one would automatically think that it will have its share of problems, story-wise.  But somehow the planets aligned just right for writer Robb White.

The mood is expertly set from the story’s opening moments, with both Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) and Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Jr.) setting the stage.  Pritchard is up first, telling audiences the ghost story centered on the mansion to which Loren has invited his guests, Pritchard included.  Loren makes the story even creepier with his delivery, explaining why each one of the guests has been invited to stay in the house.  Price’s delivery as Loren will send chills up any first time viewer’s spine.  Of course, the reality of why everyone has been invited is revealed at the end, making the ghost story a little less scary.  It’s only a little less scary because the door is left wide open for audiences to wonder about the house, even as the credits roll.  Could it be that the house really is haunted?  That’s up to the audiences.

Writing is at the base of every good (and bad) movie ever written.  That writing doesn’t just include dialogue.  It also includes little nuances such as lighting, acting, etc.  Those nuances were captured equally well through the direction of William Castle and William Malone.  The entire cast’s acting kept the scare factor on the high end throughout the movie.  The entire cast plays off of Pritchard and Loren perfectly, some of them believing Pritchard’s story.  Some not so sure.  The mixed reactions serve to make the story that much more believable.  Their reactions to things such as the organ playing and the lights going on and off make it all the better.  And best of all is the screams of Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig).  At first her screams are believable.  But the more she does it, the funnier it gets.  And it’s not the only comedy to the story, either.  Audiences will have to find out for themselves what other silliness is in store.  What the inclusion of all this funny business means is that while the movie has a good scare level, it has enough comedy to keep it from being too scary at the same time.

House on Haunted Hill has even more that could be discussed among any classic film buff or even a film studies class.  Keeping in mind that it has so much going for it, it goes without saying that B-flick or not, it’s still a great horror flick that everyone should see at least once in their lives.

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