First Theatrical Release: July 2, 1986
First Home Viewing Release: July 17, 1992
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Where I Found It: My library’s DVD collection.
Bechdel Test Score: Passed. Female characters include Olivia, Basil’s housekeeper, a fat female kitty, the queen, and a stripper. (Yes, really!) Basil’s housekeeper’s fussing over Olivia constitutes the conversation between females that does not revolve around a male character.
I find this to be an utterly forgettable movie. Although I have a vague sense that I saw it at some point as a child, I remembered absolutely nothing about it. Now, one day after watching it again, it is already quickly fading from my memory. This is not entirely the movie’s fault — I tend to glaze over when I hear the word “detective” (unless it’s attached to Elisa Maza), and “whodunits” are among the only books I actively avoid. Still, this movie did have its moments.
Dark? Nah, It’s a Cute Animal Movie!
Once more, Disney is able to make some rather dark and racy subject matter seem not-so-bad by disguising it with cute animals. I was also fooled before I popped this DVD in. I thought that, following the abysmal failure of The Black Cauldron, along with criticism about it being too “dark,” Disney was taking a safe route and doing something light and “cute.” Except there are a few not-so-cute moments if you allow them to really sink in. The villain, Professor Ratigan, feeds his associates to a cat when they say or do something to displease him. The first time this happens, it’s because a drunken mouse refers to him as a “rat,” an identity he seems to be in denial about (more on this later.) He summons this cat with a little bell, and one might wonder why the cat never eats him — unless you have seen a cat cower when confronted by a rat, as I have. That alone might seal his true identity. Ratigan does a few more decidedly creepy things. He sets up a torture trap for Basil and Dawson after he captures them, intending for them to be gruesomely murdered while a captive little girl watches. Oh, and he’s got a camera set up to take pictures. Because the mice never experience the torture, a device worthy of a horror film slips by without much notice. Also, most of the toys in the movie’s toy shop are decidedly sinister.
And then there’s the sexual stuff. Ratigan replaces the true queen with a creepy animatronic replica, and somehow, no one notices the difference. He then claims that he is the queen’s “consort,” which, although it officially means “spouse,” usually has more lurid implications. Also, this movie features a mouse stripper. Yes, that’s right. In a tavern filled with sailors who boo each act on the stage, the room falls quiet when a sultry female mouse takes the stage, telling the audience that, “Boys, what you’re hopin’ for will come true — let me be good to you.”
In short order, she tears off her “girl next door” dress to reveal a skimpy, feathery thing, announcing as she does so that there’s “nothing” she “won’t do.”
This song-and-dance number, while catchy and intriguing, doesn’t really advance the plot. Guess Disney’s animators just couldn’t resist a few gratuitous sexy mouse shots.
Ratigan: A Villain At Odds With Himself
The most intriguing part of the movie for me was Ratigan’s insistence that he was a mouse, not a rat. I think this was supposed to be played for laughs, but I couldn’t help wondering about the underlying cause of Ratigan’s shame over his identity, and I suspect it was a driving force in his cruelty.
Folks have long suspected the worst homophobes to have latent homosexual tendencies. Adolf Hitler was denied admittance to a prestigious art school, then systematically captured or destroyed the art of Europe. DNA tests suggest he had both Jewish and African ancestry, yet his denial of these parts of himself was so vehement that it drove him to murder those who were not afraid of their own identities. I often wonder, how would history have been different if Hitler had been accepted to art school?
We don’t know how Ratigan interacted with rats — he is the only rat we see in the movie — but we do know how soul crushing and destructive it is when someone internalizes hatred of his own identity. Perhaps if Ratigan had not so hated who he was, he would not have devised a torture device meant to maim two adults while a little girl watched.
Really, it’s a shame that Ratigan couldn’t embrace “rat pride.” Rats are smart, social, resilient creatures. If only he could have accepted himself for who he was, perhaps he would not have turned to evil. That means we wouldn’t have this movie, of course, but I feel so indifferent toward it that that doesn’t seem to be such a loss.