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Resurrecting “The Great Mouse Detective.”

Resurrecting “The Great Mouse Detective.” (photo)

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When Tim Burton arrived at Disney in 1979, fresh out of CalArts, he was put to work on 1981’s “The Fox and the Hound,” one of the more forgettable films of the Disney cel animation era. It was rough for him: working on a story he had no connection to, thematically or visually, he ended up sleeping 14 hours a day, sometimes sitting in a closet or under his desk to avoid seeing anyone.

It’s a neat metaphor for how Disney’s animation department was beginning to feel. The new documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty” is dedicated to untangling the corporate rivalries and in-fighting that got Disney out of its animation slump and into the so-called Renaissance era of “Beauty and the Beast” and so on. By the time that had happened, of course, Burton was off and running — given the freedom (in a what-the-hell kind of spirit) to experiment within the studio with “Vincent” and “Frankenweenie,” he began his career. By 1985, he’d knocked “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” out of the park.

He should’ve stuck around a little longer. In 1986, Disney released “The Great Mouse Detective,” the most unfairly forgotten and mischievous movie that isn’t among the accepted childhood classics. A surprisingly meticulous Sherlock Holmes pastiche with mice instead of men, it was bright, witty and decidedly averse to the kind of saccharine instincts that were driving Burton off the wall.

In the first minute, it might be tempting to run screaming — father and “adorably” squeaky and breathy daughter bonding in poverty, a sort of sub-Dickens sentimentalization of poverty — but just wait. Not two minutes in, a toothy rat with dragon-size teeth rears its ugly head and makes off with the father. It’s a genuinely freaky moment, and from there on “The Great Mouse Detective” lightly plays for keeps, producing as precise a pastiche as you could wish for while still hitting the kiddie-film marks.


But what really makes you regret that Burton didn’t stick around to work on it is the presence of Burton’s personal god Vincent Price as “Professor Rattigan” — as showy a camp part as he ever had, but appropriate for children. (He sings. Twice.) If “Vincent” was the unlikely Disney tribute to Price as icon, “The Great Mouse Detective” is an even more unexpected homage to someone whose iconic status would normally be too adult for the Disney studios. (Price even gets to keep the same cigarette-holder as “Vincent,” something that would never happen now but the crowning touch.)

It’s proof that even in a time written off as a slag-heap — one now being raked up in an inside-baseball documentary — work was being produced as iconoclastic as anything in the company’s history. And, dare we say, more so than anything Burton’s attempted lately. The convergence would’ve made sense for once.

[Photos: “The Great Mouse Detective,” Disney, 1986]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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