Friday, October 21, 2016

Disney's "The Great Mouse Detective" At 30

I remember watching The Great Mouse Detective when it premiered when I was a kid. For those who haven't seen it, this Disney animated film from 1986 is about a mouse named Basil who lives in a mousehole at 221B Baker Street in London - the home address of Sherlock Holmes. Basil is an anthropomorphic cartoon mouse who solves mysteries like Sherlock Holmes. He even has a sidekick - Dr. Dawson - who is the anthropomorphic cartoon mouse counterpart to Dr. Watson. Basil's archfoe is Professor Ratigan (voiced by horror icon Vincent Price), who is the anthropomorphic cartoon rat counterpart to Professor Moriarty. The film is excellent. It's still available in stores as part of a Blu Ray-DVD combo pack, so I highly recommend that you see it. might want to check out the children's book series of novels that inspired the film. Eve Titus created Basil, Dawson and Ratigan. She wrote five books in all, beginning with Basil of Baker Street, which I remember was brought back in print to coincide with the release of the film. I remember thinking that I didn't enjoy Paul Galdone's illustrations because the characters looked too much like real mice, whereas the Disney version reimagines the cast as pure cartoon characters. Cut to 2016, the 5 books are back in print, with new cover illustrations by artist David Mottram - these I like! Basil and Dr. Dawson have a bit of a Chuck Jones style to them...a literary Hubie & Bertie, ready to meet the cricket in Times Square  (if you got that reference..thank you)..or a wizened Pixie & Dixie. Unfortunately, they didn't have Mottram contribute new interior illustrations, so you get to stare and compare with Galdone's stuff.

As for the stories..I got a confession to make: this month will mark my first time reading the books. I remember owning the reprint of Basil of Baker Street that had the Disney version of the mouse on the cover, but being put-off by the Galdone drawings and the fact that the story had little to nothing in common with the plot of the film. You won't find prose/illustrations of balloon races across the Thames, no escapes from Rube Goldberg-esque deathtraps or clock tower showdowns or bats with peg-legs. Ratigan isn't in it - he appears in the 2nd book! You will find a similar scene of Basil deducing a location by analyzing a piece of paper, along with the disguises Basil and Dawson wore in the film. The book's plot is about Angela and Agatha - two little girl mice twins who are kidnapped by a group of mice called "The Terrible Three". Angela and Agatha have little to do, but are the likely inspiration for the character of Olivia Flaversham from the movie.

I did enjoy the book now because I appreciated reading a new story with these characters and I've got four more to go. I'm curious as to why Disney never thought of cranking out some direct-to-DVD sequels during their "cranking-our-some-direct-to-DVD-sequels-of-our-movies" phase, but there was material there. Plus, in the wake of Geronimo Stilton and Sherlock, these books seem perfect for a chance at being rediscovered by new readers.

One notable difference in the books from the film that's never addressed is the idea of anthropomorphic animals co-existing with humans in secret communities/colonies that escape the humans notice. Basil gathers a group to live in the basement at 221B Baker Street and forms Holmestead, a literal mousetown with houses and shops..kind of like the Aardman movie Flushed Away..or the "city" scenes in A Bug's Life...this might've been the forerunner to that kind of thing.

I'm about to read about Basil and The Cave of Cats..pygmy cats, huh? This would make a cool idea for a CG sequel..

One last memory: does anyone besides my old 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Vogel, pronounce "Basil" like "Bay-zil"? Y'know - like the herb? Or "Bah-zil", as in "Basil Rathone" or "St. Basil"? I remember when I ordered Basil of Baker Street via Troll - the school book order catalog. The books for the students would be delivered to the respective classrooms, then the teacher would sort out who ordered which books. She insisted that Basil's name was pronounced Bay-zil. It was a losing argument: she wasn't going to see the film, but she had to be right, because it was her classroom, so this cartoon mouse was clearly named after an herb she owned in her spice rack...

In retrospect, her intelligence was...elementary.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"The Chocolate Falcon Fraud" by JoAnna Carl

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the 3rd adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's epic detective novel, The Maltese Falcon...the one with Humphrey Bogart and the statue of a bird. All kidding aside, The Maltese Falcon should rank among the top 2 greatest mystery novels of all time (the other being The Hound of The Baskervilles) and the film actually improves on it, particularly with the ending, which leaves out an additional scene in the book that sort-of cheapens our conclusions about the character of Sam Spade by implying that he's already over the drama, whereas the Bogart version of Spade is not likely to forget what happened after "..a couple of rough nights.." If you haven't seen it, please do.

Now...I realize the only surviving participant in the 1941 film is the prop falcon statue. There are two in existence. They both have aged to the point where they appear to be made of solid milk chocolate, in color and texture - like a chocolate bunny. Some replicas of this prop are gold-plated, so they resemble a solid chocolate falcon wrapped in gold foil..

With this train of thought in mind, it was easy for me to see the appeal of a mystery novel with a title that includes the words "Falcon" and "Chocolate". Right off the bat, I will say that there is no chocolate Maltese Falcon statue in the book, even though the protagonist specializes in designing original gourmet chocolate confections. The only chocolate falcons we get are described in a way that resembles those holiday chocolate candies Russell Stover offers - marshmallow-filled chocolates in the shape of Santa Claus, Halloween pumpkins and Easter eggs. These Falcon candies are offered by our heroine at a Maltese Falcon film festival/fan expo, a convention you might think would exist, given the popularity of the film, but is made-up for the plot of the book.

The Chocolate Falcon Fraud is a cozy - a sub-genre of mystery novel in which there's a puzzle to be solved, but it's not a tough puzzle; the real appeal is that the heroine (always a female protagonist; the closest you get to a male cozy detective series is M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth novels and Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhoddenbar books, which are mostly classified as police procedural and caper novels, respectively, but Hamish is a constable in a cozy Highland village and Bernie's a thief that owns a shop, so they fit in there) runs a shop that makes gourmet chocolate with her aunt, so the author gets to better her books with recipes and trivia about fudge and chocolate foodstuffs for chocoholics. It could be adapted into a film for the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel. More on that in a bit, but getting back to what a cozy is...they're light in subject matter and not too explicit in violent content. It's Miss Marple and Murder, She Wrote territory, where a headline on the front page of the New York Daily News might actually read, "Murder Stymies Cops!"

Lee Woodyard is our eager amateur sleuth. Her stepson from a former marriage has come back into town to become the target of an elaborate kidnapping plot by a group of con artists baiting him with a ruse about a possible 3rd falcon prop statue used in the 1941 film that he wants to purchase. Doppelgangers for Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Mary Astor show up. Gawdy keychain-size replicas of the falcon pop up. This is good stuff, but my big gripe (aside from the lack of a proper falcon statue made of solid milk chocolate) is that the cool Falcon riffs kick in halfway through the second half of this book. Most of what we get is teen soap opera about Jeff, the aforementioned stepson/scapegoat, whose transformation from ne'r-do-well emo teen punk to nerdy film buff/movie memorabillia tchotchke collector with a girlfriend is sincere...or if he's on the shenanigans.

The book is okay...but JoAnna Carl (a pseudonym used by Eve K. Sandstrom) dropped the ball by overlooking the most obvious gag a mystery novel with a title like that could have. It has a lot of nice ideas..I do wish there was a bigger fandom for The Maltese Falcon.

Should The Chocolate Falcon Fraud be adapted into a film for Hallmark Movies and Mysteries? Yeah! It would be terrific! I would like to suggest Danielle Harris play Lee Woodyard. I can easily picture her in a mystery involving a popular genre film, a fan convention and collectors and tchotchkes...and Will Wheaton could play her love interest, because Danielle's husband in real-life kind-of resembles Wheaton..if Wheaton was pumping iron a bit. And Jennifer Tilly could play Lee's Aunt Nettie, so yeah, this would be awesome.

And there will be a falcon statue made of solid milk chocolate..with marshmallow center, of course.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

See The Movie...Or Read The Novel: "Suicide Squad"

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't have a tie-in novelization, but Suicide Squad does, written by Marv Wolfman, of Teen Titans and Crsis On Infinite Earths fame. I was impressed with his prose writing ability - I'm going to check out his novelization of Arkham Knight - and observed that it's probably (judging from the mixed reviews..or tomatoes, frankly) a smoother experience than the film, which I saw two months after reading the prose. In the past, I've tried reading other novels by comic book writers and found that only Dennis O'Neill, Devin Grayson and Alan Grant had a knack for it, whereas others felt very amateurish. If I didn't own the trade paperback of Crisis, I would've tracked down Wolfman's novelization of it, just to see how he wrote it up.

The book contains fewer Ben Affleck cameos. In it's place, the character of June Moon/The Enchantress and her storyarc in the film is elaborated on by Wolfman. In the film, June's relationship with Rick Flag, her initial transformation into the Enchantress and her enlistment to the Squad by Amanda Waller is just exposition, but it's dramatised in the book and takes up most of the first 1/3...having said that, the final battle between Enchantress and the Squad is really weak.

And I didn't enjoy reading the stuff with the EA's...the tar monsters (my description...or what I gathered that they looked like). All those descriptions of combat fighting felt like Resident Evil stuff. That was not interesting to read. I also disliked all the back-and-forth TV cop show-style bickering between Deadshot and Flag. Audiences liked Will Smith as Deadshot, so I'm assuming his performance added something missing from what reads like well-worn material. Captain Boomerang was fun to read, though the joke about why he owns the pink unicorn doll isn't in the book.

Neither the book or the film do anything with Katana, who's just along for the ride. Whatever additional scenes featuring Jared Leto that might exist on the cuttingfloor don't make it into the book, so it's hard to gauge whether even more material was shot after the book went to press...after all, the novel does have fewer Batffleck cameos...and no Flash cameo, either! do I sum this up? It has a lot of cool moments. The book does some heavy lifting with the characterization in parts, I didn't really like the plot, because it just becomes a video game along the middle, then has a really weak finale, while the casting choices impose a better movie exists along it's I the only one who would prefer to see the newly branded DC Films ditch their labyrinthine plans for Justice League movies and just give us straight up a Batman vs. Joker & Harley Quin trilogy, instead?

Oh, and a trilogy Wonder Woman movies. Everyone loves Gal Godat. :)