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The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1986)
Movie Reviews

The Mouse and the Motorcycle (1986)

A wholesome, vintage TV adventure about a motorcycle riding rodent the whole family can enjoy.

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The Mouse on a Motorcycle is a vintage TV special that came to my attention through a recent conversation I had with my uncle. The subject of mice arose and he happened to mention that his current resident rodents had been sneaking the insulation from his garage and putting it into his motorcycle to make a nest. As a proud lover of  small rodents, this anecdote brought back memories of this classic movie based on a series written by Beverly Cleary and released by Churchill Films in 1986. Given my uncle’s woes, I had an urge to revisit this fuzzy childhood memory.

I’d originally watched the special when I was around three or five years old; clearly this was long after it originally aired (as I hadn’t been born yet). Still, I couldn’t remember the premise or even the names of the characters. Funnily enough, I even read the sequel at one point – Runaway Ralph. All I had to go on at my young age was a funny looking mouse riding a motorcycle. You’d think that would be enough, but when I mentioned this fact to people I’d get strange looks and asked if I was ‘feeling okay’.

Suffice to say, I’m glad to confirm it wasn’t all for naught. While the TV special is quite short – roughly forty minutes – it was enough to help give me a new appreciation for the timeless storytelling of Beverly Cleary. And mice!

Considering how vintage The Mouse and the Motorcycle is, I’m happy to say it didn’t fail to impress. If anything, this adaptation is just as good, if not better, now than it was when I saw it as a child. Being an adult and being able to absorb the story on an entirely different level is something I hadn’t expected, but I digress.

The premise is simple: Ralph is a young mouse who lives in Mountain View Inn with his mouse family. He’s going a little stir crazy and wants to seek out adventure and live on the fast road, but past mistakes mean he’s got to practice caution. Things get interesting when a young boy, Keith, arrives at the inn to explore California with his family. Even more interesting, Keith has a shiny new motorcycle (toy) and it’s not long before Ralph gets involved in zany hijinks like getting trapped in a wastepaper basket and more.

Ralph and Keith bond over the motorcycle and at first it’s all fun and games for the two. Keith lets Ralph ride his toy motorcycle and the two get along famously, but sadly a stop comes to the fun when his mother catches the mouse taking it for a joyride. What follows is a mini adventure and even a rescue of sorts by Ralph who seeks to set things right between him and his friend.

The interactions between Ralph and Keith reminded me of two boys who were bored on a family vacation and wanted to have a bit of fun. There’s even some good lessons mixed in there that surprised me too. During one interaction Ralph admits he lost Keith’s motorcycle by accident when trying to save it from being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. Keith becomes mad and lectures his friend about what he’d told him and how he trusts him with his most prized possession.

The surprising part comes when, instead of continuing to be angry, Keith admits to Ralph he was still mad about the motorcycle, only to realize it must’ve been an accident as Ralph loved the motorcycle, too. He knew his mouse buddy wouldn’t do anything on purpose to ruin it. This surprised me since I expected Keith to continue being angry, not to forgive his friend and follow such sound logic. In most movies I’ve seen a mistake like the one Ralph had made would be held over his head for the rest of the movie and often used as blackmail or to guilt trip him later. But that doesn’t happen here and it was refreshing.

The look and visuals aren’t that bad, though the appearance of the various mice does leave much to be desired. As they’re stop-motion puppets I found them halfway between cute and a tad creepy. There are times I couldn’t decide if their scruffy fur made me think ‘fluffy’ or ‘why didn’t they brush the puppets’ every time they’re on screen. At other times I had no issues with Ralph moving about, but his jerky movements can be disengaging at times when not in a scene with Keith. Ralph’s high voice does help to make him a cute character easy to love and the situations he gets himself into do make me wonder about how mice may view certain objects in their small world.

The use of the vacuum cleaner as a threat is interesting to watch as Ralph struggles to escape it or the fact he has to chew through sheets to get out of dirty linen so he can return to his family. I liked these small nods to detail and it fit in well with the subject matter. When telling a story about mice, the story is brought down to their level and presented in an engaging fashion.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle is a walk down memory lane for me and I’m sure for many other people too. This short, sweet TV special is wholesome in a way that’s hard to find in today’s age. Who doesn’t love an odd story about a motorcycle-riding mouse and the boy he befriends? Anyone who has resident rodents, residing in motorcycles or otherwise, can pull away from this movie with a smile on their faces from such an awesome (and small) adventure. Even better, the whole thing is available (at least at the time of this writing) on YouTube, and if you can handle the poor video quality you’ll probably love it, too.

About the Author: Nia Bothwell