Thursday 26 July 2012

World Animation Review (USA) - The Secret of NIMH

The Secret of NIMH - 1982
Director - Don Bluth

1. The Secret of NIMH - poster

Plot summary / review:
Director Don Bluth's debut feature is adapted from Robert O'Brien's children's novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971). It tells the story of Mrs. Brisby (her name changed due to trademark issues), a widowed mouse living with her children on the edge of a farmers field in a breeze block. With the ploughing season approaching, she must move her family away from danger. However, when her youngest is diagnosed with pneumonia, she is warned taking him outside will prove fatal. Instructed by the Great Owl, Mrs Brisby embarks on a mission to seek out the mysterious rats of NIMH who may be able to help. Along the way she meets a clumsy, but good hearted crow called Jeremy, a particularly fun and well designed character. The majority of "the anthropomorphic animal characters are, for the most part, charming to look at" and "the backgrounds, the colors, the perspectives, the soft differences in shades of light are extraordinarily lovely." (Canby. 1982).

2. Jeremy and Mrs. Brisby

Mrs. Brisby discovers the rats have a colony beneath the rose bush next to the farmers house. It is evident that these are no ordinary rats. Led by Nicodemus, a wise but frail rat, they have developed an understanding of literature, mechanics and even electricity. It is revealed that they are survivors of experiments to increase intelligence by the National Institute of Mental Health. Mrs. Brisby's late husband Jonathan, was also a victim and was instrumental in their escape. In light of this, they agree to help her. Meanwhile, the colony are mid debate, unhappy that they are stealing from the humans, they decide to leave their home in search of an independent life. This view is not shared by Jenner, an evil rat who plots to kill Nicodemus during the move.

3. Meeting Nicodemus

The political and morale messages in the second half of this feature might be lost on the younger audience. However the trials and tribulations of Mrs. Brisby's grounded story will keep them entertained. Perhaps NIMH's meagre run time of 82 minutes was not enough to flush out the complicated back story from the source material. It can be argued that the over arching narrative was not a priority for the first time director. Bluth and the animators behind NIMH, were previously employed by Disney. "Disillusioned by the company's cost-cutting animation production and lack of artistic ambition, (they) formed new companies and made animation features with ambitions toward the old levels of artistry". (Cavalier. 2011:16). They experimented with traditional, often more labour-intensive techniques on a tighter budget and produced impressive results. Particularly the glows in the Great Owls eyes, achieved by using backlit, multiple camera passes.

4. The Great Owl's eyes

The Secret of NIMH is a valiant effort to reproduce the success of Disney's "Golden era". "It looks good, moves well, and delights our eyes. It is not quite such a success on the emotional level, however, because it has so many characters and involves them in so many different problems that there's nobody for the kids in the audience to strongly identify with." (Ebert. 1982). Bluth addressed this successfully with his subsequent features An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988).


Canby, Vincent. New York Times Review 30th July 1982

Cavalier, Stephen. (2011) The World History of Animation. Aurum Press Ltd. UK.

Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times review 1st Jan 1982


1. The Secret Of NIMH poster Accessed 25/07/12

2. Jeremy and Mrs. Brisby 

3. Meeting Nicodemus

4. The Great Owl's eyes

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