Rating: *** [3 out of 4 stars]
THE SECRET OF NIMH contains that absolute rarity among feature-length animated cartoons, an interesting premise. It is: What if a group of laboratory animals were injected with an experimental drug that made them as intelligent as humans? There have been smart animals in the movies for years, of course, but they were always playing quasi-humans in a universe where the real humans were seen mostly from the knees down. Now here's a story that concerns itself with the problem of being a rat and having a superior intelligence.
Although the idea was what intrigued me about THE SECRET OF NIMH, the movie itself represents a philosophical statement for its makers. The animators who made this film were previously employed at the Walt Disney Studios, where they were heralded as the "new breed," groomed to replace the veterans who started with Walt himself and were all past retirement age. But halfway through production of the most recent Disney animated feature, THE FOX AND THE HOUND, a group of new breeders walked out and, led by director Don Bluth, set up their own shop at MGM.
Their complaint was that Disney was cutting corners on painstaking traditional animating methods. Their vow was to make a non-Disney movie in the old Disney tradition. The main difference between traditional Disney animation and cheaper, newer methods is in the areas of body movements and backgrounds. Bluth and his followers wanted to make a movie in which the characters would have lots of body language (not just moving lips and rolling eyes), and in which the backgrounds would be detailed and interesting, not just repetitive roll-bys. In THE SECRET OF NIMH, they have succeeded in reproducing the marvelous detail and depth of the Disney classics. This is a good-looking, interesting movie that creates a little rodent world right under the noses of the indifferent local humans. The story is perhaps a little complicated at first, especially for younger viewers, but a flashback helps make things clear, and then the adventure begins.
We learn that a group of rats and mice was injected with the secret potion in the laboratories of the National Institute of Mental Health, and that they quickly became so smart that they were able to escape from NIMH and set up a society in a barnyard. Then they were faced with an ethical dilemma: Should they continue to freeload off of the local humans, stealing grains, supplies, and even electricity -- or should they set off into the wilderness to establish a new society of their own? This larger story is counterpointed with the saga of a mousy little widow named Mrs. Brisby, whose sick child is threatened by the approach of the tilling machine.
THE SECRET OF NIMH is an artistic success. 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. I guess you could say that the Disney tradition lives, but that the Disney magic still remains elusive.
Rating: ***** [5 out of 5 stars]
Probably the best American animated feature film not to come from Disney and certainly up there. It was one of the few successes to come from former Disney animator Don Bluth after he went off on his own to make this film. The quality of his features went gradually downhill afterward, but The Secret of NIMH remains a classic.
Guest Reviewer - Ben Kerwin: A magical movie with beautiful animation and compelling characters. Truly a film that will appeal to kids and grown-ups alike.
"THE SECRET OF N.I.M.H." is a resourceful and valiant though unsuccessful attempt to revive the kind of animated feature identified with the Golden Age of Walt Disney, the era of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio," "Dumbo" and "Bambi," among others.
Indeed, the three men principally responsible for it - Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy - are Disney veterans who left the fold in 1979 determined to make the sort of extravagantly executed, animated features that the Disney organization has been in the process of abandoning for some years. The reasons for the abandonment are not difficult to understand. The costs of production were becoming prohibitive, especially when compared with the costs of the live-action films Disney was making, frequently with great financial success.
There was also the matter of style. Leaner, supposedly more sophisticated - and much less expensive -animation styles were making the earlier Disney work look old-fashioned.
It's just this "old-fashioned" look -- rich, fully detailed, opulent and painstakingly achieved - that Messrs. Bluth, Goldman and Pomeroy have sought to recreate, and in this respect, "The Secret of N.I.M.H." is something of a technical and stylistic triumph. The anthropomorphic animal characters are, for the most part, charming to look at. Their next stop: F.A.O. Schwarz. The backgrounds, the colors, the perspectives, the soft differences in shades of light are extraordinarily lovely.
However, something essential is missing, and that is a narrative that effortlessly embodies this style and gives it point. Mr. Bluth and his associates need not feel embarrassed. Plenty of Disney features have had the same problem.
"The Secret of N.I.M.H.," based on Robert C. O'Brien's Newbery award-winning novel, "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H.," falls somewhere between barnyard fable and science fiction. It contains sequences that are as ferocious as anything in "Snow White" - and could have a 5-year-old reaching for his Valium - and others as disarmingly, dopily idyllic as anything in Disney's old Silly Symphonies. The story manages to be sentimental without being especially moving.
More troublesome, though, is that it has no easily identifiable central character. It has no Snow White, no Bambi, no Dumbo. It only has a rather plucky little widowed mouse, Mrs. Brisby, whose determination to save her house and her children from Farmer Fitzgibbons's plow is noble but - I suspect - not the sort of thing to grab the attention of a hip toddler. Mrs. Brisby is a sweet, staunch but colorless mouse-mom.
The other characters include a phenomenally clumsy, kind-hearted crow named Jeremy; a fierce owl who gives advice to mice, but only during the day because at night he eats them, and a band of unusual rats that, as a result of some terrible experiments at something called N.I.M.H., the Institute for Mental Health, have developed superhuman intelligence.
"The Secret of N.I.M.H." is about equally divided between Mrs. Brisby's efforts to get her house moved to safer ground with the help of the benign rats and the story of a political struggle going on in the rat kingdom, a sort of Shangri-La underneath a rosebush. The rat leader, a sage old magician named Nicodemus, argues that the rats should move to a new land and stop living like rats, which in this case means stop stealing electricity from Farmer Fitzgibbons. In opposition is an ambitious younger rat named Jenner, who plans to topple Nicodemus and make himself a very ratty dictator. Am I going too fast? The plot does become complicated.
Somehow, both story lines come together at the time of the showdown between Nicodemus and Jenner, an apocalypse that Mr. Bluth presents with all of the fury of the battle in which God tossed Satan out of heaven. The visual effects are stunning, recalling things in "Star Wars" and the climactic sequence of "Poltergeist," effects not easily achieved through animation.
The characters are well drawn but not especially memorable. The one exception is Jeremy the crow, and he is memorable for the wrong reasons. Jeremy's voice is supplied by Dom DeLuise, whose real-life professional personality defines the personality of the crow, which leads to a certain amount of confusion.
We are always hearing the familiar voice of Mr. DeLuise but seeing the figure of a crow who is definitely not Mr. DeLuise. I'm not completely sure of the implications of all this, but perhaps it's not a good idea to supply a cartoon character with a voice so readily identified with an actual person.
The other voices are more discreetly matched with the characters, including those of Derek Jacobi as Nicodemus; Elizabeth Hartman as Mrs. Brisby; Hermione Baddeley, in what is almost a bit part, as an imperious Lady Bracknell-type called Auntie Shrew, and John Carradine as the owl.
If "The Secret of N.I.M.H.," which opens today at the Rivoli, Gemini and other theaters, had had a screenplay to equal its great visual qualities, it might have become a classic in its own right.
'Old-Fashioned' Look THE SECRET OF N.I.M.H., directed by Don Bluth; based on "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H." by Robert C. O'Brien; story adaptation by Mr. Bluth, John Pomeroy and Gary Goldman; music by Mr. Goldman; film editor, Jeffrey Patch. At the Rivoli, Gemini and other theaters. Running time: 82 minutes. This film is rated G.
Nicodemus . . . . . Derek Jacobi
Mrs. Brisby . . . . . Elizabeth Hartman
Mr. Ages . . . . . Arthur Malet
Jeremy . . . . . Dom DeLuise
Auntie Shrew . . . . . Hermione Baddeley
Great Owl . . . . . John Carradine
Justin . . . . . Peter Strauss
Jenner . . . . . Paul Shenar
Farmer Fitzgibbons . . . . . Tom Hattan
Teresa . . . . . Shannen Doherty
Martin . . . . . Wil Wheaton
Cynthia . . . . . Jodi Hicks
Timmy . . . . . Ian Fried
Rating: **** [4 out of 5 stars]
Plot: Widowed rat Mrs Brisby learns that her home is in the path of a tractor that is plowing up the field where she lives. With her youngest boy sick, she sets out to find a way of moving her four children and home to safety. She seeks the guidance of the Great Owl who directs her to the Rats of N.I.M.H., lab rats that have escaped from the National Institute of Mental Health, the results of successful experiments to raise their intelligence, and have built a wondrous underground city of their own.
In 1979 Don Bluth led a team of seventeen animators who quit Disney, vowing to make a return to the classical style of Disney animation. Since Walt's death in 1966 - and in the opinion of many purists, since at least World War II - Disney's classic animation form had become a virtually neglected art. Under director Wolfgang Reitherman, Disney animation of the 1970s and 80s languished and become increasingly sporadic and the studio's animated output was overtaken by live-action comedies. The Disney animation name during this era was associated with the banal likes of Robin Hood (1973), The Rescuers (1977) and Oliver & Company (1988). Bluth himself had worked on many of these - Robin Hood, The Rescuers and Pete's Dragon (1977).
And the results that finally emerged from Bluth's team was N.I.M.H. It's an exquisitely beautiful celebration of animation as pure artform - raindrops glisten, supernatural energies glow with fluorescent brilliance, characters are seen distorted through glass, and the N.I.M.H rats' underground city is a beautifully airbrushed psychedelic wonderland. It's a film that glows with a quite magical sense of wonder and equally one that is not afraid to be scary in the way that all the best Disney films did. Everything in the film works perfectly. The comic sidekicks are enormously endearing, with Dom de Luise stealing a large part of the show as a cowardly crow. And there are no songs to bore the children. This is an animated film clearly made by people who care - indeed it is a perfect testament to what talented people can make when they are given an environment that promotes artistic freedom. Most telling was the Disney film which came out just before N.I.M.H., The Fox and the Hound (1981), which had a forgettable, conveyor-belt banality in comparison. The film does make some changes to the award-winning children's 1975 story but despite occasional conceptual cramming, it straddles a beautiful line between coy children's story and a strange knowing wisdom for adults. This was, up until the modern Disney and the Pixar renaissance, one of the best example of animation as pure art.
The greatest shame is that N.I.M.H. was a financial failure for Bluth. It is rarely seen even in the tv wastelands today and deserves to be wider recognized. Bluth's career since has been highly uneven. Subsequently he moved into the orbit of Steven Spielberg who became his patron as Executive Producer for a couple of middle-of-the-road films - An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988), both of which were multiply sequelized on video sans Bluth in the 1990s. Alas Bluth was operating on lower budgets and the films lack the artistic flourishes of N.I.M.H. Bluth then established his own studio based in Ireland and produced a string of increasingly banal theatrical and video releases - All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), Rock-a-Doodle (1991), Thumbelina (1994), A Troll in Central Park (1995), The Pebble and the Penguin (1995) and Bartok the Magnificent (1999) - most of which are far more insipid than anything Disney was producing when Bluth quit. The double irony of Bluth's career was that in the 1990s Disney under new management began a concerted effort to capture the high artistic quality of their heyday and again became leaders in the field beginning with Beauty and the Beast (1991). Bluth then found himself in employ by other studios seeking to jump the bandwagon of the Disney renaissance. There Bluth made two quite good films - Anastasia (1997) and the space opera Titan A.E. (2000) - which returned to the quality that had been missing in his work since N.I.M.H. Anastasia was a modest success, alas Titan A.E. was a massive financial disaster that placed doubt over the future of Bluth's career.
There were two video-made sequels, The Secret of N.I.M.H.: Timmy to the Rescue (1998) and The Secret of N.I.M.H.: The Beginning (2001), both made without Bluth's involvement, and are made with none of the artistic care that went into this.
Although director Don Bluth has made two excellent films that were largely ignored by audiences with his recent works "Titan A.E." and "Anastasia", his fine efforts extend many years previous, including the excellent 1982 feature "Secret Of Nimh". The story revolves around a mother mouse named Mrs. Brisby who has a number of things to worry about - her young son is sick and she needs medicine, and her family needs to move out of the way before the farmer's plow takes out their home. The only problem is, the young child's sickness could become worse if he's moved.
She enlists the help of a group of intelligent rats to help her family, and finds a friend in a crow (Dom DeLuise, providing comic relief from an otherwise somewhat dark tale). Although some of NIMH is rather dark and could be a little frightening for the youngest viewers, older children and adults will likely find its world of fantasy wonderfully engaging. I know I found this film very entertaining and enjoyable when I was little and watching it again many years later on this DVD, although MGM didn't do their best with this DVD edition, I still love the movie. The tale of a mother's love and her quest to find the cure for her young child is a touching and emotional center for the film.
What really makes the film is the combination of excellent voice talent and Bluth's superb animation. Although more advanced technology has made for animated pictures that look sharp and sleek, Bluth's rich and beautiful traditional animation for this film still remains stunning. I just wish another studio owned the rights to the picture as it deserves a special edition DVD release.
VIDEO: Although I do have some positive things to say about MGM's presentation of this animated film, I also have quite a few negative opinions of their work (or, actually, lack of work) here. The film is presented in a full-frame version, while its original aspect ratio was 1.85:1. Sharpness and detail are not terrible, although sharpness is wanting at times, as the film occasionally has a "soft" look to it.
The film is now 19 years old, and truth be told, there is some wear evident throughout the picture. Although it's more apparent at times than others, print flaws such as scratches, marks and minor speckles become a mild distraction at times. While the print flaws become an irritant at times, at least there's not a great deal else to complain about. Shimmering and pixelation don't appear, but the picture does seem a tad bit grainy at times.
One thing that I was pleased with were colors. The film's vibrant color palette still remains bold and lively here, not looking faded or flawed. Although it's unfortunate that MGM obviously didn't put in much work on the nearly 20 year old film for this release with this full-frame presentation, thankfully this great film hasn't been too effected by age.
SOUND: The Dolby 2.0 presentation sounds a bit dated in terms of sound quality, but all of the finer elements of the soundtrack still remain enjoyable. Jerry Goldsmith's entertaining and occasionally haunting score is clear and doesn't sound thin. The voices provided by the actors still remain clear and easily heard.
MENUS: Menus are non-animated, with very basic images serving as backgrounds.
EXTRAS: The trailer and a small booklet.
Positive: I still consider "Nimh" an animation classic. Although it may scare younger viewers, older children and adults will likely find it engaging. As one of MGM's low-price offerings, this should be available at most stores for around $14.95
Negative: MGM's treatment of the title, like their treatment of many recent releases, is quite dissapointing. Still, I definitely recommend the film as it remains a fantastic work from director Bluth.
Film Grade The Film **** [4 out of 4 stars]
Video: 75/C = (300/400 possible points)
Audio: 79/C+ = (316/400 possible points)
Extras: 69/D+ = (207/300 possible points)
Menus: 70/C- = (140/200 possible points)
Value: 82/B+ = (246/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ****
DVD GRADE: C
The Secret Of Nimh
MGM/UA Home Video
EXCERPT: "It remains the best entry in Bluth's hugely inconsistent filmography."
Rating: 7 out of 10
Based on the children's book Mrs Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C O'Brien (The Silver Crown, Z For Zachariah), The Secret of NIMH is the animated interpretation. It takes a slightly lighter approach to the story than the book, but is still a very good piece of animation and a great story for kids, with enough in it for adults to make it less than a chore.
The story is set on the Fitzgibbons' farm and revolves around a widowed field mouse, Mrs Brisby, and her attempts to move her family, and maybe even her house, from the path of the farmer's plough that is due to rip up the field any time. With spring approaching, the whole farm is aware that 'Moving Day' is almost here, and there is much to be done. All would appear to be straightforward enough, but her sick son, Timmy, unable to be moved until he is better, complicates things.
Seeking the advice of Great Owl, Mrs Brisby finds the wisdom she receives is pretty unhelpful, until she innocently mentions her late husband's name, Jonathon Brisby. At this, things at last start to go her way, although she is none the wiser as to why her husband is so respected. Great Owl gives her new advice to seek out the rats that live in the rosebush, for they can help, and will help, the widow of Jonathon Brisby. The rats are no ordinary rats, and a plan is hatched to move the Brisby's from the path of the plough, but you just know that things are not going to be that easy.
This is a great animated feature for kids. It is slightly different from the book in a number of areas, but the movie still has likeable characters, magic, scary villains, comic foils, slapstick moments, tension, gorgeous and detailed animation, and a great musical score. The story holds enough drama and twists to keep their attention until the end. It features the vocal talents of Dom DeLuise, Derek Jacobi, Elizabeth Hartman, Arthur Malet and a young Shannen Doherty. The Secret of Nimh may be 20 years old, but it looks better than many animated features being knocked out today.
Video: 7 out of 10
This is a great looking animated feature. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, but is not 16x9 enhanced. Colours are wonderful, bright, and detailed. The effort that has gone into creating each frame is to be commended. Black levels are also fine, and the overall image is appropriate for animation. There is no evidence of aliasing, though there is some evidence of grain, but in a film that is 20 years old this is to be expected.
There are also some minor film artefacts such as dirt and white specks, but these are barely noticeable.
There is no layer change on this single sided disc.
Audio: 6 out of 10
This is a fairly unremarkable Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio experience, and I guess we should not have expected more. It is an adequate transfer that is not going to win any awards. The dialogue is clear, and synchronisation appears to be fine (hey, it's animated so it's never going to be 100% accurate!), low-level sounds are infrequent, but quite rich and deep when they are employed.
There is some separation of sound between left and right front speakers, but of course, all other speakers are silent. The musical score sounds fine, and is appropriate for the action on screen.
The German and Castellano audio tracks are in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono, and therefore they are even less dynamic than the English track.
Extras: 1 out of 10
The only real extra is a US Theatrical Trailer and at 2:20 minutes it does what it needs to do in promoting the film. It is a pan and scan trailer, and the Dolby Digital 1.0 mono audio sounds quite muddy and very unimpressive.
There's little doubting that children who enjoy animated features will enjoy this. The story is pitched at a child's level, with just enough menace to keep them interested. The animation is very good, and no details have been overlooked. Adults too could do worse than watch this with their kids.
Darkly set and with a magical almost mythological atmosphere, The Secret of N.I.M.H. is a true classic of animated film. The story concerns a settlement of intelligent rats whose intelligence is the product of scientific experimentation by humans. The rats are escapees from a laboratory and have taken refuge, and constructed an elaborate and ingenious home, beneath a rose bush on a small farm. The rats are called on for assistance by a mouse, Mrs. Brisby, whose home and children are at peril from the farmer's plow.
The film is sometimes gloomy, but is often brilliantly vivid and colourful. Especially enchanting is the underground dwelling of the rats, complete with a submersible elevator and electricity!
Characters are brought wonderfully to life by the excellent voice talents. Most notable are John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath, 1940) as the Great Owl, Elisabeth Hartman (Walking Tall, 1973) as Mrs. Brisby and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, 2000) as Nicodemus, the leader of the rats.
In the tradition of animated film, the animals are anthropomorphized but the back story of their science lab origins allows the film to explore unique territory of the creatures' own distinct culture that borrows from that of the humans rather than mimic it precisely; a refreshing departure from most animated fare.
The Secret of N.I.M.H. is original and charming but could be a little heavy for small children in places. Particulary intense are Mrs. Brisby's meeting with the Great Owl and her flight through the rat colony from an armed, menacing guardian rat.
Rating: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 5 stars]
Disney may own the bulk of the family animation market on DVD, but it's not the only game in town as proved by a quartet of excellent to serviceable family favorites now available via MGM's Movie Time series. The quartet features two Don Bluth classics "The Secret of NIMH" and "All Dogs Go To Heaven" along with their Paul Sabella-directed sequels, all priced affordably and featuring very decent DVD quality.
"The Secret of NIMH," based on the Robert C. O'Brien novel "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH," was one of the first major pictures by Bluth's renegade group of ex-Disney animators, released in 1982 just prior to Jeffrey Katezenberg's renewed Disney animation efforts with "The Little Mermaid." It's a beautifully animated picture, very nicely transferred to DVD, featuring a compelling story with wonderful voice characterizations by a host of familiar stars. Everything anyone could want in an animated classic Disney or otherwise. The sequel film, made just two years ago, is much, much slighter (it's barely an hour in length) but should still capture the fancy of children enamored of the original.
"All Dogs Go To Heaven" wasn't one of Bluth's best when it was released in1989, but in hindsight it's a more enjoyable film than most were willing to concede at the time. Buddies Burt Reynolds and Dom De Luise are perfect voice casting and the songs surprisingly memorable. The sequel, co-directed by Sabella with Larry Leker, again falls short of its original, but is more substantial by far than the "NIMH" sequel in terms of writing and animation.
Each of the films also includes a trailer, with the two sequels somewhat making up for their shortcomings by including nicely-mixed Dolby 5.1 audio tracks. Purists eager to see the two Bluth originals in widescreen, however, will be disappointed as MGM has only seen fit to transfer them in full-frame format. A short-sighted decision to be sure (especially considering the growing saturation of widescreen televisions) but a reality with which fans will have to live for the time being.
Collector Rating: WORTH FULL PRICE
Dissatisfied with falling standards from Disney animation, a group of key personnel set up in opposition and this animal fantasy was their first feature, co-written and directed by Bluth, who went on to major success. Imposing talent has been rounded up to provide the voices, and every ounce of their ability is needed to make something of the verbal material. However, there is compensation in the visuals, which are superior to the plot. This tells of a widowed mouse who turns to escaped rats (from a science laboratory) to help her and her family. Lovers of animation shouldn't have too much trouble getting the kids to take them along.
Rating: **** [4 out of 5 stars]
EXCERPT: "It took years before Disney would match the quality of this first film from expatriate Don Bluth."
Sexual Content: A
Even though Mrs. Brisby (voiced by Elizabeth Hartman) is a mouse, like any good mother she is alarmed by the illness of her youngest child. So the plucky widow sets off to get medicine from the reclusive Mr. Ages (Arthur Malet). Besides his home-brewed potion, the sage mouse insists the invalid get complete bed rest for the next three weeks. This directive presents a problem because the Brisby home is located in a farmer's field and sowing season is fast approaching. The concerned parent knows if she doesn't move her family immediately they will get plowed under, and if she does, young Timmy will die.
Mrs. Brisby's desire to insure her son's return to health leads her on a dangerous quest. Along the way, she is directed to seek help from the mysterious Rats of NIMH. Swallowing her fear, the desperate mom sneaks past the farmer's cat and into the old rose bush that shields the underground society. However, by entering the forbidden realm, Mrs. Brisby becomes privy to the clever creatures' secret, success, and shame.
It is also here that this animated tale diverts from the traditional children's adventure formula, and delves into a deeper world of social issues and ethical debate. Escapees of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), these animals have become as intelligent as people due to laboratory experimentation. Along with their increased genius has come a greater accountability for their actions. While the Rat Council debates their moral responsibilities, other human characteristics, like greed and power-lust gnaw at their attempts for a utopian community.
The arrival of Mrs. Brisby acts as a catalyst in a situation already brewing with rebellion. While most of the rats desire to assist the endangered family, a few with evil intentions see her plight as the perfect cover for a murderous plot.
Except for the comic relief provided by a bumbling lovesick crow (voiced by Dom DeLuise), much of the movie depicts perilous situations likely to frighten young viewers. But older children and teens will find plenty to think about in this adaptation of Robert C. O'Brien's children's novel. Told through the eyes of the lesser creatures, the story questions justifying the ends by the means, and whether or not scientific research is abuse of animals. It also provides wonderful characters that exemplify courage and love... even if they are rodents.
Talk about the movie with your family...
How do you feel about the use of animals for scientific research?
The leader of the rats states, "We can no longer live as rats. We know too much." What does he mean? Why are knowledge and accountability tied together?
Don Bluth, the producer of this film, also had a creative hand in An American Tail, Anastasia, and Titan AE.
Overall Rating (for children of the appropriate age): [4 out of 5]
Synopsis: Mrs. Frisby is a mouse whose husband died recently and whose son is now so ill that he cannot be moved on Moving Day (the day the farmer plows his field and those who live in it must go elsewhere). Bravely, she disables the farmer's tractor when he tries to plow the field. The reprieve is only temporary, however. With the help of Jeremy the Crow, she asks the great owl for advice. He recommends she ask the rats to move her house. Jonathan, Mrs. Frisby's husband, died helping the rats escape from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), where, as experimental animals, their intelligence was boosted to that of humans. There is dissension among the rats: Nicodemus wants to move the rats to an independent colony but power-hungry Jenner objects. While moving the house, Jenner arranges for Nicodemus to be killed in an "accident." Jenner is killed in a bloody sword fight. Mrs. Frisby's house is moved with the help of a magic stone and the rats escape to Thorn Valley.
VIOLENCE/SCARINESS: There is an overall mood of foreboding in the drawing style. The farmer's cat is full of menace. When the farmer starts his tractor (drawn to be scary), the animals of the field flee in panic. The spider, which almost attacks Mrs. Frisby, is the stuff of nightmares. Animals in the laboratory are tortured. Sword fights leave cuts on bodies and draw blood. The house sinks in the mud and the children drown (they are saved a while later by the magic stone).
CRIMES: Murder (P).
MORAL ISSUES & VALUES: Mrs. Frisby's courage and resolve to save her ill son and her home is tested through a series of adventures. Literacy is highly valued. Evil Jenner believes that one should steal as much as possible. Nicodemus, who wants to lead the rats to freedom, is an obvious parallel to Moses. Because Mrs. Frisby has a brave heart, she activates the magic stone and saves her family.
ALTERNATES: Kids who like this film will probably like the "Rescuers" films too.
SEXUALITY, GENDER ISSUES, AND BODY FUNCTIONS: Single parent family. Mrs. Frisby - a strong female hero - is a good mother under very difficult circumstances and a hero far beyond her own self-image. Mr. Frisby's good deeds continue to help Mrs. Frisby even after his death. Jeremy, a clumsy crow, doesn't know how to approach women.
COMMENTS: Brilliant animation and charming, full-developed characters make this a near classic with important themes and issues. However, it is far too scary for the very young. For those old enough, this is a wonderful entertainment.
4 & Under: Nightmares
5-7: With Guidance
15-17: For A Few
[Content guide] Nudity: [NONE] Sex: [NONE] Physical Violence: [4 out of 5 frowning faces, higher numbers are worse] Emotional Stress: [4 out of 5 frowning faces, higher numbers are worse] Blood: [1 out of 5 frowning faces, higher numbers are worse] Language/Profanity: [NONE] Immorality: [2 out of 5 frowning faces, higher numbers are worse] Parental Guidance: [2 out of 5 frowning faces, higher numbers are worse] Watchability for Adults: [4 out of 5 smiling faces, higher numbers are better]
Rating: ***** [5 out of 5 stars]
Album running time: 49:05
Composed by: Jerry Goldsmith
Jerry Goldsmith was going through a purple patch when he scored The Secret of NIMH in 1982 - in the year before and after it, he scored (among others) Outland, Masada, The Final Conflict, Inchon, First Blood, Poltergeist, Night Crossing, Twilight Zone: The Movie and Under Fire - an unbelievable roster of classic scores, surely the most impressive three years of any film composer's career, ever.
The Secret of NIMH was a first - a Goldsmith score for animation. The fortunes of Disney were still in the doldrums at the time, and former Disney animator Don Bluth decided to go independent - and this was the first film that he made by himself. Based on "Mrs Brisby and the Rats of NIMH" (or, amusingly, "Mrs Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH" if you believe the packaging) by Robert C. O'Brien, the film tells of a family of mice who are threatened by spring ploughing where they live.
Animation has typically proved one of the most difficult areas for the film composer, but also produced some fine results; Goldsmith was a trailblazer in just about everything to do with film music as we know it today, but one of the most important things he did was that he was the first composer to score an animation as if it were a live action film, that is to say, to eschew the Mickey Mousing that had traditionally accompanied these things and rely instead on giving the picture a real dramatic core. The approach was, of course, brilliant, and that's the way that most animated films are being scored to this day.
This is one huge, epic score - hardly surprising when you look at the list of scores that surrounded it - each of them brilliant. In the 1960s, 70s, late 80s and beyond, Goldsmith used generally pretty sparse, tight orchestration, but he went through a phase during the early 1980s of really embellishing his music with the rich sound of the full orchestra. The Secret of NIMH is a prime example, joined as well by a large choir for some huge set-piece cues. The opening, memorable theme is a lovely lullaby, highly attractive, later given lyrics by Paul Williams and heard in two vocal versions, one performed by Williams himself, the other by Sally Stevens. In neither case does the vocalist really do the beautiful song justice.
There are some tracks of really thrilling action, none finer than "Allergic Reaction / Athletic Type", the second cue, a really thrilling piece. The first half of the album generally alternates between action music like that, or variations on the two main themes, the lullaby and a slightly comic piece for oboe. After Williams's version of the song, the score moves into slightly darker territory, with some choral writing not too far from Poltergeist for the scarier sections of the movie, along with a couple of soaring, jubliant versions of the main theme, in "No Thanks" and "Flying High".
The Secret of NIMH is a score of amazing detail and such rich melody, it is no exaggeration to count it among Goldsmith's finest. Certainly the best score written for an animation at the time - and probably only the same composer's Mulan would threaten to dislodge it from that throne. The score's been released twice, on Varese Sarabande and TER Records, with identical content. Whichever version you find, you will have an album to cherish.
1. Main Title (3:13)
2. Allergic Reaction / Athletic Type (2:40)
3. Flying Dreams Sally Stevens (3:15)
4. The Tractor (2:58)
5. The Sentry Reel / The Story of NIMH (6:03)
6. Escape from NIMH / In Disguise (4:58)
7. Flying Dreams Paul Williams (3:21)
8. Step Inside My House (4:40)
9. No Thanks (2:01)
10. Moving Day (7:57)
11. The House Raising (4:33)
12. Flying High (2:38)
Rating: **** [4 out of 5 stars]
Buy it... if you seek an impressive preview of Jerry Goldsmith's future wealth of strong music for fantasy and animated films.
Avoid it... if more of a dynamic and powerful spirit is what you seek in your Goldsmith material.
Filmtracks Editorial Review:
The Secret of N.I.M.H.: (Jerry Goldsmith) Animated films were undergoing a significant change in the 1980's, one which would eventually lead to the vast business of made-for-video animated pictures for small children. For a long time, Disney held a grip on the large-scale, animated film industry, but by the time The Little Mermaid revived their dominance in 1989, several offshoots of the industry were thriving. One such offshoot was Don Bluth, who had been a Disney animator until 1979, when he started his own animation business. Eventually, he would be best known for bringing to life the An American Tail and The Land Before Time series. One of his early efforts was the animated adaptation of "The Story of N.I.M.H.," the tale of rats (made intelligent in human laboratories) who escape and try to make a community life for themselves in the wild. Bluth certainly succeeded in stealing some attention from Disney, with his film The Secret of N.I.M.H. meeting with critical and popular success. One of the reasons for this positive response was the score by Jerry Goldsmith. The early to mid-1980's were a remarkable time in Goldsmith's career (and some will argue that it was the best), and The Secret of N.I.M.H. was a departure for the veteran composer into a realm which he had not yet explored: animation. In fact, his body of work was limited on the children's front, with the majority of attention paid to him for his horror, science-fiction, and war drama scores at the time.
Goldsmith admits that he at first did not know how to go about scoring the film, remarking that animated films require a different role for the music than live action films. His solution was to treat The Secret of N.I.M.H. as though it were a live action project. Still, Goldsmith also notes that animated films need a great continuity in music to help ease the quick transitions between scenes and angles. Thus, the end result of his work for The Secret of N.I.M.H. is a score that does not play like a post-2000 animated film score. There are no jumpy phrases, sudden blasts, or joke-line crescendos. Instead, he tackles the score with the same lengthy cue structure as Poltergeist or Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with the music taking its good time building up to action sequences and then letting off its steam slowly. Sparingly mixed into the orchestral performance by the National Philharmonic Orchestra is The Ambrosian Singers, a usual group of collaborators with the composer. The choral use is expected and not of particular note, though the orchestra's recording is crisp and surprisingly clear in the upper brass regions during elevated action cues. The consistency aids and hinders the score, not allowing Goldsmith to pull out all the plugs as would for Legend.
For many listeners, however, the most memorable aspect of The Secret of N.I.M.H. is the "Flying Dreams" song. Written by Goldsmith, the song is performed by Paul Williams, whose lazy voice melds perfectly into the fantasy genre. The theme from the song is adapted throughout the score, with additional vocal performances and several dynamic statements. The finale and end title cue offers the same gentle and lyrical treatment of theme that existed at the end of Poltergeist, but without the choir. The score was released on identical LP and CD formats, being one of the very early Japanese-pressed Varèse Sarabande CDs (complete with a piece of foam over the center of the CD in its packaging). Eventually, in 1994, Varèse Sarabande re-pressed the album with different artwork and notes, and took the opportunity to reorder the tracks into their natural progression. The original CD is long out of print and difficult to find, but the 1994 release has identical contents overall and decent sound quality. Goldsmith fans may be disappointed by the lack of a true dynamic spirit to many parts of this score, but you cannot discount the number of people who became fans of Jerry Goldsmith the day they heard The Secret of N.I.M.H..