Don Bluth/20th Century Fox/Blue Sky review: The Secret NIMH

 

My opinion right after watching the film

My opinion right after watching the film is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got really invested in the characters, setting, and I really liked the darker tone that encompassed the film. The dialogue was a bit too rambly for my liking, but I see why people like this film.

Production

The rights of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH has been offered to Disney since 9172, but was turned down by Woolie Reitherman because they already had a mouse in Mickey Mouse, and they just made The Rescuers. Don Bluth and 8 other animators left Walt Disney Productions after being dissatistfied with the way the studio was operating, and created their own independent studio called Don Bluth Productions. The newly formed Aurora Productions had interest in making a NIMH film, and offered Don Bluth Productions %5.7 million and 30 months to complete the film, which was a smaller budget than most of the Disney films at the time.

Production for the film officially started in January 1980, with the goal to returning feature animation to its golden era, regarding characters, storytelling, and animation techniques. Rotoscoping, multiple lasses on cameras for shadows, backlit animation, and multiple colour palettes were used for the animation of the film. The crew worked long hours with no immediate financial pay (a lot of the work being done at the home), causing the cost of the film to extend it’s budget, meaning many of the producers had to mortgage their homes.

The story was going to focus a lot more on the rats in NIMH, but they decided to make Mrs. Brisby and her struggle as the main focal point. Several magical elements were added in the movie, since they could tool around with it due to the film being animated. Mrs. Frisby was copyrighted, so Don Bluth Productions were told that they had to alter the names (after it was already recorded), which involved several editing tricks, and rerecordings.

Story

The film starts with a mouse named Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Harman) meeting up with a mouse named Mt. Ages (Arthur Maley) to get medicine for her son Timothy (Ian Fried), who has pneumonia. She ultimately gets the medicine, but is told that her son has to lay in his bed for a few weeks, which is an issue, since her family has to move from their house, since the human family is going to plow the area. We learn that Mr. Jonathan Brisby recently passed away, and had connections to these beings with magic, which Mrs. Brisby nor her kids knew anything about.

She ends up meeting a bird named Jeremy (Dom DeLuise), who wastes a lot of time with his clumsiness and rambling dialogue, which takes me out of the movie for a bit. They are escaping from the house cat, and he manages to pick up the medication that Brisby left.

Brisby makes it home, and is told by Auntie Shrew (Hermione Baddeley) that the plowing is going to start early, so they need to move. The next morning, she decides to sneak onto the human land to disable the plower, so her so can recover in bed without having to worry about it for now. Afterwards, Jeremy helps her get to the Great Owl (John Carradine), who tells her to go to the rats by the house to aid for Nicodemus (Derek Jacobi), to get their help to move her house. She is given a magical stone, and he tells her that she needs to move her home, after hearing of her deceased husband’s ties to magic.

We get a background about how animals were put in cages, and put through injections to become “intelligent”.  One of the rats injected was her ex-husband, who helped the rats escape. Jeremy is supposed to watch over the household, but the children and aunt don’t take well to him, and tie him up.

We have a double agent named Jenner (Paul Shenar) , who wants to kill Nicodemus, and wants the Brisby household to be destroyed. I do think the buildup of this villain was relatively weak, so the ending gets a bit convoluted and too convenient for my liking.

We are obviously leading to the climax, which is about the rats moving the Brisby house, while Mrs. Brisby is trapped in a cage, after hearing that the exterminators are coming the next day. She escapes the trap, and goes into the thunderstorm with the other rats, but Jenner’s assistant Sullivan (Aldo Ray) cuts the rope to keep the children and the house in the area as sabotage. Jenner tries to get the amulet from her and calls her a liar, Sullivan randomly ends up turning on Jenner, and alerts Justin (Peter Strauss) about what happened. Jenner injures Sullivan before fighting Justin, only to be killed by Sullivan, who ends up dying right afterwards. The house ends up sinking into the mud, but the amulet saves the children because of Mrs. Brisby’s will to want to save them. Her son Timothy recovers, and everyone has their Happily Ever After.

In a storytelling manner, I see this as a combination of the 60s/70s storytelling, and the modern storytelling we get now. There is some filler that took up too much time, but there was a sense of maturity with how they infiltrated the depth in the plot that resonated with me. Brilliant settings, themes, and it really helps that the main character is strong. While it is not one of my favourite animated films, it is a strong addition in Bluth’s lineup.

Characters

The characters have a range of being pretty good, or just mediocre wastes of time. I do think there were a bit too many, but the characters we are supposed to focus on are pretty great to overcompensate all of the fillers.

Mrs. Brisby is a widow who learns a lot more about her husband than she thought she knew, and has to grow tough skin as she goes through trial and tribulation not only to get her son to recover, but to save her home. I like how tough and determined she is, while maintaining her femininity, which a lot of films and television shows are missing.
Jeremy can be endearing, but a lot of times, he is kind of annoying, and wastes too much screentime.
I feel like as a villain, he falls kind of flat, since not only is he introduced later on in the film, but he is extremely one-dimensional, and has the most generic motivation ever.

Animation

There were definitely times where it was very obvious that there were different cells on the animation still, cause you see the white lines. I do like the colour schemes of the characters and settings, as well as the elaborate details on the backgrounds. The character designs are fine enough, and don’t really stand out too much. Overall, a pretty nice collaboration of them all.

Music

I have nothing to really say about the music. The score is relatively dark and spooky, which fits the plot and mood of the film, and it’s done really well.  I am glad that there are no songs, because the score spoke for itself.

Reception at Release

When the film was released on July 2nd, 1982, it only made $14 million in North America, causing it to be a financial failure, due to the competition, and only being released in 700 venues (despite it being expected to open in 1000 veues). Aurora had to finance themselves, since the distributors MGM/UA Entertainment Company decided not to promote the film.

It was lauded with critical reception when during its time of release, with many people liking it’s darker nature, calling it a charming and an artistic success, though some did feel like it might have an issue with resonating with little children. It did win a Saturn award for Best Animated Film.

Reception Today

The reception today is that it has become a cult classic, or even slightly larger than a cult classic. It is commonly referred to being Don Bluth’s best work of art. It has a lot of fans, and people see it as one of the best films of the 1980’s.

Score

Story: 8/10

Characters: 7/10

Animation: 8/10

Music: 8.5/10

31.5/40 = 79%

3 thoughts on “Don Bluth/20th Century Fox/Blue Sky review: The Secret NIMH

    1. You should, just to appreciate the animation. And Mrs. Brisby, who I consider one of the best animated heroines out there. Maybe you want to try another dubbing…at least I prefer the german dubbing, less rambling and more lively.

      It has some of the typical Don Bluth problems, like the somewhat unfocussed storytelling, but the detours are more entertaining than usual.

      Extra points for the score. The one song the movie has is beautiful.

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