A canine angel, Charlie, sneaks back to earth from heaven but ends up befriending an orphan girl who can speak to animals. In the process, Charlie learns that friendship is the most heavenly gift of all.
Mrs. Brisby, a widowed mouse, lives in a cinder block with her children on the Fitzgibbon farm. She is preparing to move her family out of the field they live in as plowing time approaches, however her son Timothy has fallen ill, and moving him could prove fatal. Mrs. Brisby visits The Great Owl, a wise creature who advises her to visit a mysterious group of rats who live beneath a rose bush on the farm. Upon visiting the rats, Brisby meets Nicodemus, the wise and mystical leader of the rats, and Justin, a friendly rat who immediately becomes attached to Mrs. Brisby. While there, she learns that her late husband, Mr. Jonathon Brisby, along with the rats, was a part of a series of experiments at a place known only as N.I.M.H. (revealed earlier in the story as the National Institute of Mental Health). The experiments performed on the mice and rats there boosted their intelligence, allowing them to read without being taught and to understand things such as complex mechanics and ...Written by
According to the Farmer's Wife, "N.I.M.H." is an acronym for "National Institute of Mental Health". See more »
When Mr. Ages is preparing the medicine, Mrs. Brisby is standing next to him in long shots, but is farther away in close-ups. See more »
Johnathan Brisby was killed today while helping with the plan. It is four years since our departure from NIMH, and our world is changing. We cannot stay here much longer. Johnathan was a dear friend. I am lost in knowing how to help his widow. She knows nothing about us or the plan. Perhaps best that I do nothing at present. I shall miss him. Johnathan - wherever you are - your thoughts must comfort her tonight. She will be waiting and you will not return. Farewell... my friend.
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The production storyboards are used for background in the end credits. See more »
On the 2007 DVD and 2011 Blu-ray releases, the MGM logo is added, preceding the 1982 United Artists logo. See more »
The short version: 'The Secret of NIMH' isn't just a masterpiece: it's the best classically animated film since the early 40's. It's up there with 'Bambi', which is to say, this is about as good as it gets.
I remember walking down the street when I was about 19, and seeing the poster for 'The Secret of NIMH' up in a theatre, and immediately thinking "This film is going to blow my mind." A week later, I was sitting in an empty theatre, watching the last credits rolling down the screen after everybody else had left, and the house lights were up, thinking "yep."
A bit of history is probably in order for a film of this importance. Flashback to about 1980. Disney animator Don Bluth walks out, halfway through production on 'The Fox and the Hound', taking several other key animators with him, and declaring that he was going to recapture the spirit of classical animation, which Disney had forgotten about.
Nearly three years later, NIMH debuts. Critically it is well received, but lack of distribution and advertising means it's swamped by such an historical non-entity as Disney's 'Tron'. Accepting an animation award for best film, Bluth remarked "Thanks. We didn't think anyone had noticed."
NIMH is a glorious achievement. It puts to shame anything which Disney had done for a quarter century, and singlehandedly did exactly what Bluth set out to do. It revived the spirit of classical animation, and at the same time it proved that there was room on the block for another player than Disney - not an unimportant fact when you consider that at the time there was no Dreamworks or Pixar, and no feature animation section in Universal or MGM.
As to the film itself: from the first moment you are treated to a gloriously rich, sumptuous, seamless animation and background art, the likes of which hadn't been seen since Disney's war years. Particularly stunning is the movie's use of colour to enhance moods. The dark blues and blacks of the stunning 'lantern elevator' descent into the rats' city, and the tractor scene - the background starts out in subdued tones and ends up flaming red as the action peaks. One reviewer at the time wrote "I felt as if I was watching the invention of color, as if I was being drawn into the depths of the screen."
The characters are beautifully conceived and drawn, and the voice characterisations are spot-on (including the animation debut of Dom de Luise as Jeremy). And, significantly, there is only one song, and it's not sung by a character (significantly, 'Balto', one of the few animated films since which can hold a candle to NIMH, followed the same principal). Jerry Goldsmith's score supplies the emotional power for the rest of the soundtrack.
Even more importantly though, the film is incredibly emotionally potent, and not in a sentimental, kiddy way. It has genuine choke-you-up power which will appeal to adults.
Bluth ditched the double storyline of the book, relegating Jonathan Brisby's more substantial role in the novel to a short piece of background information revealed in an explanatory flashback. Personally I think this was the right decision. To do otherwise would have been to take the spotlight off Mrs Brisby, and probably diminish the film's coherence and power.
So, Don Bluth achieved his goal: his debut feature film was the greatest animated achievement in 40 years. Sadly, it was also his only masterpiece. He peaked on his first outing, and afterwards declined into mediocrity, while Disney picked itself up and overtook him. In fact, ironically, there were signs of this in 'The Fox and the Hound', which despite being plagued by Bluth's departure amongst other catastrophes, turned out to be Disney's best movie since the 60's, even if it would still be the better part of another decade before they started hitting their marks consistently.
Today NIMH enjoys the sort of cult following it deserves. It's just a damn shame that its greatness isn't more widely acknowledged, and an almost equally great shame that a generation later it was cursed with one of the most insulting, wretched sequels in cinematic history.
It's an important film, and it's a great film. In the two decades since it was released, only a small handful of animated films have approached its stature.
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