Ever since I was about six, one of my all time favorite movies has been The Secret of NIMH. To me, it is one of the best animated movies ever made, and I believe it’s Don Bluth’s crowning jewel. The animation is breathtaking, the voice acting is superb, the music is fantastic, and the story is absolutely unmatched. The Secret of NIMH was, and in my opinion, still is, one of the most memorable kids films. So, I want to take a look into what make this movie so great! So, strap yourself in, get a sparkly to hang around your neck, and get ready to take a look at one of the best kids movies ever made, The Secret of NIMH!
The Origins of the Movie
In 1971, author Robert C. O’Brien wrote a children’s book titled, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. It’s a book I must admit that I’ve never read, nor have I really met anyone who has. In 1972, the book won the Newbery Medal. And in 1982, the film adaptation of the book was released, that movie was The Secret of NIMH. The movie was directed by Don Bluth, who also directed other great animated films like The Land Before Time (the first one, not any of it’s twelve sequels), An American Tail, and Titan A.E.. The movie was a success, and to this day is hailed as Don Bluth’s best work.
In the movie, they changed a few things (like they do with all books that become films), but they were mostly minor changes, from what I understand. The most drastic change, however, was the changing of the name of the main character. In the book her name is Mrs. Frisby, but in the movie it’s Mrs. Brisby. This has something to do with the brand name of Frisbee flying disks. I guess they didn’t want to risk a law suit, so they changed the name to Brisby in the movie.
The Secret of NIMH is about a widowed mouse by the name of Mrs. Brisby, who needs to move her family because the farm they they live on is about to get plowed. However, her youngest son, Timmy, is sick. So she goes to Mr. Ages, another mouse who was a friend of her late husband, Jonathan Brisby. After hearing the symptoms of the boy, Mr. Ages tells Mrs. Brisby that Timmy has pneumonia and can not be moved or go out into the chilly air or he will die. He gives her some medicine for Timmy to help the healing process. On her way back from Mr. Ages’ place, Mrs. Brisby meets Jeremy (voiced by the late Dom DeLuise), a clumsy crow who is obsessed with making a love nest out of string.
She brings the medicine to Timmy and comforts him and her three older children Martin (voiced by Wil Wheaton…that’s right, Wesley from Star Trek: The Next Generation), Teresa, and Cynthia. But the next day, the plow begins to come, so Mrs. Brisby bravely disables the plow, postponing the farmer for at least a few more days. She then decides, with the aid of Jeremy, that she will visit the Great Owl, despite the fact that he eats mice. When she goes to the Great Owl, he tells her to go away, but when he learns that she is the widow of Jonathan, he tells her to go see the rats who live beneath a rose bush on the farm and talk to Nicodemus, the leader of the rats, because he will be able to help her.
She goes to the rosebush the next day and finds out that the rats have mastered the use of electricity and other such things. While there she sees Mr. Ages, who tries to get rid of her, but after telling him that the Great Owl sent to to talk to Nicodemus, he tells her that she could meet him. On their way, they meet Justin, the captain of guard, who is a kind rat. She also meets Jenner, who is a rat who disagrees with Nicodemus on many points and secretly wants to take over.
When she finally meets Nicodemus, she finds out the truth about these mysterious rats. The rats, as well as Jonathan, Mr. Ages and a few other mice, were lab animals at NIMH (which is a real organization, and it stands for the “National Institute of Mental Health”). The scientists gave them injections, and they soon found that they possessed human-like intelligence. They could read, as well as developed a mystical ability as well. So the rats and mice hid their abilities from the scientists and used their new intelligence to escape NIMH. All the mice but Jonathan and Mr. Ages died in the escape. But Jonathan made it possible for them to escape in the first place, hence why his name is so respected by the animals of the area. Mrs. Brisby learns that the rats of NIMH have been stealing electricity from the farmer. But Nicodemus came up with the Plan, which is for them to leave the farm so they can live without relying on humans, this is the Plan that Jenner is against.
Nicodemus then gives Mrs. Brisby an amulet with a red gem in it. The amulet will give the wearer magical powers when he or she is courageous of heart. He then explains that the reason why Jonathan didn’t tell her about any of this was because he was going to outlive her, because the experiments also prolonged their lives. He also tells her that Jonathan died while trying to help the rats with the Plan. He tried to drug the farmer’s cat, Dragon, so the rats could escape unharmed. But he died in the process.
Nicodemus tells her that they will help her move her entire house to a safe place on the farm free from the plow that so that Timmy won’t have to be moved. They will help her because she is the widow of their savior. She then volunteers to drug Dragon. That night, as the rats are preparing to move her home, she successfully drugs Dragon’s food. But get’s caught by the farmer’s son, and is placed into a cage so she can be kept as a pet. While in the cage, she hears the farmer have a phone conversation with the people from NIMH and finds out that they’re coming the next day to exterminate the rats that live in the rosebush. So, the rats need to leave tonight. Through her own cunning, she is able to escape the cage and get out of the house to warn the rats.
Meanwhile, A storm broke out as the rats are using ropes and pulleys to move the house. Jenner, because he wants to stay at the rosebush, conspires with another rat named Sullivan to kill Nicodemus by cutting the ropes when the cinder block that the Brisbys live in is directly over him, making his death look like an accident. At the last moment, however, Sullivan backs out, and Jenner cuts the ropes himself, dropping the block and killing the wise, old leader. But Mrs. Brisby arrives then to warn Justin and the others, and in anger, Jenner tries to kill her with his sword. He then notices the amulet around her neck, and tries to take it from her, which would give him more power. Justin, who is depressed at the death of Nicodemus, jumps into action at the warning from Sullivan, and saves her life, getting into an epic battle with Jenner. In the process, Sullivan tries to stop Jenner, but Jenner stabs him, and just as he’s about to kill Justin, Sullivan throws a knife at Jenner, killing him, right before he, himself, dies.
But there’s another problem, the Brisby house is sinking in the mud, which will kill her children inside. So the rats try to save the block, but it’s too late, there’s nothing they can do, the house sinks into the mud. The red amulet, which had fallen off her neck in the fight with Jenner, then glows and flies towards her. And when she takes hold of it, it glows with fire and causes her to glow as well.
She puts the amulet on and grabs one of the ropes, and the magical light flows from her hands down to the rope and causes her home to rise from the mud and she directs it to the lee of the stone, where it will be safe and out of the path of the plow.
Then we see Mrs. Brisby the next day, and Timmy is feeling a lot better and wants to go out and play, but she won’t let him because he’s not well enough yet. Jeremy drops by and though conversation we find out that Mrs. Brisby gave the magical amulet to Justin, who became the leader of the rats. And that the rats have moved to their new home Thorn Valley. The story ends with Jeremy finding girl crow who is just as clumsy as him, and they fly away together.
What’s Not To Love?
Why do I love this movie so much? To me, it’s very “real”. The characters aren’t princesses and great heroes, or dark lords and knights. It’s a mother trying to help her family, a clumsy crow looking for string and sparkly things, a wise, old rat who reveres Jonathan Brisby as a savior, and a kind ran who wants to make sure his friends are safe.
The story is very original, and frankly, I love the movie because of how dark it is. There’s dark imagery and ideas where death and blood is shown. Yet, it’s not gruesome, it’s just enough to let you know what is really happening. It’s not always happy, but full of themes that are tough and sad, including the threat of the death of a child. However, it has a happy and satisfying ending full of light, hope, and triumph.
The visuals are beautiful, every time I watch the movie I find myself in awe of the spectacular animation. The whole thing is well done. And the story is legit, having a good arch, and giving us a larger than life protagonist who doesn’t know what kind of courage she has inside of her. The Secret of NIMH is a wonderful film all around. It’s fun, sad, dark, gritty, lively, colorful, whimsical, and even funny at times. It combines many elements, such as scientific progress, natural instinct, as well as mystical power, and all three are needed for this movie to work, and it worked well.
Through the years, I have spoken to many people who have watched this movie when they were children, and most of them, like me, still love this movie. Though geared towards children, the movie is also great for adults. And the film, I believe, is becoming more recognized. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who haven’t seen the film since they were little, and they loved it just as much as they did when they were kids. Or some people watched it for the first time and instantly fell in love with it.
On November 3rd, 2008, internet celebrity Doug Walker, (The Nostalgia Critic), from ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com, had The Secret of NIMH in the number one spot in his video titled, “Top 11 Underrated Nostalgic Classics”. And on September 28th, 2010, in the Nostalgia Critic’s review of The Pebble and the Penguin, he stated that The Secret of NIMH is one of his all time favorite films.
I’m glad that others out there are like me in saying that The Secret of NIMH is one of the best animated movies of all time.
Don’t forget to check out my other detailed reviews:
My next review will be of the ultimate fail that is The Secret of NIMH 2!