The Curator of Schlock #373: The Secret of Nimh

The Curator of Schlock #373 by Jeff Shuster

The Secret of NIMH

I like cartoons. Stop giving me grief. 

We heard the screeching, a sound of hellish death coming from beyond. The factory security guard brandished a taser and I wondered why we hadn’t run away with the rest of the factory personnel that had nearly trampled us. A factory employee, bloodied and limping, staggered toward us. He was missing an eye and his right hand covered the crimson stump that was now his left. The poor man collapsed, crying out, “They’re loose! The devils are loose!” — To be continued.

This week’s movie is 1982’s The Secret of NIMH from director Don Bluth. I’d completely forgotten about this movie. The DVD release seemed lacking so I never snagged it. Yet I remember watching The Secret of NIMH over and over again on Showtime when I was kid. I was an animation snob then, cutting my teeth on classic Disney shorts like Silly Symphonies.

I have to give Don Bluth and his team of animators credit. After defecting from the Disney company, they went all out to create a feature on par with those created in the glory days of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. The movie centers around Mrs. Brisby, a widowed mouse and mother of four children, one of whom has pneumonia.

The sick child’s name is Timothy. She’s been advised to keep him on bed rest for four weeks or he may die. The only problem is the farmer’s plow is coming early this year. If Mrs. Brisby doesn’t move her family, they all will die.

This simple conflict sets up an amazing journey for our main character that brings her to seek counsel with the Great Owl, a terrifying giant with glowing eyes. He tells her to seek out the Rats of NIMH, hyper intelligent creatures who may know of a way to move her house without her son having to leave his bed. We learn that rats had been experimented on in a lab, injected with a drug that raised their intelligence to that of a human. And we learn that some mice had also been given this drug, including Mrs Brisby’s late husband, Jonathan.

The Secret of Nimh features an all star voice cast that includes Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Dom Deluise, Arthur Malet, Hermione, Baddeley, Shannon Doherty, Will Wheaton, and John Carradine. The movie’s score was composed by the great Jerry Goldsmith, who also scored Poltergeist that year. The Secret of NIMH had stiff competition that summer as it had gone up against such movies as Blade Runner, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Conan the Barbarian, TRON, and John Carpenter’s The Thing.

What stood out for me when watching The Secret of NIMH so many years later is how it makes a simple farm into a c world fillemplex with danger and mystery. A family cat becomes a fearsome monster, a farmer’s plow becomes a force of nature, and a rose bush becomes a city of marvels. I hope this movie gets a proper remaster some day as it stands as the pinnacle of animated feature films from the 1980s.


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