- Movie Rating -

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

| July 2, 1982

When Don Bluth and several other animators resigned from the Disney studios in 1979, feeling that the studio had mismanaged Walt’s legacy and were now making inferior product rather than art, they wanted to set things right again.  Running his own animated studio, Bluth is now trying to set things right.

I think Walt would have really liked The Secret of NIMH.  The animation of beautiful, the characters are sharply draw and the story has a deep complexity that I don’t think that I can compare to any of the Disney animated features.  There’s a lot going on here.

The movie takes place in the field of a farmer where live a community of rats and mice who are constantly under threat of man’s intervention: pesticides, predators, cats and the blade of the farmer’s tractor.  But they aren’t simply a community; these rats and mice are the heirs of a group of lab rats who were given injections that made them super-intelligent – or at least intelligent enough to think and reason like a human being.

In order to subsist, they have been stealing electricity from the farmer for years but now they have become so intelligent that the moral question is now in place: should they keep stealing from the farmer or should they move on to much safer territory?  That’s a lot for an animated feature and one that the film curiously spends a lot of time trying to deal with.

The center of the film is the journey of Mrs. Brisby, a widowed mouse with several children, one of whom has recently come down with a case of pneumonia.  Seeking help, her journey takes her into the heart of the dilemma for this rodent community and into the secrets of their sustainability and their moral issues.  Will they be safer somewhere else, or will they stay and suffer the farmer’s attempts to get rid of them.

This sounds like an extremely complex story for an animated movie, and it is.  I was very impressed by exactly how deep the moral debate goes.  I got caught up in the world created here, the world just under the rose bushes and under the tall grass of the farmer’s field.  The movie takes us underground where the rats have been forced to live and I appreciated the details in the backgrounds, objects that look like they’ve been there for many years.

This is an astonishingly good movie, again a very deep movie and one that I was thinking about when it was over.  I can’t say that about Disney’s recent product.  I can’t say that about The Fox and the Hound or The Rescuers.  This reminded me of more complex stories, like Snow White and Pinocchio and Bambi, ones in which the story stood first and the rich, lush animation was in service to that story.  This might not have been the movie that Walt might have made but it is certainly one that he would of appreciated.

NOTE: The NIMH in the title does, in fact, stand for National Institute of Mental Health.  It’s a good plot point, and a great title.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Animated