June 30, 2009

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

I WENT INTO The Secret of NIMH already a non-fan of director Don Bluth. His animated films, which are marketed largely to children, are high on scares and depressing scenes. (I’ve heard that his 1989 film All Dogs Go To Heaven is such a crippling sobfest that I refuse to go near it, either with Dash or on my own.)

Still, G-rated options for this past week were slim, so I picked up The Secret of NIMH at the local library and hoped for the best.

Plot:
• Widowed mother mouse Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Hartman) lives on a farmer’s land, when she realizes that Moving Day is approaching (translation: her family must find a new home because the farmer will be plowing the land the mice inhabit). Problem is, her youngest son Timmy (Ian Fried) has pneumonia; if she tries to move him, he’ll die.
• After risking her life to speak with the wise Great Owl, Mrs. Brisby is told by the owl to seek help from the mysterious (and mystical) rats in the nearby underworld – led by Nicodemus (Derek Jacobi) – to get help moving her entire home, with Timmy safe inside.
• Among the rats, Mrs. Brisby meets dashing charmer Justin (Peter Strauss), who helps her in her quest, as well as the evil Jenner (Paul Shenar), who has plans to kill Nicodemus and take his place as leader.

Critique:
• Much like Bluth’s other films (The Land Before Time, An American Tail), The Secret of NIMH carries a dark tone throughout its story. The settings are dreary, flat, and gloomily lit, with backdrops and scenery that look like elaborate, detailed paintings rather than integral parts of the animation.
• Speaking of NIMH’s story, it’s an odd mix of mystical lore based on a scientific mishap (NIMH stands for National Institute of Mental Health). It plays like Lord of the Rings meets Watership Down, but much less effectively than either of those films.
• Justin’s appearance adds some life into the second half, but not enough to keep the viewer’s interest. And God bless him, but Dom DeLuise is largely unfunny as a wacky crow who tries to help Mrs. Brisby with her plight.

In my opinion, there’s an inherent problem with Bluth’s films: They’re too mature for small kids to enjoy, and too childlike to engage adults. I know there are many fans of Bluth’s work, and how he supposedly brings realism to children’s films. All apologies to those people, but after The Secret of NIMH, I’m taking Bluth’s films out of our rotation.

To be blunt, Dash deserves better.

Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5)

What did Dash think?
Watching The Secret of NIMH with Dash took a lot of explaining and multiple hits of the pause button to do so. And just like Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword, he fell asleep before the ending.

Will your kids want to watch it?
The Secret of NIMH is a textbook example of what used to pass as G-rated fare; it would easily be rated PG if it was released today. Some examples of why:
• The ominous glowing eyes of the Great Owl and Nicodemus
• Sad, frightening shots of lab animals in cages and being given injections
• Justin mutters “Damn!” when a plan goes wrong
• Mrs. Brisby cuts herself trying to escape a cage
• A major character is crushed to death
• Jenner strikes Mrs. Brisby
• Several rats literally die by the sword in the film’s climax

In short, there’s too much peril and scariness to make The Secret of NIMH enjoyable for little kids. Keep it away from the pre-K crowd, and show it to kindergartners and early gradeschoolers with caution.

Will your FilmMother like it?
Don’t waste her time. There are so many better animated films you could share with her.

"Do you have a Kleenex, dear? I think I have something on my nose."

The Secret of NIMH
• Director: Don Bluth
• Screenwriters: Don Bluth, Will Finn, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy
• Stars: Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Dom DeLuise, Hermione Baddeley, Shannon Doherty, Wil Wheaton, John Carradine, Peter Strauss, Paul Shenar, Ian Fried
MPAA Rating: G (but easily would have been PG if released today)


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12 comments:

Moviezzz said...

I never did see THE SECRET OF NIMH in its entirety, despite it being very popular. It was always on cable in the early 80's, and I saw parts of it over the years, just never sat through it all.

But, I don't have a problem with Bluth's animation style. I do like it, especially his Disney film THE SMALL ONE and the video game DRAGON'S LAIR, but I guess not enough to have seen NIMH (or his later films).

James (SeattleDad) said...

Thanks for the heads up. sounds like one to avoid.

Kathy B. said...

I detest films for children that show animals being harmed/killed/etc.
Love,
K.

Retro Hound said...

I just thought this was an awful movie even though I, like Moviezzz, never saw the whole thing in one sitting.

JLG said...

I love the Secret of Nimh. But I totally agree that it's probably a bit much for little ones.

Surfer Jay said...

I have to disagree on your star rating with this one, I give it a 5 star. This was one of me and my bro's favorite movie growing up. I watched it dozens of times. I would always mimick the crow and run around yelling 'Ooh Sparkly'.

As you stated, it is a dark one, with violence and somewhat depressing content in the mix. But I think thats what partially apealed to us. Of course, as little kids we also watched every shoot em up movie that came out. So this type of cartoon was right up our alley.

The story was fascinating to us! Chemically engineered rats that could talk and had a secret underground society with good vs evil and sword fighting and blood and guts and sparkly necklaces that were magic and an old mysterious coot named after a biblical character. So awesome I can't even tell you! Of course that is my fond childhood memories speaking there as it has been 15 years since I've seen it, but I still recommend it to everyone.

Although, you give a thoughtprovoking review and I can see why some may not be too fond of it.

Keith said...

I think I saw this years ago, but I remember so little about it.

Brian H said...

Great blog sir, one I will be following!

While I agree that Nimh is not for the little guys. But for older kids I don't agree.

It is based on the 1977 Newberry award winning book 'Mrs. Frisby and the rats of Nimh', an excellent book.

The movie departs pretty significantly from the book, but it retains the key plot.

Thanks for a great blog!

Anonymous said...

I grew up on this movie, my first time seeing it being far pre-K. Movies like this & other "dark undertoned" ones are good ways to not sugar coat the real world to kids. Society is becoming messed up because their being raised on teletubies & other mind numbing chaos. Nothing is real anymore..

Anonymous said...

Ahhh! Justin the mouse is a cusser!

Noooo!

When I was little i thought he said ham. Now I know the truth!

He was my hero! but he swears! (he's still my hero though :P)

NorthernBryght said...

I have watched this movie probably a good 1,000 times (or more) during my life. I'm happy to say I turned out fine - despite the "scary" scenes. For those who want to take the time, this movie has EXCELLENT "teachable moments".

The scene where the rats are getting injections can certainly be frightening (I disliked that scene the first time I watched the movie)- but, as children often do, I asked, "Why are they doing that to the rats, mommy?" And she took the opportunity to explain that there are some people who do mean things to animals, like hitting them, not feeding them, or using them for tests - just because they think they can - and that I should never hurt an animal..so on and so forth.

This movie taught me a lot of lessons about the world outside of fantasy:
-that I shouldn't try to keep "wild" animals as pets (..that is..don't go outside and catch something and keep it!)
-that animal cruelty is wrong
-that there are good people in the world (like Justin, Mr & Mrs Brisby, Nicodemus, Mr. Ages, etc.) and that there are bad people in the world (like Jenner)
-that things dont always work out like you plan

The list goes on!

My point is, though, to give it a chance. Watch it before you let your kids watch it and decide if you need to skip past some parts. Maybe they'll like it, maybe they won't, but don't avoid it just because it has a reality factor!

Anonymous said...

I think the person running this blog has either been overprotected as a child or is brainwashed by today's standards of what passes for children's entertainment. Really, it's just random colors and noises, there is no sense of any danger, no violence, no death scenes. It of course, needs to be used sparingly, but kids know what this stuff is. Don't insult their intelligence. This movie is simply too smart for you.


When your kid scrapes his knee, do you tell him not to look at the blood?

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