A fairly odd circumstance of the movie world is that people generally presume that animated films stand up over time. The idea is naturally buoyed by the fact that people often bring to mind Disney spectaculars, which obviously do hold up, and lump all of the animated world into the same bin.
Of course, this is only an odd circumstance if you really look at all the animated features to come out… let’s say… from 1970 to the early ’90s, and consider not only watching them again, but watching them repeatedly. Even films that may hold a place in our hearts don’t necessarily stand up today as being the supremely watchable adventures they once were.
Not on such a list is The Secret of NIMH. As magic and mysterious as the day it was first released, the Don Bluth adaptation of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is as live, vibrant, and creepy today as it ever was. It holds up as well as, or better than, similar period Disney vehicles, and certainly outmatches many that followed. That’s because the story is the thing here, and the effort, in line with Bluth’s famous perspective that led him to leave Disney, is in capturing the magic and playing to the imagination of the audience.
The story, I assume well-known by now, is that of Mrs. Brisby (the F-B switch has always puzzled me), a mouse with a problem. Her son is sick, and can’t be moved, but her home is about to be destroyed, and she has to get out. She’s desperate, and embarks on a search for anything that can help her, and soon finds herself caught up with rats, owls, magic amulets, and of course, the secret of NIMH.
It’s a wild adventure, and our Mrs. Brisby sets off as the unlikeliest of heroines. Decidedly dark (in fact, the story is that the idea was rejected by Disney for being too dark, scary, etc.), this is a film layered in suspense, gloom, and unfortunate events. On the other hand, it is an immensely powerful telling of the tale, and filled with a healthy dose of balancing fun. Besides, it is rather tricky to showcase bravery unless something scary is going on.
I have always lumped this movie together with The Dark Crystal in my mind, strictly in terms of the generality that they are both darker, creepier, and just plain filled with chills to an extent that is beyond the norm of the target demographic. You wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that someone didn’t want their young child watching either one of them, because they, quite simply, really are pretty scary.
While understandable, the two films have also always stood out to me as among my very favorites growing up, and for two distinct reasons that these two classics get exactly right – 1) they talk to children as though they are simply people who are smaller, not people who are in any way “less,” and 2) there are many things you can try your mightiest to say, that, when drenched in syrup you cannot say at all.
I’m glad the movie has finally managed a Blu-Ray release, but it isn’t the best example of a Blu-Ray effort you’re going to come across. I’m not really one to care too much about the overall quality of older animated films, generally because good enough is really good enough most of the time, but this one could have used a little more attention. A strict scrutiny of the Blu-Ray vs. standard DVD quality might not look too positive for the Blu-Ray, but it still manages some improvement.
The extras you get aren’t new, but they are quality bonuses. A commentary track with Bluth and Gary Goldman covers a great deal of the production, including all the problems given the budget, and you get a good sense of the labor of love aspect of their involvement with the film. Any fan of the film is going to want to check out the track, and you can’t always say that.
You also get a short behind-the-scenes featurette, which runs somewhere around fifteen minutes, and is pretty standard fare for this sort of bonus. These are, to me, always curious features for animated films, but this one is at least entertaining.
Amid the mass of choices available for family entertainment, and next great knock-off nonsense opportunities to distract kids for 90 minutes, you should really make sure you pick up this classic film, and give the kids something they can really sink their mind into.
Get ready to meet some runaway rodents with an earth-shattering secret! Suspenseful and heartwarming, this beautifully animated odyssey stars Mrs. Brisby, a mild-mannered mother mouse with a plan to move Heaven and Earth (or at least her house and home) to save her family from Farmer Fitzgibbon’s plow!
Along the way she gets some help from a lovelorn Crow, a busybody neighbor mouse and a fearsome Great Owl. Unfortunately, Mrs. Brisby will need an engineering miracle to hoist her home, and for that she must face a mysterious rat, fend off a ferocious cat and claim a magic amulet! But when Mrs. Brisby discovers the astounding secret of NIMH…it could change her life forever! This timeless tale of love, courage and determination will transport the whole family into an enchanting world where the bravest hearts live in the meekest of mice.