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Animation and Anime

25 Years Ago: The Best Genre Year Ever! Part VI! Cartuna Remember THE SECRET OF NIMH!

Hey, everybody. “Moriarty” here with some more Rumblings from 1982. I’ve had a lot of people write in to ask me if they could contribute articles to this special series we’re doing this year. And I appreciate that. Some of the films people have mentioned aren’t films we’re going to be including in the retrospective, and some of the titles they’ve asked to do have already been claimed by ongoing contributors to the site. But what’s apparent to me is that the films of 1982 are burned into the memory of filmgoers who saw them that year with a special sort of intensity. In some cases, these are the movies that led people to do what they’re doing now. Case in point: Don Bluth’s THE SECRET OF NIMH. I’ve met a lot of animators in the time I’ve been in LA. A friend of mine from the early days in town was one of the first people I ever met who told me that it wasn’t Disney films that inspired him to pursue a career in animation... it was NIMH all the way. You have to remember that in 1982, Disney was in a slump. They weren’t the commercial powerhouse they are now, and they were barely releasing films at all. They sat out 1982 completely, but there were a few animated pictures released. THE LAST UNICORN has its fans, and I’ve always thought THE PLAGUE DOGS, based on the Richard Adams novel, was a dark and interesting film. But when Don Bluth led a small uprising and took a bunch of Disney-trained animators away from the studio to set up an independent company with the intent of adapting Robert C. O'Brien's Newbery-award winning novel, I doubt he had any idea just how much he’d be influencing a whole generation of young film fans. One of those guys who had his future set in motion that summer was our very own Cartuna, the guy who is responsible for all those fantastic animations you see in the upper left-hand corner of the site. As far as I know, this is the first time Cartuna’s ever contributed a full-blown review to the site, but when he wrote me to say he wanted to write about this particular title, I knew we’d be in for something special. Check it out:
I’ve always wanted a sparkly of my very own… And holy cow, did we get one. In 1982, The Secret of N.I.M.H. flared into life, filled with magic, excitement, slapstick and beauty. It was darker, scarier, funnier, and had more heart than any animated feature that had graced the screen for MANY years prior. It was proof that animation could offer more than simple fairy tales. It told a story that was, at its core, adult, but still didn’t need to have its nuts cut off in order to appeal to kids. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I didn’t catch The Secret of N.I.M.H. in the movie theatre. In 1982, I was eight years old, and had seen exactly three movies during their theatrical release: Song of the South, (re-released in 1980) Empire Strikes Back, and E.T. There was no theatre in my hometown (a rural backwater in the armpit of Ontario, Canada) and visits to relatively nearby cities which did have movie theatres were entirely dependant on the whims of my parents, and as a result, frustratingly infrequent. But about a year later, the new canadian Pay-TV network, First Choice (which has since become The Movie Network) had a “Free preview weekend” where anybody with a cable converter could watch the channel unscrambled. The result, naturally, was me sitting in our basement for three days, mainlining whatever happened to be scheduled. I was a film-deprived kid, and I had to take it where I could get it. I consumed whatever they fed me, and have no real recollection of the programming absorbed that weekend, except for one film: the Secret of N.I.M.H. From its first dark moments, with a pair of aged hands working magic over the pages of a diary while a voiceover lamented the death of a friend, I was slackjaw-hooked to the screen. I was no stranger to cartoons, of course. Saturday mornings found me up early, eating soggy Fruit Loops in my couch-cushion fort, with the color bars humming on the television until the national anthem interrupted. I didn’t want to miss ANY cartoons, especially the older ones that were on earliest. I hadn’t quite put together that this was something I could do for a living, but I certainly recognized that the name Charles M. Jones signaled that the next cartoon would be a good one. I don’t think I ever had much use for non-funny cartoons up until this point. They were always so corny and precious. There was never anything really at stake. Beyond the villains, characters tended to be either exceedingly bland, or nothing more than comic relief. I’ve come to appreciate these films. Quite a bit, in fact. But as a kid, they really held very little magic for me. But this? A revelation. The Secret of N.I.M.H. was SO much more than I had known was possible with the medium. And it was the very first thing that made me think to myself: That’s it. That’s the thing I want to be involved in. I want to make animation. I had always drawn. I filled boxes with looseleaf paper covered in scribbles. People gave me attention for it, told me to keep it up. It was definitely part of my identity. But until that point, though I had thought in a round-about way about drawing a comic strip, I had never really considered art as a profession. And so, in this way, N.I.M.H. altered the course of my life, like an injection of a mysterious glowing serum directly into my belly. But where did it come from, this beautiful gem? Disney Animation was at its lowest, having all but abandoned animation, in pursuit of what seemed to be more lucrative opportunities in live-action. In the middle of production on the Fox and the Hound a small band of artists, led by Don Bluth, revolted. They packed their bags and departed Walt Disney Animation, where they had been groomed to replace the aging old guard (who had practically invented the art form) and turned their skills to the task of jump-starting a new golden era for feature animation. Their first attempt would involve adapting a story that Disney had rejected, crafted by artists that Disney had ignored and undervalued, using techniques that Disney had discarded and a fraction of the budget that Disney would’ve spent on any of their features. And in the end, they kicked Disney’s sorry ass all over the place, creating something with more life and appeal than anything the Mouse had ever produced. Unfortunately, this wasn’t reflected by the box office in what was a VERY tough summer, but the test of time has ultimately proclaimed The Secret of N.I.M.H. a classic, and an example of the best of what can be managed in the medium of animation. It’s telling that Bluth’s Studio began with a bunch of animators working after-hours in a garage, because that labor-of-love feeling really comes through in The Secret of N.I.M.H. It feels like the sort of work that animators do for themselves, after they’re done earning their living for the day. They’ve finally been unshackled, and can just run free, letting their abilities define the edges of what is possible. I suppose at this point, most folks have had the chance to view early pencil test animation. A sad and kinda frustrating truism of animation is that in the translation of a pencil test to cleaned-up and painted final cels, something is always lost. Some magical spark is blotted out, and however great the final work may be, it never quite measures up to the promise of those first scratchy drawings with their construction lines showing through. The Secret of N.I.M.H. feels like a pencil test, in that the spark is still there. Somehow, they managed a lossless translation, and the result is a kind of energized vitality that is simply and frankly absent from the vast majority of animated features. Our lead, Mrs. Brisby, is damaged. In her most lighthearted moments there is a sadness and fragility to her. Through great internal strength and the love of her children, she manages, but since the death of her husband she has been broken. Her marriage had always defined her. It still does - she is only ever referred to as Mrs. Brisby. Without Jonathon, she is rudderless. But her mother role gives her purpose, and her task to save her sick son gives her focus. She seems to want so desperately to pass her responsibilities to someone else. She doesn’t want to make the hard decisions or plan her family’s course of action. But she is tougher and braver than she ever let herself realize, and though it seems as though she is exhausted by the weight on her shoulders, she really has no other options. This is a children’s cartoon, folks! Why bother with all this? Surely no kid will identify with a widowed mother’s struggle? Isn’t this too bleak? Isn’t this too complicated? Too confusing? HELL, NO! This is an extremely compelling heroine with an easily communicated quest: Keep her family safe at all costs. That is why this movie is a classic. It is simultaneously simple AND complex, because somebody cared enough to go someplace deeper, and refused to dumb things down for the kiddies. And who are Mrs. Brisby’s allies on her quest? A miserable old bastard who’d prefer not to be bothered with her (Mr. Ages). A horrible, opinionated windbag who looks down her nose at the entire Brisby family (Auntie Shrew). The rats of N.I.M.H., who consider themselves above the ‘lower creatures’ and are more interested in their own political power struggles. And two terrifying monsters whose character design would seem to mark them as arch-villains in any other animated feature (The Great Owl and Nicodemus). Forget for a minute that these characters are each kinda scary and mostly unhelpful, and think about this: In an ordinary fairy tale or animated feature (or even just ANY feature, for that matter) these characters exist only to help the protagonist. They are little more than signposts, pointing the protagonist in a new direction, giving them some vital clue, or maybe handing them some object that will inevitably turn out to be “exactly-what-we-needed-to-surmount-our-obstacles-and-defeat-the-villains.” In The Secret of N.I.M.H. every one of these characters has been interrupted. They have lives of their own, with goals that they are working towards for their own sakes, and Mrs. Brisby is a pain-in-the-ass distraction keeping them from completing their tasks. Really, for the most part, they only ever decide to help her out of some feeling of obligation, in order to fulfill debts owed to her late husband. How much better is this than what we get from most animated features? For contrast let me give you similar descriptions of some classic animated characters: Princess. Orphan. Wicked stepmother. Prince. Fashionista with a penchant for dog-fur. Seems kinda lazy, doesn’t it? Sure, they’re archetypes, I get it. There’s a lot of value in that, to be sure, but, um… maybe we deserve a little more? Another example is Jeremy, the crow, who should be little more than comic relief. Gentle and good-hearted like so many sidekicks that have come before him (and since), he would do anything for his friend, even overcoming his somewhat cowardly and panicky natural inclinations. But really, he is driven mostly by a deep-seated loneliness, and is in many ways even more adrift than Mrs. Brisby, who at least has the anchor of her family to give her purpose and meaning. His relationship with Mrs. Brisby seems to form out of a desperation to connect with anyone who will accept him as he is. Having found her he clings with all he can muster, hoping to somehow become a necessary part of her family, and finally find a place for himself in the world. WAITASECOND! THIS is the comic relief? Jeremy is SO MUCH more than slapstick and pratfalls! And is it just me? Or did anyone else out there get the feeling that Jeremy would’ve happily smothered Mrs. Brisby with a pillow stuffed with his own feathers, if it meant he could walk away with a sparkly of his very own? No? Just me, huh? Yeah, I get a lot of that. And I haven’t even mentioned the SECRET of the Secret of N.I.M.H. Because probably more than anything else in the movie, this is what forever cemented its hold on my imagination, sucker-punching me in a way that I could never have been prepared for by any other animated film. The rats of N.I.M.H. are escaped lab rats. They were collected in the alleyways of some urban cesspool and taken to the National Institute for Mental Health, where they were experimented upon alongside many other caged animals (and one can only imagine what happened to THEM). They were injected with mysterious glowing serums which appeared to meddle with their very DNA. The experiments prolonged their lifespans and increased their intelligence beyond that of ordinary rodents. Increased them to the degree where they were able to escape. They were aided by a small team of mice, including the late Jonathon Brisby. Unfortunately, during the escape, the majority of the mice were sucked down an air vent, due to their lesser size, and to certain doom. What. The. Hell? If I could have paused the movie at this point, and stepped outside to get a breath of fresh air, I probably would have. When has a movie secret been as satisfying as this? As shocking? Especially in the context of a film aimed at children? It’s astonishing this movie was ever made. It’s a gift from the film gods, who occasionally reach down, and force some beautiful gem into existence, despite all of the forces working against it. It’s really little wonder that we haven’t had anything that measured up to it since. It’s actually more amazing that we ever got it in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, the flick ain’t perfect. I’m not unaware of this. There are things in it that don’t make a lot of sense, but even in its flaws there’s a certain mad joy. I get that the rats are super-smart, can read, and have great mechanical prowess, but um… what’s with the magic? * If they age so much more slowly, why does Nicodemus look like he may have been present at the Big Bang? * Where’d the amulet come from? Why did Jonathon have it? * Why didn’t Nicodemus just help Mrs. Brisby when he saw she needed it? * Why does Mrs. Brisby seem just as clever and capable as the genetically mutated super-rats? Ultimately, these and other questions are unimportant. None of them get in the way of enjoying the movie. Most aren’t plot holes, just unexplained things, which frankly, most movies could use more of. The film is action-packed, with many edge-of-your-seat sequences: being chased by a monster (Dragon, the farm’s cat), stopping the plow, drugging the cat’s food, and swordfights for starters. The Secret of N.I.M.H. is an animated thrill ride. And there’s blood. And there’s death. And there’s real suspense, because there are actual stakes. You worry, because the filmmakers have shown that they are capable of raining doom and destruction (and mutation) down on their characters. The ‘happily ever after’ is far from pre-ordained. The film culminates in a climax filled with tension and gravity and a very visual representation of the concept of the heroine having the strength she needed inside her all along. Fuck Ruby slippers, give me that sparkly! So the thing ends, Mrs. Brisby succeeds in her quest, and seems to come out of the whole thing stronger, more confident, and aware of her own capabilities. I too was changed. I walked out into the sunlight of Saturday afternoon, with a path laid out ahead of me which hadn’t been there before. I wanted to be a part of this medium, and amazingly, the Secret of N.I.M.H. was the catalyst. After all the cartoons I had watched, it took this one to make me realize a direction for my life. For better or worse, I’ve pursued it since. And of course, sadly, the world is a bit more “Dream On, Silly Dreamer” than I possibly could’ve realized at the time. The animation industry is a very hard one to make your way in, and even then, very few of us spend a lot of our careers working on anything we can feel proud of. A far greater percentage of the industry’s energies are spent on producing the cheapest, dumbest, most watered-down and lowest-common-denominator targeting garbage than is put into even dreaming about creating something like The Secret of N.I.M.H. If you read Bluth’s press at the time, you’ll find that he claims his intention was to kick-start an industry that was already ailing. It was his love for animation, and his vision for its potential that started him on the journey. And sure, he, himself was only able to manage a few other films that merit mention in the same paragraph as the Secret of N.I.M.H., but what are the pressures that were (and are) working against making movies that respect their audiences and are worth the time spent viewing them? By and large, artists don’t make the art… Executives do, and as a result, the art is formed by focus groups and statistics rather than by storytellers who want to speak to an audience. Creative decisions are not being made by the creative people whose lives have been dedicated to the artform, who have spent their careers honing the appropriate skills, and just want to engage and entertain an audience, or maybe even challenge them just the littlest bit. Instead, we get movies made by businessmen, lawyers, agents, and management… Important roles all, but only inasmuch as they remember their place. When they stray into the show side of show business, or get confused and believe themselves artists, or even just want to put their fingerprints on the work, they should be smacked down. Hard, and without delay. I certainly don’t want to turn this appreciation of a fantastic movie into a premature eulogy for a very sick medium, but how do you measure a classic, except by its legacy and impact on those inspired by it? Where have we come from the dizzying heights of The Secret of N.I.M.H.? This film threw down the gauntlet, and a few years later, there WAS a response. It was carried by films such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Littlest Mermaid. There was a surge. A rebirth. But where is animation today? Who is answering N.I.M.H.’s call to action now? Though I love a whole lot of animated films, and could watch and rewatch them, discovering new things in each viewing, only Miyazaki’s work has ever made me feel even close to the level of excitement that The Secret of N.I.M.H. managed. Then again, who could get more excited than a nine year-old? Maybe just me, today, talking about my love for the Secret of N.I.M.H. The Secret of N.I.M.H. acted on the animation industry like a defibrillator. Shocking it awake again when it had seemed on the verge of flatlining. But the effects have now worn off, and most of the industry busies itself chasing trends, instead of blazing trails. There is hope, of course. As it was in 1982, The Mouse has been putting live-action ahead of animation, and once again seems to have forgotten or turned its back on the traditions that made it great in the first place. But this time, the artists with vision have not revolted, escaping to build something fresh outside of the Disney Company. This time they have INVADED, and appear to be trying to jumpstart a new golden age of animation from the inside-out. My fingers are crossed. Tightly. I haven’t even mentioned the use of color, the effects work, the voice acting, or the score, all of which are incredible and more than noteworthy, and any of which only serve to underline the amount of careful consideration that went into this film. It’s a spectacular piece of work in every possible way, and deserves to be thought of as a shining light in the history of animation, if not a masterpiece of the medium.
Amazing, Cartuna. It’s a shame that Don Bluth never really matched the high of NIMH again. The animators I know who have worked for him over the years were almost all heartbroken by their exposure to him, and it’s little wonder he managed to run his studio into the ground on at least three separate occasions based on the stories I’ve heard about his management style. To see someone start with something as great as NIMH and then eventually end up churning out garbage like ROCK-A-DOODLE and THE PEBBLE AND THE PENGUIN makes you think that maybe they didn’t learn the lessons of their own success. At any rate, there’s a special edition of this one coming out on DVD later in the summer, and I can’t wait to revisit it with my son at that point. In the meantime, you can catch up with the earlier articles in this series here: Nordling Remembers E.T.! Harry Remembers TRON! Obi-Swan Remembers CREEPSHOW! Capone Remembers POLTERGEIST! FlmLvr Remembers FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, PORKY’S and THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN!

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

Readers Talkback
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  • May 21, 2007, 1:54 a.m. CST


    by Cigsandcoffee1756

    i hope

  • May 21, 2007, 1:55 a.m. CST

    Great movie!

    by lost.rules

    Remember it. Don't watch it again as an Adult. You'll be dissappointed.

  • May 21, 2007, 1:59 a.m. CST

    "Somewhere Out There"

    by lost.rules

    "Then we'll be together. Somewhere out there." DAmn, wrong movie.

  • May 21, 2007, 2:09 a.m. CST

    Yawn, Talking Rats...


    Heh - I love that THE SECRET OF NIMH led to you animating Moriarty and I in a Sixty-Nine with phasing in and out cloaked figures! Thus is its legacy!

  • May 21, 2007, 2:11 a.m. CST

    I bet all the good stuff is gone... I'll take Grease 2

    by Alonzo Mosely

    Seriously who gets 'The Thing'? 'Cause if someone in that TB manages to claim it is shit I may actually commit murder...

  • May 21, 2007, 2:26 a.m. CST

    I always hated the movie.

    by DerLanghaarige

    Even as kid I thought it was boring. Meanwhile I got some respect for it...but still think it's boring. :P

  • May 21, 2007, 2:35 a.m. CST

    Will there be retrospectives outside of '82 Mori?

    by IndustryKiller!

    Because there are certainly alot of films that deserve this treatment. I would hate to see a feature so wonderful go the way of the dinosaur after the 82 season is over. It's just not often enough that we get to sound off on our passion for film outside of a knock down drag out talkback around here and the intention of these is something we could use alot more of. Excellent job Cartuna, I think just about every one of these features has nailed my feelings for the films they commemorate brilliantly.

  • May 21, 2007, 2:55 a.m. CST

    speaking of canadian armpits

    by BadMrWonka

    Shania Twain is STILL smokin' hot!

  • May 21, 2007, 3:05 a.m. CST

    "Yawn, talking rats."????

    by lost.rules

    So, I guess Harry won't care to see Brad Bird's new movie. Christ, Harry. You're getting very annoying. Stop apologizing for Spiderman 3, and get back to your roots. Don't suck up,all the time,to Hollywood! Be Yourself, Dammnit! I have faith in you, brother. You can dislike something every once in awhile.

  • May 21, 2007, 3:07 a.m. CST

    And I don't say that to be insulting, I say it out of..

    by lost.rules

    RESPECT! I've been coming to your website for a very long time, Harry.

  • May 21, 2007, 3:11 a.m. CST

    Secret of NIMH...a very underrated film

    by sith-vol

    Great pick Mori, NIMH was an awesome film. Actually not my favorite Don Bluth film as that would have to be Titan A.E.

  • May 21, 2007, 3:24 a.m. CST

    yeah, i love them talking rats too:

    by newc0253

    my favourite Bluth film. and did you know Jimmy Stewarts last role was in All Dogs Go To Heaven?

  • May 21, 2007, 4:11 a.m. CST


    by NNNOOO!!!

    First time I heard a cartoon character swear. Great stuff.

  • May 21, 2007, 4:22 a.m. CST

    Give credit to the book, you fucking philistines

    by Hardboiled Wonderland

    Mrs Frisbee and the Rats of Nimh, by Robert C. O'Brien. It is NOT Don Bluth's creation, you fucking goat herders.

  • May 21, 2007, 4:39 a.m. CST


    by drew mcweeny

    ... you'll see that in the intro, I referred to it and even mentioned that it was a Newberry award winner.

  • May 21, 2007, 4:50 a.m. CST

    This thing really imprinted on my childhood

    by Killah_Mate

    I watched it as a kid, and I honestly couldn't tell you much specifics about the movie, but I clearly remember the effect it had on me: I was dumbfounded. It was unlike anything I've ever seen before. I didn't even know cartoons could be like that. And though I've never seen it again (a fault I intend to correct as soon as possible), it remains an unmistakable touchstone of my imagination.

  • May 21, 2007, 5:16 a.m. CST

    First time I'd seen cartoon animals commit murder

    by Doc_Strange

    That was some heavy shit for a kid to see. Though later I saw Watership Down. Now there's a talking animal cartoon that's definitely not for kids. Blood, dead rabbits, you name it. Fuck.

  • May 21, 2007, 5:29 a.m. CST

    Cartoon not as good as the book

    by theBigE

    My main reaction at the time (and I saw it in the theater!) was the cartoon wasn't as good as the book, which at 11 I'd already read. Maybe it was just different from the book, but that's how I remember it. I haven't watched it all the way through since, though my kids like the old VHS copy I picked up somewhere.

  • May 21, 2007, 5:30 a.m. CST

    Watership Down

    by classyfredblassy

    Any love for this film? Seems almost forgotten. I'd say even more underrated than NIHM. Crazy rabbits ripping the ears off of each other? Come'on people!

  • May 21, 2007, 5:57 a.m. CST


    by Nordling

    Cartuna should write animated reviews more often.

  • May 21, 2007, 6:12 a.m. CST

    Secret of Nimh

    by emeraldboy

    was made in ireland. In the studios of Sullivan Bluth.outside dublin. They made a number of films there untill the studio was dissolved in the late 1990. Bluths last animated film was Titan AE. He joined forces with Sullivan and that partnership made all dogs go to heaven, NIMH, American tale. He then joined joined forces with the berg. and under the amblin deal he made the land before time series, american tale two and all dogs go to heaven. Some of those were made between Ireland and the UK. His last irish film was the pebble and the penguin. But due to the fact that his animation studio was then financial turmoil. Production was then halted. So if you want blame anyone for the penguin craze blame don bluth.

  • May 21, 2007, 6:22 a.m. CST

    NIMH and watership

    by solitaire

    I recall a woman coming into a video store I managed to rent a cartoon for her five year old twins, and selected Watership. She was talking about how they were so sensitive, and they had just lost their pet rabbits to a stray dog, and how beautiful the animation looked...I had to find the nicest way possible to explain that while, yes the animation WAS beautiful and yes, it WAS a great film, both her kids would undoubtably crap a buick twenty minutes in and be scarred for life. That film is amazing, I think the general is cemented in my mind as a classic movie villian the was Justin of the guards from Nimh has always been one of my favorite heroes. The use of music, voice and action in the final fight between Justin and Jenner is still one of the most suspenseful moments in any film I have ever seen.

  • May 21, 2007, 6:28 a.m. CST

    And Then They Fucked It All Up With A Sequel.

    by Led Gopher

    Seriously, this movie was a favorite of mine back then. When I saw a sequel had been made a few years back, I was curious to say the least. Turns out, the shitty movie was a brighter and happier musical. Fucking Hollywood raped my childhood.

  • May 21, 2007, 6:41 a.m. CST


    by beelkay

    I remember going to see this film at a drive-in with my mom. She rarely took me to movies, and they were always animated ones. I don't think this film was what she would have been expecting. I actually remember the storybook better than the film, although the Great Owl definitely stuck with me. As an adult, I read the original book, and it was great.

  • May 21, 2007, 6:43 a.m. CST


    by dark antifyre

    ...introduced me to this a few months back, and as a return i introduces her to Watership Down. I will always prefer the rabbits, though.... Waterhsip Down is still shown very regularly over here (Ireland)...emerald boy, did'nt that studio in Dublin do some the old TMNT catoons too???

  • May 21, 2007, 6:44 a.m. CST

    Justin and Jenner are both badass

    by darthflagg

    The final fight between them rivals Anakin vs. Obi-Wan!

  • May 21, 2007, 7:23 a.m. CST

    Wrong about Jimmy Stewart...

    by crashcow

    His last role was in An American Tale: Fievel Goes West. He wasn't in All Dogs Go to Heaven. Unrelated: Does any one recall the first (and should be, the only) The Land Before Time?

  • May 21, 2007, 7:29 a.m. CST

    While not as good as the book...

    by Bones

    ...Jerry Goldsmith's score is one of his absolute best. When you stop and think that he was also doing Poltergeist (One of his other absolute finest scores)you forgive him for not having time to do Star Trek II--Which in turn, led to the opportunity for James Horner to step up with his first big soundtrack.<p> The animation is magic as well--it is a textbook example of the former Disney guys's story department breaking the story into pieces and then developing those sequences into very memorable sequences. The stalking of Mrs. Brisby and Jeremy by the cat, the Sentry Reel where Mrs B is driven away from NIMH, The story of the rats, the escape from the farmer's house--and the accident/swordfight. I remember seeing this movie on my ninth birthday, after reading the book, and being horrified at all the death and murder they put into the movie (Jenner is not even a living character in the book)and being outraged that they would put such violence in a story that hadn't had it before. <p> But a funny thing happened. As disturbed as I was, I wanted to see it again. And again.<p> The "Secret" of the movie is that "Movies is Magic" as Josephus from History of the World Part I would say. The combination of the Animation, the Music and the incredible Voice Talent make a film that stays with you, forever.<p> There were a lot of repeat movie viewings that summer: ET, Star Trek II, Secret of NIMH, TRON (and a local theatre that was still showing Raiders)--and hundreds of repeat viewings when it hit Cable the next year (Christmas of 1983 will always be associated with Secret of NIMH and Man From Snowy River on HBO). Secret of NIMH was a film that I debated with my teachers, who all loved the book, and it opened me to the world of criticism and discussion. The book may be better--most books are--but I love the movie more.<p> Jenner--"If I have learned anything it is this--Take what you can, when you can"<p> Justin--"Then you have learned...NOTHING"

  • May 21, 2007, 7:43 a.m. CST

    They may have used the studio

    by emeraldboy

    to make TMNT cartoons. but I have no idea.

  • May 21, 2007, 8:08 a.m. CST

    Excellent article, Cartuna...

    by Moonwatcher

    This was MILES ahead of anything Disney was doing at the time, live-action or animated (The Black Hole, anyone?). It was the first non-musical animated film I ever saw, and I kept waiting for the next one to come around (Princess Monoke). Come on guys, there's an adult audience just salivating at the chance to see what this medium can do with an adult setting. Where's the vision?

  • May 21, 2007, 8:30 a.m. CST

    I loved this movie too. LOVED it.

    by Nice Marmot

    It's now a bit dated and I could barely stomach the other Bluth stuff, but I watched NIMH every chance I got. I also love reading all the love for Watership Down. I grew up on the book and the film. I'm wondering if anybody ever saw another dark, kind of adult, animated film called "The Mouse and His Child (Son?)" It was about two toy mice that could talk. My sister and I used to watch it all the time in the early to mid 80s and get kind of creeped out by it. I've never brought it up to anyone that has ever heard of it.

  • May 21, 2007, 8:37 a.m. CST

    Still waiting for

    by Diagnostic

    the Megaforce review....

  • May 21, 2007, 9:13 a.m. CST

    Now, I'm going to rent this again - has been years

    by Mister Man

    82 WAS a great year. Thanks for the reminders.

  • May 21, 2007, 9:15 a.m. CST

    ?? widescreen DVD

    by aujahlisa

    I, too, ADORE the Secret of NIMH. Does anyone know if there will ever be a widescreen DVD released? (Until my VCR dies the noble death,) I really don't see the point of purchasing a DVD that isn't really an upgrade from the VHS version. quick note on the book sequels - both were written by the daughter, the first in '86. Looks like she was trying to cash in. Book 3 was a lot better than 2, but neither hold a candle to her father's work.

  • May 21, 2007, 9:29 a.m. CST


    by Hardboiled Wonderland

    I wasn't refering to you, Mori, but I apologise anyway. I'm refering to the regular talkbackers, who are surprising me today with posts about Watership Down. AICN talkbacks just gained a little respect back.

  • May 21, 2007, 9:30 a.m. CST


    by Hardboiled Wonderland

    I wasn't refering to you, Mori, but I apologise anyway. I'm refering to the regular talkbackers, who are surprising me today with posts about Watership Down. AICN talkbacks just gained a little respect back.

  • May 21, 2007, 9:31 a.m. CST

    This movie managed to be only slightly less

    by Raymar

    traumatizing than the Dark Crystal when I was younger. Brrr!

  • May 21, 2007, 10:13 a.m. CST

    One of the better writers at AICN is the animator?

    by partyflavor

    Seriously Cartuna, great writing. It was also a real trip down memory lane. My only real criticism with what you wrote is that the business men, agents, and lawyers shouldn't be messed up with creative. I will agree that sometimes that is the case, but it is completely unfair to label someone as un-creative just because they have one of those titles. There are a lot of those people with those kind of titles who are just taking a different approach at exercising creativity. For whatever reason, they may feel they have a better chance of influencing the world for the better if they are of the people that shape the creative side of show business through the business side.

  • May 21, 2007, 10:25 a.m. CST

    NIMH sequel and other thoughts

    by tylermo

    I remember seeing the re-issued dvd of the original NIMH on the shelves(thankfully I bought the first release which had a better looking cover) and also seeing a NIMH sequel on dvd??? Never even bothered watching that one. There's no way it could live up to the original. I learned the hard way when I bought the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sequel(they offered a bonus soundtrack cd for the original) Uuggh. Total piece of trash. ANd, I'm not just talking about the cgi. Everything was wrong, but what do you expect. They might as well do a sequel to Wizard of Oz. Yeah right. As for 1982, it was a great year for films. Some I saw at the theater, some on HBO and early cable runs. Love many of the afore-mentioned films, including WRATH OF KHAAAAAAAN!

  • May 21, 2007, 10:28 a.m. CST

    CARTUNA should have reviewed Spiderman 3

    by mrsinister7381

    Not the corporate taint licking, jizz gurgling, redheaded fatass. SECRET OF NIMH was amazing as a child. Cartuna hits the nail on the head : Kids can handles simple and complex. I think it's parents who can't. That's why the idiot flock will continue to take their spawn to see WALDEN MEDIA shit.

  • May 21, 2007, 10:33 a.m. CST

    NIMH is 3/4 of a perfect film.

    by TimBenzedrine

    Unfortunatly it was the closest he ever got. The Magic Amulet (which was not in the book)is what ruined this film for me. Sure, it made for some specatular effects animation at the end, but it was completely out of place for the story that was being told. Around the same time he introduced the game DRAGON'S LAIR and SPACE ACE and I wish he had continued along these lines in his feature films. A SPACE ACE style sci-fi feature would have been so much better than TITAN AE. Dragon's Lair seemed to be crying out to be made into a feature, but instead of doing something along these lines, he teamed up with Steven Speilberg,(which I'm sure seemed like a good idea at the time) who took him down the road of cute widdle baby talking fuzzy wuzzy mice and dinosaurs. Everything that happened after that was a total letdown.

  • May 21, 2007, 11:03 a.m. CST

    Re: Widescreen DVD

    by Osmosis Jones

    It's coming out on June 19th (two days befofe my birthday, Yippee!), a 2-disc set with both the original (correct) 1:33 ratio and a newly-created 1:85 widescreen version. It'll also have Don Bluth/Gary Goldman and a featurette. As for Cartuna's article, a beautiful review for a beautiful movie. And yeah, the "magic" elements of the film aren't adequately explained, but I kind of like that it isn't. It's one of the reasons why I'm so fascinated by the film, that it's so dense with character and story that it can introduce a magical amulet into the book's narrative, not explain it in the slightest, yet still hold me spellbound. Plus, NIMH has that AWESOMELY violent swordfight climax, Jerry Goldsmith's gorgeous musical score, comic relief that was actually funny...we desperately need more films like this, especially with the current glut of "Farting CGI Animal" movies clogging multiplexes. I only wish that NIMH would get a theatrical reissue someday...

  • May 21, 2007, 11:33 a.m. CST

    Great writing, Cartuna!

    by CoolFrood

    Cartuna's reflection is a wonderful read. We should all think back on a major defining moment in our childhood and put it to paper. The fact that NIHM happens to also be an excellent animated movie only makes his story even better. Thanks, Cartuna, for sharing!

  • May 21, 2007, 11:43 a.m. CST

    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

    by Dr.Sonus

    Was an amazing book. Loved the movie. Would love to see a sequel, but afraid Michael Bay will direct, and the rats will be CGI abominations, with monstrous explosions punctuating their jerky one-liners...Yeesh, that IS scary.

  • May 21, 2007, 11:46 a.m. CST

    I got dibs on FIREFOX

    by durhay

    Yep, the only movie I saw in 1982 was Firefox, because my movie going experiences were also based on the whims of my parents. I don't know how I got my dad to take me to Empire though. Anyway, he wanted to see Firefox, and I guess I begged to go with. Not a movie for nine year olds. Clint has 'Nam POW flashbacks, a guy commits suicide to avoid being captured by the commies. The only part I liked was when the sub crew waved at the Mig flying over.

  • May 21, 2007, 11:50 a.m. CST

    I've always admired N.I.M.H.

    by theonecalledshoe

    For me, that's how animation should be done. I just hope that I'd get a good shot at doing a couple animated pieces like the forementioned NIMH.

  • May 21, 2007, noon CST

    Huh?!? Can't hear you over the soundtrack!

    by droxford

    Ugh. I got Nimh on DVD and watched it with my daughter. The audio was complete shit. We couldn't hear any of the dialog over the soundtrack. I hope they fix this in this summer's release.

  • May 21, 2007, 12:19 p.m. CST

    Cable TV kicked so much ass in those days.

    by fish tacos

    I was so lucky that my parents had HBO and Showtime. I watched NIMH, Flash Gordon and Khan probably every time they played them.<br> <br>What a great time that was to grow up... it's a shame that there's aren't intelligent, quality animated films like NIMH being made for kids today.

  • May 21, 2007, 12:51 p.m. CST


    by Bouncy X

    i'm not a huge animation fan, there's only a handful of animated movies i love dearly and this is one of it was cool seeing it mentioned and he descried his love for it better than i ever could. it didnt change my life or anything like it seems with him but i loved it and still love it to this day and i'm glad its finally gotten a proper special edition. and hey, First Choice? god..that brings back this day when i see ads for first choice hair cutters, or even the actual salons, i always think of that channel....didnt realize AICN had a canadian in its team, that's cool.

  • May 21, 2007, 1:15 p.m. CST


    by Darth Scourge

    Yeah, I remember this movie. I even had the book as a kid, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H.... I haven't seen this movie since it was first out.

  • May 21, 2007, 1:15 p.m. CST


    by Pound Sand

  • May 21, 2007, 1:23 p.m. CST

    summer 1982

    by ufoclub1977

    I saw "ET" and "Poltergeist" five times each in the theatre, alternating them over the course of middle school vacation.... listened to the soundtracks on vinyl... also made my first stop motion movie... whew, wasn't Star Trek II a bit earier the same year? Incredible time... and then Creepshow later...

  • May 21, 2007, 1:52 p.m. CST

    The Plague Dogs eats N.I.M.H. for breakfast.

    by tonagan

    Seriously, if you're a dog-lover, you'll be a wreck by the end of that movie, even as an adult. Plus, it's got Patrick Stewart doing a bit of voice work, for all you trekkers out there.

  • May 21, 2007, 2:12 p.m. CST

    Incredible book, too bad the movie didn't live up to it

    by minderbinder

    The movie was OK, but didnt' stick close enough to the original, too much monkeying around with things like magic. The original was more scifi, and "real" if such a thing is possible with talking rats. This article makes me curious about the movie, but really makes me want to read the book way more.

  • May 21, 2007, 2:42 p.m. CST

    1971 Animation Rebuttal...

    by idahomer

    Since 1971 was the best film year ever, here you go.<p> A Christmas Carol. Won an Oscar. Done by Richard Williams (Animation Director for Roger Rabbit.)<p> The Point. Music by Harry Nilsson. Directed by Oscar winner Fred Wolf.

  • May 21, 2007, 3:52 p.m. CST

    Mrs. Brisby was the best thing about NIMH

    by deathbird

    I can't sympathize with a spoiled, precocious bitch like Ariel, who basically wants to marry rich and get laid; but a young widow who's set on saving her children definitely has my support.

  • May 21, 2007, 4:12 p.m. CST

    Harry, I always thought you

    by beerbeastredux

    Harry, I always thought you were a fat, talentless turd. Now, with your backhanded NIMH comment, you've proven it. You have no grasp of a quality film. Why doncha go tongue Michael Bay up the ass. I hope Mrs. Brisby fries your meat puppet head with her amulet.

  • May 21, 2007, 4:27 p.m. CST

    Man, this film scared the CRAP out of me as a kid.

    by brokentusk

    Must have watched it a dozen times, though. I can't remember it clearly, I just have flashes of certain characters in my mind. I think it's time I saw it again.

  • May 21, 2007, 4:33 p.m. CST

    The only time a movie has been better than the book.

    by OnusBone

    The book was horrible. I felt the entire idea of the tinkers wagon, and the abandoned mansion were not the best ideas ever. Their deletion more than made up for the amulet/McGuffin. But I saw the movie prior to reading the book, so take that into consideration... I also have to agree that this movie scared the crap out of me as well. When Mrs. Frisby first enters the rosebush, and is chased...yeesh. Not to mention the owl.

  • May 21, 2007, 4:44 p.m. CST


    by drew mcweeny

    Harry was kidding! It's called sarcasm. Maybe we need a special font for it just so no one gets called a "turd" over a joke.

  • May 21, 2007, 4:55 p.m. CST

    the film of NIMH is too simplistic...

    by beamish13

    It has this "magic=good/science=bad" attitude that was completely absent from the book. I do love the scene where Brisby escapes from the farmer's house, and the animation is gorgeous, but I was so disappointed with how Bluth handled the material.

  • May 21, 2007, 5:08 p.m. CST

    magic/science as false dichotomy

    by OnusBone

    sorry beam, I don't see that. The rats are portrayed as thirsty for tech, and rather succesfully utilize, to no discernable detriment. The rats also see the value in the amulet itself. One could argue that the destruction of the scaffolding in the final scene is meant to depict the failure of technology where faith then prevails, but given that it is quite apparently destroyed by Jenner, I would say that this underlying theme is absent. Other than in the hands of the NIMH scientists, the end result of which is the creation of something undeniably beneficial (the rats, Mr. Frisby, and the Frisby children by proxy), where is technology portrayed as "bad"? Albeit, magic saves the day, but so does the medicine.

  • May 21, 2007, 5:13 p.m. CST

    "The book was horrible"

    by minderbinder

    I beg to differ. As well as all the other kids that loved it. And the people that decided to give it the newberry award. I guess it's just not your cup of tea. But "horrible"? Pshaw.

  • May 21, 2007, 6:19 p.m. CST

    I absolutely love this movie.

    by Novaman5000

    One of my favorite animated movies of all time, I think. It's not perfect, but I'm ok with it.<p> Oh, and that fucking owl always scared the shit out of me... Same goes for Nicodemus... I know he was good but goddamn if he wasn't a bit nightmarish.

  • May 21, 2007, 6:36 p.m. CST

    Droxford, you weren't imagining it

    by Frietag

    The DVD release of SECRET OF NIMH is notoriously bad. The sound sucked, and the picture quality was worse than the VHS version (yeesh). Hopefully that'll get fixed in this new release. Incidentally, WATERSHIP DOWN and PLAGUE DOGS both rule. I wish they'd release the latter on DVD.

  • May 21, 2007, 6:44 p.m. CST

    NiceMarmot, I saw MOUSE AND HIS CHILD too

    by Frietag

    That is one seriously fucked up film. I saw it in a drive-in theater when I was young, and if I hadn't read the book first I don't even want to think about what it would have done to my pliable brain. I mean, NIMH and WATERSHIP we think of as very unusual for kid's films. But THE MOUSE AND HIS CHILD is just psychotic. And not in the loosey-goosey YELLOW SUBMARINE way. MOUSE has some of the most wacked-out shit I've ever seen in a kid's movie. It should have been called A CHILD'S GARDEN OF DADA. Incidentally, if you've never read the book it was based on (by Russell Hoban), do so immediately. It's much better than the movie. The filmmakers couldn't include lots of stuff -- the shrew battles, I mean massacres! The whores! Etc. -- and watered down most of the rest. (Although they did Manny Rat surprisingly well.)

  • May 21, 2007, 7:09 p.m. CST

    Can I taste your bitter tears?

    by enrique_o_k2000

    Another film elitist who laments that movies are made so that most people can enjoy them. And it's kind of reaching to say that Roger Rabbit and Little Mermaid were done in response to NIMH. Never saw "Secret," but I read the book and enjoyed it quite a bit.

  • May 21, 2007, 9:58 p.m. CST

    Dug it

    by Chifoilisk

    Years later, when we finally got a VCR, the Rats of NIMH, The Princess Bride, and Indiana Jones and the last Crusade were the movies that were taped off TV and watched over and over and over again. And treeplanting buddies called Kapuskasing the armpit of Ontario - but I imagine your from a different armpit...

  • May 21, 2007, 10:28 p.m. CST

    re: Frietag

    by beamish13

    The director's cut of "Plague Dogs" can be found here: it might be sold out at the moment, though. Oh, and I hope you have a region-free DVD player that can take PAL discs

  • May 21, 2007, 10:31 p.m. CST

    re: "The Mouse and His Child"

    by beamish13

    ah, yes. Based on the Russell Hoban book one critic dubbed "Beckett for children". Fascinating movie. Wish it was out on DVD somewhere. It was co-directed by Charles Swenson, who was partially responsible for the 1983 classic "Twice Upon a Time" (damnit, Warner Bros., RELEASE IT ALREADY!)

  • May 21, 2007, 11:58 p.m. CST

    You can also see the uncut Plague Dogs on YouTube

    by Osmosis Jones

    Although I'd love to have a nice DVD release...

  • May 22, 2007, 12:23 a.m. CST

    Kids need this stuff.

    by rickets419

    Adults always under estimate the amount of "grown up" problems children can actually handle. As an avid reader as a child (and still as an adult) certain books and movies always stood out as ones that just gave you the facts and let you know that the world is a terrible place and struggle is a common occurance. N.I.M.H., Where the Red Fern Grows, The Bridge to Terabithia, Number the Stars, and Hatchet are all great books that show kids that they can achieve and overcome anything that want to. As long as they ask for help when needed and stop at nothing to accomplish their goals. These qualities in movies and books have given me the strength to pursue anything and everything in my adult life. SO there!

  • May 22, 2007, 7:09 a.m. CST


    by Harry Weinstein

    Bluth never even came close to this level of greatness again, but man, did he ever smack this one out of the park. Import the uncut PLAGUE DOGS on DVD from Australia.

  • May 22, 2007, 7:26 a.m. CST

    Fantastic Film, Excellent Animation, Great storytelling

    by Daniel De Leon

    What a great film! I saw this & 'The Land Before Time when I was very young (5-6?). I was born in Sept. '82 so... But yeah, they really broke it to kids hard & like it was. "Life's tough, get ready for it! BUT you can make it through w/the right help and love in your life." I was moved, touched, and inspired, by these films as a child and I just bought the DVD version of N.I.M.H last month as I was just taking a trip down memory lane recently and came to find out that the net has recently lit up with talk of NIMH lately due to the new special anniversary edition coming out in June this year (next month)! How cool. Now here's a question/thought I've had for a little while now: What if Bluth gave the rights to some CGI house to redo NIMH in state-of-the-art, photo-realistic CG Animation -BUT!- kept the exact audio track(s) [voice acting] from the original (maybe re-record the score also BUT note-for-note, for better clarity)?? How cool would THAT be?! Anyone else ever thought of that? Or am I the only one? I'd def. pay to see it!! I mean, damn!! Imagine it, nearly frame for frame the same, with as tight and fluid and close to the exact movements portrayed in the original but just redone w/in brilliant CGI of today?! WOW... that's my 2cents! :) Daniel

  • May 22, 2007, 4:48 p.m. CST

    read the book

    by misnomer

    as a kid and enjoed it. never saw the cartoon. Waterships a classic...still held in high regard in the UK.

  • May 24, 2007, 9:59 a.m. CST

    Daniel, that would be horrible

    by TimBenzedrine

    The artwork to NIMH is beautiful as is---Jeremy the crow in 1982 was one of the best pieces of character animation to come along in almost 20 years. CG would add nothing to this film, in fact it would totally obliterate all the hard work and artistry that went into the character designs and background art. Why would you throw all that away in exchange for a lot of synthetic textures? Would Bugs Bunny be funnier if he were covered with a thick coat of pixels like those taxidermied Over the Hedge characters? Plus, the whole reason Don broke from Disney in the first place is that he wanted to do a truly state of the art cartoon, not cost-cutting stuff like Robin Hood and The Rescuers. NIMH has multiplane shots, transparent contact shadows, lush background art with lots of effects animation, even some rotoscoping thrown into the mix. NIMH represents everything that animation was capable of doing in 1982, and they did it damned well. Although some may disagree, YES IT DID give Disney a swift kick in the ass, promting them to make riskier films(costwise, not contentwise) like Little Mermaid and Roger Rabbit possible,although the one that really had them worried in the mid eightes was the more successful(but less impressive, just more overproduced and better marketed) American Tail.

  • May 24, 2007, 1:40 p.m. CST

    Diagnostic. MEGAFORCE!!!

    by Stuntcock Mike

    Wow, I'd blocked that one out. Barry Bostwick's finest hour.

  • May 28, 2007, 3:37 p.m. CST

    yeah, this flick just kicks fucking ass

    by thekylegassproject

    i'm so glad someone took the time to remember. and btw, this is an exceptionally awesome smoking movie if that's you're thing.

  • May 29, 2007, 1:19 p.m. CST

    A classic film that ushered in a change

    by council estate scumbag

    ..and forced Disney's hand to stop churning out rubbish like "The fox and the hound". Bluth, dispite dat geeza's shortcomings, did a great job on this one and its the only film i'm satisfied with of his. i remember this when i was a kid too and i loved it then and i like it now. It harked back to the golden age of the 30's and 40's with its soft pallete, unlike the disgusting look of fox and hound and to a lesser extent the rescuers. this is Bluth's one shining glory, even though he then became a nonce who i dispise.

  • May 30, 2007, 10:49 p.m. CST

    Hey, don't diss The Fox And The Hound

    by Osmosis Jones


  • May 31, 2007, 11:07 a.m. CST

    Nimh & Watership Down

    by Maui

    Wow, I still have this movie in VHS, with a torn jacket. A classic. It sits on my VHS tape shelf right next to Watership Down, which in my opinion is an equally impressive animated movie.

  • June 3, 2007, 8:05 a.m. CST

    Sorry, Osmosis Jones

    by council estate scumbag

    Sorry, fella, but that film stinks like my mama's ass after she's shat herself sfter an undercooked vindaloo. Look at both 'Nimh' and 'Fox & Hound' and tell me which one is better, son. recognize.