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Secret of NIMH, The

Entry updated 25 July 2022. Tagged: Film.

US animated film (1982). United Artists, Aurora Productions, Don Bluth Productions. Based on the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971) by Robert C O'Brien. Directed by Don Bluth. Written by Don Bluth, Will Finn, Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Voice cast includes Hermione Baddeley, John Carradine, Dom DeLuise, Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Arthur Malet and Paul Shenar. 82 minutes. Colour.

In a society of anthropomorphized mice, one of the children of Mrs Brisby (Hartman) is diagnosed with pneumonia by Mr Ages (Malet), a Scientist: he provides medicine but says the child cannot be moved. This is a problem, as the local farmer is about to plough the field where the mice live. On the advice of the Great Owl (Carradine), she visits Nickodemus (Jacobi), aged leader of a nearby rat community. Nickodemus says the rats will help, as they are indebted to her late husband, Jonathan. When she asks why, he points to a Time Viewer and narrates what is shown:

Wild rats were captured and taken to the NIMH laboratory where they and other animals were tortured "to satisfy some scientific curiosity". Twenty rats and eleven mice were given an injection which increased their intelligence (see Uplift) and slowed the ageing process. The former seems to have been an unforeseen side-effect, as the scientists took no precautions to deal with smarter rodents, who now escaped through the ventilation system: Jonathan opening a grill whose wire mesh was too fine for the rats to pass through (of the mice, only Jonathan and Mr Ages survived). Nickodemus now gives Mrs Brisby a gift, a pendant whose stone glows if worn by one of a courageous heart.

Nickodemus wants to move the rats away from the farm, so as to be truly independent of humanity. A rival, Jenner (Shenar), wants to stay and arranges an "accident" that kills Nickodemus during the process of moving Mrs Brisby's home; he does not profit from this, being killed shortly after. Mrs Brisby's house (a cinder-block) sinks into the mud with her children inside, but is lifted from the quagmire by the power of the stone (see Magic). All ends happily.

The characters who are not from NIMH – Mrs Brisby, the Great Owl, Auntie Shrew (Baddeley) and the film's unfunny comic relief, Jeremy (DeLuise) the crow – are the traditional fantasy "talking animals with human intelligence" trope [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. This blurs the distinction between them and the uplifted NIMH rodents, making the difference seem more one of education rather than intelligence. The rats (and Mr Ages) do use Technology, but only the time viewer, if based on science and not magic, is substantially advanced. The intrusion of the pendant is jarring (and not in the novel), existing to meet the perceived need for magic in a children's animated film and to provide a dramatic ending focused on Mrs Brisby. Many of the characters – Jenner in particular – are very one dimensional. Nonetheless, the animation is very good – recalling the heyday of Disney – with many visually exciting and pleasing moments; and, given the era it was made, it is good to have a female lead.

NIMH refers to the US National Institute of Mental Health, which had undertaken research on rodent populations. The Secret of NIMH won the 1982 Saturn Award for Best Animated Film. A sequel, The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue (1998), was an OVA (aka straight-to-video) release. [SP]


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