Many animated movies come and go but very few have the staying power to be called classics. No, I'm not talking about Disney films (which seem to be called "Disney's Classic" before the movie has a chance to become a classic these days), but non-animated films that tend to show people that animation is truly different from live-action. "Spirited Away" was a movie that showed there are some stories no Hollywood budget could properly produce. "American Pop" showed everyone that sophisticated adult stories could work in the form of animation. Then we have "The Secret of NIMH," the revolutionary animated movie about a mother mouse attempting to save her family. In this movie though her family is not in danger of a evil rat who's looking to marry the widowed mother, but of Pneumonia, which one of her sons has.
This normally wouldn't be any more of a concern then it needs to be, but the harvest has come early, threatening to destroy the Brisby house when the farmer starts his tracker. With the risk of a chilled wind taking the life of her son, Mrs. Brisby seeks out help from a gang of rats who escaped from the secret society of NIMH, a place that captured them and tortured them through "unspeakable tortures." This is where I end my summery, as I'm afraid of ruining the masterpiece that is "The Secret of NIMH." There are many attempts made to make animation more then what currently is. I remember how "The Lord of the Rings" was put into production to create an animated movie that could truly bring to life the fantasy world Tolken created, yet the movie came off as slow and tedious.
With "The Secret of NIMH" Don Bluth, along with several former Disney animators, created a film that is both stunning and emotional at the same time. For a movie about a bunch of rats, it's amazing how complicated it can be. Bluth holds on to key elements of the story, letting the mystery unfold over the course of the film, leaving the audience to savor the unraveling mystery and power of a well crafted screenplay. Characters who appear to be two-dimensional later on prove to be complicated characters, and indeed, you may be shocked to discover some situations are very different then what you originally predicted they would be. Though the movie was largely animated out of Bluth's garage, the movies animation is stunning to watch.
There are several key scenes that are beautiful to look at, and show much skill behind the craft of animation. A couple of the scenes even look like you could frame and pass off as a classic painting. It's a movie that has aged remarkably well over time, and when kids watch it today they get their first taste of how animation can be new, bold, exciting, and different. It's a movie that not only inspires to be better then most animated films, but most movies period. The only real celebrity in the movie is that of Oscar winning composer Jerry Goldsmith, who provides one of the classic movie scores of our time, and gives the movie a depth that would be lacking would it not be for the score. Most animated scores are a set-up for a musical number. The score in "The Secret of NIMH" sounds like one that would sound at home in a movie like "Saving Private Ryan" or "The English Patient."
That said, there are bits about the movie that don't work. First of all for all the praises I sing about the animation, since it WAS animated in a garage it's of a 1.33:1 aspect ratio as opposed to a widescreen ratio, which means the movie doesn't as much of a cinematic scope as I'd like it to have. Also a bumbling crow named Jeremy (and voiced by Dom DeLuise) is one of those annoying sidekicks that exist mainly to provide comic relief and to get in the way. Granted, Jeremy's presence isn't fatal, just annoying. There's still far more good in this movie then there is bad, and truth be told, these shortfalls have only become noticed by me as a result of seeing the film so many times. But despite the number of times I see it, "The Secret of NIMH" is a movie that still aims higher then most movies I've seen.
Rating: **** stars
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Kevin T. Rodriguez (KevinTRod)
Kevin T. Rodriguez is an aspiring film journalist. He's more comfortable typing a review then doing an on-camera appearance, but he loves doing the occasional rant. Whether it be on movies, eBay, or comics, … more
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In his book, Robert C. O'Brien called his brave widow mouse "Mrs. Frisby," but Disney escapee animator Don Bluth must have thought kids would laugh the wrong way at that. They renamed her "Mrs. Brisby" forNIMH. That acronym stands for the National Institute of Mental Health, and the rats that live near Mrs. Brisby came from NIMH--they have strange ways. But they're the only ones who can save her house and her children, so Brisby seeks them out with the help of a humorous crow (Dom DeLuise). The magic gets laid on a little thick but this is Don Bluth's most successful attempt to achieve a complete, sincere, animated film. It's often forgotten, but it's a true surprise and a rare treat in the vast wasteland of insubstantial children's fare.--Keith Simanton