The Secret of NIMH – Join the rat race, lift cinder blocks with your mind!

This week’s review is an old favorite of mine. It’s one of two non-Disney animated films that defined the decade for me. The Secret of NIMH was made during the Renaissance of animation way back in the 80’s, and in fact many say it kick-started that era. Re-watching it today, it’s easy to see why. This is one of, if not the best, film Don Bluth ever directed and produced, and well worth a viewing even today.

Released in 1982 as Don Bluth’s directorial debut, The Secret of NIMH centers around Mrs. Brisby, a widowed mouse living with her family in a cinder block on a farm. Spring is coming, which means the farmer will soon begin cutting the grass and tilling the land, and so Mrs. Brisby must move her family. Complicating matters is her son Jeremy, who is suffering from pneumonia. So Mrs. Brisby must find a way to cure her son, keep her family safe from predators and move them before the farmer destroys their home. Just a day in the life of a field mouse, right?

The story and world are more reminiscent of a swords and sorcery fantasy epic than your average animated film, yet at the same time it can be very grounded in reality. Mrs. Brisby, our heroine in question, is very much a field mouse: skittish and scared for her life, but so concerned about the lives of her children, that she braves the dark and frightening world and its inhabitants regardless. In that way, she becomes a much more admirable and relatable protagonist than those in other children’s films. Many protagonists in said films tend to be wide-eyed and innocent, always gung-ho for adventure and saving their family/home/country/pet. Mrs. Brisby, on the other hand, is terrified of everything, and for good reason. She’s the low point on the food web, and she knows it. But she presses on anyway, facing dangers that can very easily kill and eat her.

What really stood out about this movie back in the day was how very un-Disney it was. There were no musical sequences, the characters were mature in both age and personality, and it presented themes such as illness, death and murder. Though it does have a swords and sorcery vibe, it is no sanitized fairy tale, yet still accessible and engaging.

Conversely, this also means it’s not a movie for very small children. Though it has a G-rating, it’s very much a PG movie. There is visible blood, on-screen deaths, and some rather nightmarish scenes that may scare smaller children. In fact, as the story goes, Don Bluth intentionally tried to get a PG rating in order to appeal to a wider audience, yet despite the aforementioned mature elements of the movie, it still ended up rated G. Granted, this was back in the day before the cartoons and anime of the 90’s proved it was okay to consider something animated as “mature.”

All in all, The Secret of NIMH is absolutely worth your time. If your only experience with animated movies is Disney’s classics, this will be a breath of fresh air. If you’ve never seen an animated movie (and I find that hard to believe nowadays) this is a good entry point. It’s mature enough for an adult to enjoy, but still carries with it interesting characters, excellent animation and a memorable heroine.

And that’s it for this week’s selection. As always, if you have any suggestions for future reviews, leave them in the comments below.


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