by many to be the finest, if not one of the finest animated films
made outside of the Disney banner, Don Bluth's The Secret
Of NIMH (1982) was a welcome return to the classical
style of animation when American cinema needed it most. Though
powerhouse successes such as The Little Mermaid and The
Lion King saw the mouse house reign triumphant in the craft
of 2-D animation from the late 1980s through the 1990s, there
was a near two-decade-long "dry spell" following Walt
Disney's death in 1966 when the studio placed a greater priority
on developing live-action films, and made extensive budgetary
cutbacks to its animation departments.
Bluth and a dozen other animators grew so disenchanted that
they left Disney in the late 70's to embark on their own projects. NIMH was Bluth's first and most satisfying film.
a domestic gross of only $14 million, its initial theatrical
release was a heartbreaking commercial disappointment. Dwarfed
by the now legendary movie marketplace of the summer of '82
(with E.T., Star Trek II, Poltergeist, Blade Runner, Rocky III and Conan The Barbarian among them), NIMH also had the misfortune of a poor marketing campaign
thanks to misguided studio politics.
suffering insurmountable losses from its Heaven's Gate debacle, United Artists had fathered NIMH before MGM
bought out the company -- they, in turn, acquired control. Having
little interest in an animated film of its own, and wanting
to place greater emphasis on its "tentpole" release
(Poltergiest), MGM dropped the ball, giving NIMH release little, if any, fanfare.
Yet The Secret of NIMH has endured over the years, thanks
largely to positive word of mouth from television screenings
and home video and DVD sales. (The latter even bringing in more
than the film's box office.) Ask anyone who was a child during
the eighties, and they've likely seen and loved the film.
their part, critics received the film warmly, with most reviews
ranging from positive to superlative (Newsweek, Rex Reed). But
in a year already stuffed with so many memorable films -- a
happy problem to have, I guess -- NIMH was unfairly,
tragically cast aside.
but how time has a way of shaping things...and with each passing
year, critics and audiences have looked back on NIMH with more and more reverance, better appreciating the film's
darker, more mature sensibilities. Not to mention it's stunning
it is with the advent of the internet that the movie's popularity
has reached its widest audience; literally scores of NIMH-related
fan pages exist -- featuring love shrines dedicated to the movie's
characters, extensive fan art and original writings, games,
and even an internet webring. They have propelled it to the
status of modern classic.
on Robert C. O'Brien's Newberry Award-winning novel, "Mrs.
Frisby And The Rats Of NIMH," the movie combines a
dark yet awe-inspiring view of nature while adding fantasy elements.
It's a rather liberal view of the book, but faithful in its
spirit -- evoking the same feelings as Richard Adams' "Watership
Down." (Itself made into an under-appreciated animated
film a few years prior.)
images deliberately used the old fashioned style of animation,
utilizing extremely detailed paintings with deep, vivid, dreamlike
colors and rich blacks.
voiced by a fine cast (including horror film legend John Carradine,
comedian Dom DeLuise, Shakespearian actor Derek Jacobi, and
Oscar-nominee Elizabeth Hartman), NIMH still holds up against
today's CGI-aided features. It still feels fresh, as it
avoids many of Disney's usual traits; NIMH's NOT a musical,
and presents some rather intense scenes for a G-rated film.
Like The Wizard Of Oz or The Black Stallion, it
is one of the few family films that adults may enjoy every bit
as much if not more than younger audiences. Jerry Goldsmith's
score (his first for an animated film) remains one of his best.
lifelong fan of Don Bluth's work, I wrote to Mr. Bluth shortly
before the release of ANASTASIA in the fall of 1997. Not asking
for a reply, I simply wanted to pay tribute to his achievements
and thank him for their inspiration. Much to my surprise and
delight, less than two weeks later a letter from Mr. Bluth arrived
on my doorstep, along with a signed sketch of Mrs. Brisby.
clear to me that Mr. Bluth does not only love animation,
but feels a geniune sense of gratitude and appreciation toward
all those who enjoy his work. No where is this more evident
than his website, DonBluth.com,
where he and his team provide internet users a first-hand showcase
of their films, their art...and their love of the drawn image.
the last few years I've posted several questions to their chatroom,
to which they replied with many insightful answers.
"they" isn't an accurate word to use. Let me give
credit where credit is due (now that I finally know); it's none
other than animating director Gary Goldman (pictured at left)
who personally responded to my every question, one after the
other, in all our online exchanges over the years. For his courtesy
and kindness, my hat's off to him.