Excerpts from an online chat
with Don Bluth Studios

by Adam McDaniel

Movie stills © MGM/UA
Photo of Don Bluth from
Text © Adam McDaniel 2003 & 2008


AM: I recently watched "NIMH" again, for the countless time, but had the pleasure of viewing it with a good friend who had never seen the movie before. Needless to say, he was enchanted by the movie and astounded by the animation. Out of curiousity, we then popped in tapes of both THE RESCUERS and THE LITTLE MERMAID -- Disney films made before and after NIMH, respectively -- to compare the qualities in animation, and frankly there was no comparison. NIMH still holds up, while even MERMAID's acclaimed animation seemed a bit "rubbery" in character movements, and less striking in its dramatic color palettes.

DBS: Thank you for the compliments.

AM: I was curious about how you went about adapting Robert C. O'Brien's book into the final script, as the movie is quite different from the original source.

DBS: His (O'Brien's) book was actually two stories: the Rats' journey and Mrs. Brisby's journey. While debating our way through several story meetings, we concluded that we should concentrate on the widow's story and her efforts to save her sick son, Timmy, from the farmer's plow. And actually, we really liked the Rats's story just as much. We just felt that the drama of the mom trying to protect her invalid son was more powerful. We did our best to include the power struggle going on, within the Rats' society. Nicodemus is a spiritual leader of the rats and the Great Owl is his counter-part in the forest, both wise and powerful characters. We show their relationship with their glowing eyes, suggesting that they may be the same entity, almost God-like characters.

AM: I wondered about the element of magic that you introduced in the storyline; it's obvious Nicodemus possessed some magical, "wizardry" qualities (his being able to levitate his cane and diary, the illuminated writing, and the hologram), but the addition of the amulet, and how it's used it the end by Mrs. Brisby, were significant departures from the rather ambiguous, downbeat finale of the book. I was curious to learn how the concept of the amulet was introduced... It's a mysterious thing that is never really explained, and hoped you could shed some light on it. My friend and I really talked a lot about the subject!!! We know the amulet once belonged to Jonathan, and that he had entrusted it to Nicodemus' safekeeping until it could be passed on to his widow...but where did it come from? How did Jonathan acquire it? How did it get its magical abilities? (I like to think that Jonathan's spirit and the amulet were somehow connected, and it's power was Jonathan's gift to his wife from beyond the grave... Just food for thought.)

DBS: Wow! Glad that the film inspired your curiousity.

With regard to the amulet, it is a metaphor for believing in one's self. Remember the quote, "Courage of the heart is very rare, the stone has a power when it's there." It helps symbolize her courage and the power of the stone to help rescue her children...a miracle, if you will. God stuff. Granted, it isn't in the original novel, but we felt that it was much more powerful. Nicodemus says it was Jonathan's, but really just to get her to accept it. We didn't really think it was necessary to explain it further. Seems like we would eat up too much screen time to tell the history of the amulet, when the story was about an innocent widow mouse, who, thru her journey would find out that she has the courage to rescue her own family.

Regarding magic, we really believe that animation calls for some magic, to give it a special "fantastic" quality. The stone or amulet is just a method of letting the audience know that Mrs. Brisby has found 'Courage of the Heart'. Magic? Maybe. Spiritual? Yes.

AM: Another question I've long wondered was how much time had passed between Jonathan's death and the events of the film? We know it was relatively recently, but as the children seem to have already adjusted, can we presume it has been a few months?

DBS: He (Jonathan) died fairly recently, sometime after Timmy's birth, so, maybe months in "mouse time". Maybe a year in human time. Timmy is about 4 years old in human time. It was during an attempt to drug Dragon, the cat. Remember, the Rats have a plan to move away from the farmer's property and survive without stealing from the farmer, it's the ethical thing to do. We hope these answers make sense.

AM: I wondered if you had originally developed your own potential sequel storyline for NIMH, and if so, would you be willing to shed a little light on it?

DBS: We've talked about it often but never actually wrote anything down.

Question (credit: Lenny Carson): I know you didn't have involvement in any of the ... sequels, but would you have ever considered working on them if you were asked?

DBS: In late 1987, early 1988, we were asked and we did consider a sequel to An American Tail, however, Universal wanted us to produce the film for the same price as the first one -- $9.6M. We were about 2/3 complete with The Land Before Time with a similar schedule and a higher budget, which allowed increases in salaries for our staff. For us to agree to the lower budget, we would have had to decrease salaries, or layoff about 35% of the staff. We declined to make the sequel. We understand that the sequel was made in London at a facility called Amblimation and/or Universal Cartoon at a cost of US$25M, plus fees on top of that for the executive producers.

We were not asked to be involved with any of The Land Before Time sequels. As you might know, we moved forward with All Dogs Go to Heaven, which we did for less than The Land Before Time (by only about $200K, but it was less).

In 1995, we were also asked to be involved with the sequel to The Secret of NIMH, however, we were busy on Anastasia for 20th Century Fox at the time. Aurora and MGM/UA proceeded with a completely different animation crew. So far, we've done no sequels for our films but we did do a sequel to the video game Dragon's Lair.***

(***NOTE: Though it wasn't a sequel, Don Bluth's team did make a direct-to-DVD "prequel" to Anastasia, titled Bartok the Magnificent.)

Part I: Reflections on the Film
Part II: About the Cast
Part III: About the Script
Part IV: About the Music
Part V: The Remastered DVD Release

This is a compilation of Q&As I submitted to Gary Goldman at, from 2003-2007. It also includes some excerpts posted from Goldman's answers to other people's questions; in such cases, I have credited the individual's name (whenever available), and highlighted the excerpt in red. For cohesion and clarity, the text has been edited together and presented here in Q&A format, strictly as an informational resource behind the making of the film.