Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sean Kelly

Revisiting 1982 – The Secret of NIMH

secret_of_nimhIt is time for the twelfth (and final) entry in my year-long series in which I revisit some of the most classic films to be released 30 years ago in the year 1982 (the year of my birth).

My original plan was to discuss Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, which was the 1982 film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  However, the film was unexpectedly removed from the Netflix selection and I didn’t have time to locate a disc copy.  As such, I made a last minute change to Don Bluth’s classic animated feature The Secret of NIMH.  When I think about it, the film is probably a better fit in the series as a whole (and is one my personal favourite animated films).  As always, there may be SPOILERS during the discussion.

Let’s begin.

Don Bluth began as an animator at Disney in the 1960s and 1970s, where he worked on films including Sleeping Beauty, The Sword and the Stone, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Rescuers, and Pete’s Dragon.  Disney thought that the concept for The Secret of NIMH was too dark to be a commercial success, which resulted in Bluth and others leaving to form their own animation company.  The Secret of NIMH was Bluth’s first feature-length film as director and he would go on to make any other memorable animated films throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go To Heaven.

Bluth had a very unique animation style that differed greatly from Disney’s.  There is a lot of detail in Bluth’s films that were not really seen in Disney’s films of the time.  While still obviously a cartoon, there is a subtle realism to Bluth’s films that helped them to stand out.  Also notable is the fact that all of Bluth’s films typically had much darker subject matter than Disney’s.

The Secret of NIMH is an adaptation of the 1971 children’s novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (the name was changed to Brisby for the film).  Mrs Brisby seeks the assistance of the Rats of NIMH in order to help Brisby and her family move, without endangering the life of her very sick son.  The rats are the survivors of laboratory experiments, which resulted in them gaining high intelligence.  It turns out that Mrs Brisby’s late husband was also a survivor of NIHM (National Institute of Mental Health) and their leader Nicodemus feels indebted to her.

Of course, as with most animated films, there has to be an antagonist.  In the case of The Secret of NIMH, that would be the rat Jenner, who is planning to kill Nicodemus and take over the leadership of the rats.  The fact that he is actually successful with this task, probably gives you an idea why Disney passed on the film.  When you think of it, Jenner is only really in the film to create a conflict and, very soon after Nicodemus is killed, Jenner is soon killed himself (in a sword fight with, leader of the guard, Jeffrey).

At the end of the film, Mrs Brisby uses a magical stone to telepathically move her house to safety.  While the film is fantasy and you shouldn’t really nitpick such things, one does have to wonder where exactly this stone came from.  While it can be somewhat understood that the rats of NIMH’s intelligence allows them to use electricity and build machinery, it does not really explain them, particularly Nicodemus, having magical powers.  The easy answer is that the film is just a cartoon fantasy and you can leave it at that, but you can also theorize that the “magic” is just some sort of ultra-advanced science.

When I watched this film as a kid, I wasn’t too concerned with the cast of the film.  However, it is definitely interesting seeing some recognizable names in the credits.  Of course, the most recognizable would be comedian Dom DeLuise, who voices Jeremy the Crow and would become a regular voice-actor in Bluth’s films.  Other notable voices include British actor Derek Jacobi as the voice of Nicodemus, as well as Shannon Doherty and Will Wheaton, who make their film debuts by voicing Mrs Brisby’s two oldest children.

Well, I guess that wraps up my discussion of The Secret of NIMH and it also puts an end to my revisiting 1982 series.  1982 was considered one of the landmark years in cinema and it was almost a blessing that I was born in that year, so I could spend my 30th year talking about these classic films.  Even though the series is called Revisiting 1982, there were many films in this series that I was actually seeing for the first time and it was great that this series gave me a chance to finally see films such as Blade Runner and Poltergeist.  This was my first time doing a “blogathon” like this and you can probably expect more in the future.  In fact, I am planning something, in conjunction with the blindspot series, that I plan to formally announce in the New Year.

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).