The Secret of NIMH (a J!-ENT Children’s Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 31, 2011 by Dennis Amith
Fun, a bit dark but still manages to be quite entertaining. It was a bold statement for animation during that time and “The Secret of NIMH” holds up well 30-years later. If you are a fan of the film, it’s definitely a worthy upgrade from the 2007 DVD release.
Images courtesy of © 1982 MGM Television Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Secret of NIMH
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1982
DURATION: 83 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Widescreen (1:85:1), English 2.0 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, AVC@32MBPS, Subtitles: English SDH, French
COMPANY: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/20th Century Fox
RELEASE DATE: March 29, 2011
Directed by Don Bluth
Story Adaptation by Don Bluth, John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman, Will Finn
Produced by Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy
Executive Producer: James L. Stewart, Rich Irvine
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Edited by Jeffrey C. Patch
Featuring the voices of”
Derek Jacobi as Nicodemus
Elizabeth Hartman as Mrs. Brisby
Arthur Malet as Mr. Ages
Dom DeLuise as Jeremy
Hermione Baddeley as Auntie Shrew
Shannen Doherty as Teresa
Wil Wheaton as Martin
John Carradine as Grat Owl
Peter Strauss as Justin
Edie McClurg as Miss Right
Get ready to meet some runaway rodents with an earth-shattering secret! Suspenseful and heartwarming, this beautifully animated odyssey stars Mrs. Brisby, a mild-mannered mother mouse with a plan to move Heaven and Earth (or at least her house and home) to save her family from Farmer Fitzgibbon’s plow! Along the way she gets some help from a lovelorn Crow, a busybody neighbor mouse and a fearsome Great Owl. Unfortunately, Mrs. Brisby will need an engineering miracle to hoist her home, and for that she must face a mysterious rat, fend off a ferocious cat and claim a magic amulet! But when Mrs. Brisby discovers the astounding secret of NIMH…it could change her life forever! This timeless tale of love, courage and determination will transport the whole family into an enchanting world where the bravest hearts live in the meekest of mice.
When Don Bluth and several Disney animators which included Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy who left Disney to form their own animation studio known as Don Bluth Productions, together they would work on their first feature-length animated film titled “The Secret of NIMH”. An animated adaptation of the 1971 children’s book “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” written by Robert C. O’Brien and a film that was actually offered to Disney but was turned down.
Their goal was to create an animated film and returning to that “golden era” where the focus was on strong characters and story but also to experiment with the unusual. And suffice to say, “The Secret of NIMH” was a story that touches upon the unusual.
But the film was also a major gamble. Because they were a smaller animation studio, to stay within budget, it was a labor-intensive project that Goldman recalled working 110 hour weeks during the final six months of production. With around 100 in-house staff working on the film and cel painting by 45 people who worked in their homes, many of the minor roles were done by in-house staff and in the end was created for $6.3 million.
In fact, the film was such a gamble that Bluth, Goldman, Pomeroy and the executive producers of Aurora Productions (who acquired the film rights and offered it to Don Bluth Productions) each mortgaged their homes for $700,000 to complete the film, of course, with an agreement that their investment would be the first money to be repaid.
The film would received critical acclaim and majority of what was received were nearly all positive reviews. “The Secret of NIMH” made its money and actually grossing over $14 million in the US box office. Unfortunately, the film was going up in competition against Steven Spielberg’s immensely popular E.T. and “The Secret of NIMH” faded in the background.
While the film didn’t make a huge amount of money, the film did receive second life in home video as it was released on VHS and DVD and in 2007, a re-release of the DVD featured a high-definition restoration which included color correction and dirt and dust removal from the cells. And that re-release has been given HD treatment for its March 2011 release on Blu-ray.
The film features Don Bluth’s directorial debut and features a story adaptation by Bluth, John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman and Will Finn. The film would feature the voice of Derek Jacobi, Elizabeth Hartman, John Carradine, Peter Strauss, Arthur Malet, Dom DeLuise, Edie McClurg and Hermione Baddeley. But the film would also feature the voices of young talents at the time, Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton.
“The Secret of NIMH” revolves around a mouse, a mother named Mrs. Brisby (voiced by Elizabeth Hartman) who’s son Timmy has fallen ill. She visits Mr. Ages (voiced by Arthur Malet), a friend of her deceased husband, Jonathan Brisby, who has diagnosed Timmy with pneumonia and creates medicine for her to give to Timmy. And he should not go outside or else he will die. He must be kept indoors and rest for three weeks.
While returning home, she encounters an enthusiastic crow named Jeremy (voiced by Dom DeLuise) who has a fascination of strings. As the two go home together, Jeremy nearly gets the two killed when they encounter a wild cat and Mrs. Brisby nearly loses her sons medication.
Meanwhile, as she is returning home, Auntie Shrew (voiced by Hermione Baddeley) is watching over her four children including Timmy but the little one, Martin Brisby (voiced by Wil Wheaton) is a sassy boy who would dare talk back to his babysitter and upset her.
Shrew is a bit offended and Mrs. Brisby tries to apologize. Before Shrew leaves the home, she reminds Brisby that the snow has melted which means that plowing time (by the humans) is about to begin and she must move her family out of the field.
Unfortunately, plowing season begins the following morning and everyone in the field are racing for their lives to move out and escape from the area. But with a sick boy and three young children, Mrs. Brisby can’t just up and leave, knowing that little Timmy can die if he doesn’t get his rest.
Fortunately, both she and Auntie Shrew were able to stop the tractor before it destroys her home but now she needs help moving her home while trying to keep Timmy inside. She is told by Auntie Shrew to visit the Great Owl, which many do not live after meeting with it and most importantly, one should not approach the Great Owl during the darkness.
As Mrs. Brisby goes to meet with the Great Owl, a mysterious being is watching over her through a crystal ball. He worries about her for some reason…
The Great Owl tells Mrs. Brisby that in order to move her family, she needs the help of the rats and must meet Nicodeus, the wise and mystical leader of the rats.
While she visits the rats as the Great Owl has told her, she starts to learn how her late husband is a well-respected mouse. But also learns that the rats and her husband including Mr. Ages were part of a series of experiments (used by humans) at a place called NIMH (the National Institute of Mental Health) and these experiments has boosted their intelligence to human level.
Nicodemus gives Mrs. Brisby an amulet that gives magical power to its wearer who is courageous, but within the rats is the evil Jenner who wants the amulet to himself and will do anything to get it.
Will Mrs. Brisby and the rats be able to move her home in time? Meanwhile, NIMH plans to come to the farm and exterminate the rats. Who will save them from harm?
“The Secret of NIMH” is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 1:85:1). It’s important to note that when it comes to older animation, sure we can expect major companies like Disney to invest the money into major restorizationa nd remastering. “The Secret of NIMH” is not a Disney film, it didn’t make a lot of money in the box office (despite its critical acclaim) and although it was remastered in 2007, you can see quite a bit of dirt and specks throughout the film.
There is also a strong appearance of grain and while grain is a good ting for live action films, for animated films, it gives an appearance of how this film has aged. Fortunately, if one can get past that, and focus on the animation and painted backgrounds, you can tell how much this film was a labor of love for the studio and its animators. The painted backgrounds look very good and the the characters are well animated, the colors are vibrant most of the time and for the most part, I’m sure, most will agree that the Blu-ray release is the best looking version of this film thus far.
But I also believe if “The Secret of NIMH” was given a better cleanup, it may have made the film look even better on Blu-ray.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Secret of NIMH” is presented in English 2.0 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio, Spanish Dolby Surround and French Dolby Surround. I wish that the film was given a lossless 5.1 soundtrack but for the most part, dialogue is clear, action sequences and music by Jerry Goldsmith is clear but it’s all front-channel driven. There are some good effects such as the sound of a storm and even the music during those more action-based sequences but it’s not an immersive soundtrack but I suppose it does sound much better compared to its DVD counterparts.
Subtitles are in English SDH and French.
“The Secret of NIMH” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman – An interesting commentary, very informative especially to learn how they created this indie film on a budget. Also, comments of how animation technology has changed so much since the making of this film.
- Secrets Behind the Secret Featurette – (14:25) Don Bluth (Producer/Director) and Gary Goldman (Producer) talk about the film, how the book became an animated film adaptation, the work that went into creating the film and more. Presented in standard definition.
- Original Theatrical Trailer – (2:20) The original theatrical trailer for “The Secret of NIMH”.
For those family with Don Bluth’s work, one can be appreciative of how he took on animated films and made it accessible not only for the children but also a storyline that can attract an adult audience as well.
Sure, we see a lot of it in today’s animated and CG animated films but back in the late ’70s to early ’80s, with Disney being in disarray at that point in time, I am familiar of the story of Don Bluth and fellow Disney animators who left the studio because they were disenchanted. And what later took place in the ’80s was Don Bluth-related projects vs. Disney films and these two would faceoff with each other for the box office.
But one must realize that back in 1982 and even years before that, these guys were looked at as renegades to animated films and to create animated films, it costs a lot of money. Many people gambled their livelihood on this film and put in an extremely long hours and lived stressful lives in order to get this film done and created within their tight budget.
For me, “The Secret of NIMH” is among one of the few great Don Bluth animated films out there but to me, it’s beyond just your animated film that a studio cranks out every year. This film is a textbook example of how many people sacrificed their time in order to get a project that they probably will not make much money from but to do something groundbreaking at the time and not be affiliated with Disney. As many people today respect independent comic book companies created by those who came from the major companies, this group of talented individuals made it all happen without much funding, without much of a payback but still accomplished their goal.
It’s a shame but at that time, I can easily remember how dominant Spielberg’s “E.T” was in theaters and unfortunately, there was no way the creators of the “The Secret of NIMH” would know how long “E.T.” would dominate the box office and unfortunately the animated film (and other films) were buried under the success of “E.T.”.
Granted, one could have hoped for a better restoration for the 2011 Blu-ray release and possibly be given a 5.1 lossless soundtrack but unfortunately, in this day and age, the only company who is able to spend that much money for restoration and remastering on all their classic animated films for Blu-ray release is Disney and “The Secret of NIMH” is not a Disney film.
Still, those involved in the creation of film did manage to craft a storyline that was fun, a bit dark but still manages to be quite entertaining. It was a bold statement for animation during that time and “The Secret of NIMH” holds up well 30-years later. If you are a fan of the film, it’s definitely a worthy upgrade from the 2007 DVD release but if have been spoiled by Disney’s classic animated Blu-ray releases, one should not expect the same quality but just a slightly better upgrade from its DVD counterpart.
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