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Now available on Blu-ray, On Demand and for Download is the 1982 animated feature, The Secret of NIMH from MGM Studios. Based on Robert O’Brien’s book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, this Don Bluth-directed film follows the adventures and travails of widowed mouse Mrs. Brisby as she endeavors to care for and protect her children. She enlists the help of a local colony of extraordinary rats, which have been affected by genetic testing done by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). With their help (and a touch of magic), Mrs. Brisby takes on the gargantuan task of moving her cinderblock home from the reaches of Farmer Fitzgibbons’ plow.
This may sound like a simple, straightforward plot, but O’Brien and Bluth bring a depth and mystery to it that is quite compelling. The film has a dark undertone throughout, with serious peril and even a few somewhat gruesome scenes as well. The protagonists are very likeable and the forces against them provide excellent conflict. It may have been created for children, but adult fans of the fantasy genre would enjoy The Secret of NIMH as well.
I recall seeing NIMH as a child in grade school, and while I enjoyed it, I also remember it scaring me from time to time. Honestly, I’m surprised it has retained its Rated G classification, due to the darkness of the subject matter and the utterance of “damn” by one of the rats as well. There is also some fighting violence, including bloody wounds and stabbings. As such, I would not recommend NIMH for young children, but possibly for middle grades on up.
In its day, the animation in Bluth’s film ranked near the quality seen in his competitor Disney’s features. The background sets are beautiful, not belying the limited budget with which Bluth was given to work. The Blu-ray transfer here is fairly good, although the clarity seems to be limited by the source material. The soundtrack, which is also lovely, has transferred passably in this edition. If the demand warrants it, MGM studios may consider a further refurbishment of the animation and sound for future issuances of NIMH.
The cast list boasts quite a few names– in addition to the lovely Elizabeth Hartman as Mrs. Brisby, NIMH includes Derek Jabobi (The King’s Speech), Dom DeLuise (An American Tale), Shannen Doherty (“Beverly Hills, 90210″), Wil Wheaton (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”), John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath) and Peter Strauss (“Law & Order: SVU”). Hartman does a marvelous job as Mrs. Brisby, DeLuise brings some well-needed levity to the story, and little Shannen and Wil are so precious as her young children.
While The Secret of NIMH does not rank with some of the higher-tier classics in the world of animation, it has been beloved by many for multiple decades. It deserves its preservation on Blu-ray and is a worthy effort by Don Bluth and his studio. NIMH is magical, heartfelt and compelling, and it is my hope that a new generation of viewers will come to cherish it as well.
The Secret of NIMH Blu-ray Special Features:
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 83 mins
Blu-ray Release Date: March 29, 2011
Director: Don Bluth
Starring: Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jabobi, Dom DeLuise, Shannen Doherty, Wil Wheaton, John Carradine and Peter Strauss
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