Western Animation: The Secret of NIMH
"My child, we can no longer live as rats. We This page is about the animated film The Secret of NIMH. If you are looking for the article about the book or its literary sequels, see Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.The Secret of NIMH
know too much."
is Don Bluth
's first feature-length film; it is based very loosely
on Robert C. O'Brien's Newbery Medal Award-winning novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
(voiced by Elizabeth Hartman
) is a widowed mouse and mother of four living near a farm. With spring fast approaching and the frost melting from the ground, her family has to move in order to avoid the farmer's plow — but one of the children, Timothy, has come down with pneumonia and can't be moved for a few weeks. Taking the advice of an all-knowing owl
, Mrs. Brisby seeks the aid of the Rats of NIMH, a group of escaped lab rats that were rendered super-intelligent via experimental drugs. After meeting with the rats' leader, Nicodemus, Mrs. Brisby finds out that her late husband Jonathan had been a good friend of the rats — and died while helping the rats carry out a plan to leave the human world behind. Nicodemus agrees to help Mrs. Brisby move her home, but some of the other rats have plans of their own...The Secret of NIMH
was Don Bluth's first feature film after leaving Disney; it was even produced a decade after Disney itself had turned down adapting the original story. Bluth used traditional tools and methods as a way of fighting back against the movement towards lower production costs (and lower quality animation). The film was commercially a moderate box office success, costing $7 million and earning $14 million; this modest revenue was, in part, due to competition with ET The Extra Terrestrial
eventually managed to seduce the director of E.T.
, Steven Spielberg
, into teaming up with Bluth; together, they made two rather high-grossing (and well-regarded) animated films: An American Tail
and The Land Before Time
.The Secret of NIMH became regarded as a masterpiece of animation in the years after its release
; lots of animation enthusiasts and film critics regard it as Bluth's best work
. The film was released on DVD twice — once as a single-disc with no special features, and once as a two-disc "Family Fun Edition" that included a feature-length commentary from Bluth himself — and 2011 saw a Blu-Ray release for the film.
Years after the original film, MGM released a Direct-to-Video
sequel called Secret of NIMH II: Timmy to the Rescue
. The film was, predictably, produced without Bluth's involvement
The two Secret of NIMH films contain examples of the following tropes:
- Adaptation Personality Change:
- Jeremy is a comic relief character in the film and his traits are more Played for Laughs, unlike in the book where he was more of a 'na´ve' character. He also becomes a Cloudcuckoolander and a Butt Monkey. A few years after the film's release, the original author's daughter Jane Leslie Conly wrote two sequels which incorporated Jeremy's more absent-minded personality.
- In the film, Jenner is an Obviously Evil villain, while his book counterpart was an average character.
- Mr. Ages is portrayed as a Grumpy Old Man with a Hidden Heart of Gold rather than a more kindly character.
- In the book Nicodemus was just an average middle-aged rat with an eyepatch (Who happened to be the leader). In the movie he's an ancient mystical seer.
- Adaptational Villainy: In the book the film is based on, Jenner is a much less villainous Commander Contrarian, and doesn't kill Nicodemus like his film incarnation does.
- Martin in the sequel, although due to brainwashing.
- Though not a villain, per se, Brutus in the book simply gives Mrs. Brisby a hard time before letting her into the rosebush, unlike here where he apparently finds it easier to just scare her off.
Mrs. Brisby: (nervous) "But what about the rat at the entrance? I can't go back there... I can't."
Mr. Aegis: (mumbling dismissively) "Oh that's just Brutus, nevermind him. Now, come on."
- Amulet of Concentrated Awesome: The amulet Nicodemus gives Ms. Brisby.
- Animal Facial Hair
- Attention Deficit - OOH, SPARKLY!: Jeremy. Justified in that he is a crow.
Jeremy: You found a sparkly!
- Barefoot Cartoon Animals: Most of the rats, with Nicodemus as The One Who Wears Shoes.
- Butt Monkey: Jeremy, a lonely compassionate crow who just wants to help out and find love; unfortunately, he is also a hapless klutz, tending to cause more problems than he solves. He's constantly reprimanded by Mrs. Brisby until she eventually gets rid of him by having him see to trivial minor duties, both of which he fails miserably with too. He does at least get his "Miss Right" at the end of it though.
- He and Cecil retain this role in the sequel, albeit toned down somewhat; this is likely due to the zanier setup (Jeremy at least seems to have warmer relations with the characters, especially Timmy).
- Mrs. Brisby acts somewhat as one in more comical moments, though probably leans more towards woobie territory.
- Cats Are Mean: The cat in question is named Dragon. Invoked again in the sequel with Muriel and Troy, the two alley cat minions (albeit in a more pitiful sense). It is refreshing change in that this cat who acts just like a cat is considered bad, but doesn't get an undeserved comeuppance.
- What is very interesting about this is that, in the scene where Mrs. Fitzgibbon is hanging out the laundry and Dragon is sleeping near the back step (a scene which takes more of an omniscient camera view than the first-person view of the mice), he doesn't come across nearly so horrifying. Part of this may be due to him being drugged at the time, but it also comes across as him seeming a normal cat here but a monster in all his other scenes because that is how a cat would look and sound to a mouse. (See Translation Convention.)
- Inverted in the sequel. Muriel and Troy are actually brainwashed by Martin to do his evil bidding, and are suggested to be the only villains that don't escape the fire and thus possibly meet their demise.
- Clever Crows: This trope is inverted, with Jeremy being a rare dumbass corvid.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Jeremy isn't the most stable of characters sometimes. Martin under the influence of NIMH's experimentation in the sequel may count as a villainous example.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Jeremy spends most of both films irritating the other protagonists with his clumsy behaviour. However, he is a graceful flyer and counts as the only character in the first film to outright attack Dragon to save Mrs Brisby.
- Deadpan Snarker: Only a short period in the company of Jeremy can turn even sweet Mrs. Brisby into an irritable snark. Even on the rare occasions Jeremy isn't causing trouble for her, she is unusually condescending and dismissive towards him.
- Jenny plays this trope hard on occasion in Timmy To The Rescue.
- Justin also does this in one moment of the first movie.
Jenner: (He's been talking about how Nicodemus's plan to move is the idea of idiots and dreamers) We were just talking about you.
Justin: Well that's refreshing Jenner, usually you're screaming about us.
- Disneyfication: Averted somewhat. While the movie has some traditional changes from the original book (eg. more whimsical and slapstick-esque characterization and dialogue), some aspects are actually darker compared to its original material. The death count of pivotal characters is higher in the movie, for example. The sequel plays this straight, complete with musical numbers and numerous comic relief extras.
- In a way, this trope is double subverted; while Mrs. Brisby goes through much more hardship than in the book, this allows more emphasis on the power of courage and love. The theme was absent in the original book in favour of a greater focus on the rats' responsibility to stop stealing (which was itself mentioned in the film, although it was more about the moral issues of stealing rather than the practical ones).
- Disney Villain Death: Averted, though the villain still falls. Jenner dies in full view, as well as his (former) henchman Sullivan. Sullivan throws a dagger into Jenner's back before dying of a sword wound. They ain't comin' back.
- Arguably Muriel and Troy in Timmy To The Rescue falling down an elevator shaft. The tone of this is comical, though the fact they aren't seen escaping as NIMH as it is set ablaze leaves suggestion whether they survived.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Aside from the spider, Jenner slashing Sullivan's throat after the latter's Heel-Face Turn, complete with death rattle is fairly shocking even to adults.
- Fun with Acronyms: NIMH - National Institute of Mental Health.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: In the sequel with Aunt Shrew ("Oh, to heck with him...").
- Graceful in Their Element: Jeremy in the air, naturally.
- Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: The Brisby family. Most of the rats as well.
- Humans Are Bastards: Aside from the NIMH scientists, mostly averted through lack of presence.
- The rats don't seem to hold any real grudge against humans in general, preferring to simply avoid them. When Nicodemus reveals the rats' story and the nature of the Plan, he makes it clear that stealing food or electricity from the humans is wrong.
- The one human who directly encounters Mrs. Brisby actually goes out of his way to save her from the cat, and puts her safely into a cage with food and water. Not so bad, considering how mice found loose in people's houses are usually dealt with.
- Jerkass Fašade: Brutus, the huge intimidating guard to the rat's hideout, is revealed as such in the original novel. The original film, which makes him far more intimidating, at first only vaguely hints to this ("Oh, that's just Brutus..."), but he does try to help pull up the Brisby home; you hardly see him, and wouldn't know it was him if Justin hadn't called out his name, but he's there.
Justin: I'll get a line around the stones, now...Brutus, quick! Get some rope; tie off those block lines!
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- "Auntie" Shrew. She is first introduced as a pish-posh busybody who walks around with an incredible air of self-importance, but she soon demonstrates great bravery by warning all the animals about the plow and rescuing Mrs. Brisby from the tractor.
- Mr. Ages is for the most part a cranky, unsociable hermit though he nevertheless assists Mrs. Brisby with every plea she makes to assist her family plus is revealed to have been quite the badass himself, being the one previously tasked with drugging the cat before he injured his leg, as well as playing a part in the rats' escape alongside Jonathan Brisby.
- Cecil the Caterpillar; despite being a con-man and a bit on the cowardly side, he goes out of his way to help out the protagonists with little motive. He is introduced saving Timmy and Jenny from an eagle.
- See also Brutus under Jerkass Fašade, above.
- Kindhearted Simpleton: Jeremy means well, but his denseness usually does more harm than good.
- The Klutz: Again, Jeremy.
- Mind-Control Eyes: Jeremy after glancing at Mrs. Brisby's "sparkly" in the original. Evil!Martin also shows an occasional gaze of these in the sequel, for relevant reasons.
- Mouse World: Several, designed by the rats and mice of NIMH.
- Never a Self-Made Woman: Mrs. Brisby would not have gotten any help for her situation if she wasn't "Mrs. Jonathan Brisby".
- Only One Name/Last Name Basis: Mrs. Brisby is never referred to as anything other than Mrs. Brisby. The closest they get to giving her a first name is calling her Mrs. Jonathan Brisby, but that's referring to her husband.
- Per Word of God her first name is Elizabeth in posthumous honor of Elizabeth Hartman, her late voice actress.
- The Power of Love: "You can unlock any door, if you only have the key." According to Paul Williams' Theme Song Flying Dreams, "Love is the key."
Nicodemus: Courage of the heart is very rare. The Stone has a power when it's there.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
- Sullivan, despite threats from Jenner, ultimately refuses to play part in murdering Nicodemus in the original movie.
- Jeremy and Cecil also refuse to join Timmy and Jenny in entering NIMH in the sequel (though both change their mind later on).
- Shoo Out the Clowns: In both movies, the comical Jeremy more or less disappears halfway through until the main climax is over. Cecil the Caterpillar is taken out briefly in the sequel as well, though does get some involvement in the final action (see above).
- The Sociopath: Jenner.
- Thieving Magpie: Jeremy the Crow can't resist "sparklies."
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: A rare example of both mice and rats being good.
Tropes exclusive to The Secret of NIMH:
- Action Mom: Mrs. Brisby is an interesting example of this trope, as she is only doing what she does to protect her children ("Timothy... remember Timothy!") It is certainly not because she enjoys adventure or action. In fact, the film clearly shows that she's scared out of her mind by the tasks she must do, but she is still courageous enough to pull through, especially when the action really gets going.
- Actual Pacifist: Sullivan, Jenner's ally on the council of the rats. Jenner hatches a plan to murder Nicodemus and make it look like an accident with Sullivan's help, but Sullivan wants to back out at every step of the way and abhors the idea of killing. Eventually he redeems himself while dying by throwing a dagger into Jenner's back.
Jenner: No taste for blood, eh? They've taken the animal out of you.
- Adaptation Explanation Extrication: The sequence in the book where the rats are taught how to read is overlooked in the film, making it look like the injections alone gave them the ability.
- Adult Fear: It's scary enough for the single mother Mrs. Brisby having to deal with her critically ill son, but during the climax when her children are stuck in their cement block house and it's sinking into the mud the fear is amped up ten-fold.
- Age Lift: Nicodemus was middle-aged in the book. In the film he is very old-looking, considering the injections given to the rats slowed their aging.
- Air-Vent Passageway: Seen in the flashback to the labs. Justified; ...they're rats.
- And when the air conditioning's turned on, Reality Ensues and several of the rats still die.
- All-Powerful Bystander: Nicodemus is quite adept at scrying and can see Mrs. Brisby's dilemma and is ready to help her before she even goes to consult the Great Owl. Why he doesn't just save time by sending for her immediately is never addressed. Justin knew Jonathan Brisby and considered it an honour to meet his wife, so he could have invited her to the rosebush. Even Mr. Ages despite his normal grumbling nature would have been up to the task, considering he was all for helping her during the council session. The only plausible explanation is that Nicodemus couldn't risk extending his hand to Mrs. Brisby first while the Thorn Valley plan was still being debated for fear of his political enemy Jenner accusing him of going soft or senile or mad and using it as an opportunity to gain power.
- Arc Words: "Courage of the heart is very rare. The stone has a power when it's there".
- Ascended Extra:
- In the book, Mrs. Frisby is more of an Author Avatar and her story is nothing more than an excuse for the reader to hear the story of the rats of NIMH. The movie shifts the focus almost entirely to her and her valiant efforts to save her dying son.
- To give an idea of how little her story affect's the rats', in that version, Timothy could go outside despite his pneumonia, albeit bundled up.
- Jeremy, though a lot of his relevance to the main story diminishes after his role portrayed in the book.
- Jenner also is promoted to the movie's Big Bad; in the book, he's only mentioned in the backstory.
- Sullivan. In the novel, he is only mentioned once and has one line.
- Auntie Shrew becomes a babysitter for the Brisby children in the film. She is merely referred to as "the shrew" in the novel.
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Jeremy the Crow can't resist "sparklies." Drifts into Stalker with a Crush/I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin territory when Jeremy says with a touch of darkness, "You know, I've always wanted a sparkly of my very own" while leering / menacing over Mrs. Brisby.
- Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Don Bluth and company attempted to get NIMH a PG rating to have it appeal to a larger audience (the film definitely isn't very kid-friendly): there was a superfluous (though understandable given the circumstances) "Damn!" spoken by Justin, several on-screen deaths, visible blood, and a fair amount of nightmare-fueling scenes. For reasons beyond all understanding, the MPAA still gave them a G. One would almost have to assume they didn't bother to watch it.
- Artistic License ľ Biology: The injections administered to the rats in the NIMH flashbacks are much, much too large for a one-pound rodent to receive without dying of heart failure. The proper veterinary dosage for such tiny animals' injections has a volume of a fraction of a mL. However, this may just be the rats' imagination, seeing as the lab also looks quite unsanitary.
- Awesome but Impractical: The ink Nicodemus uses to write in his journal in the opening scene. It sheds golden sparkly fairy dust all over the place, and the text he writes doesn't become visible until after a two-second delay.
- Badass Normal: Though the rats are no less frightened of Dragon than are the mice, rats are too large to get into the house to drug him, leaving the mice to do it. Jonathan dies in one attempt (in his defense, he also did it countless nights for four years before finally being caught), and Mr. Ages breaks a leg in a subsequent one. Both are genetically modified, but Mrs. Brisby is the one who succeeds with just a scratch.
- Badly Battered Babysitter: Poor Jeremy...
- Beard of Evil: Jenner has one.
- Blatant Lies:
Jenner: It would be an honour to assist Jonathan's widow in any way. We are but your humble servants.
- By the Lights of Their Eyes:
- Cape Swish: Jenner has mastered this move (which one feels he picked up from Maleficent).
- Carnivore Confusion:
- Lampshaded: "Owls eat mice!" "Uh...only after dark." There are bones strewn about the Owl's lair. Owls compact all waste into a pellet-like solid, bones and all (though these are probably from disintegrated pellets; the Owl isn't too concerned with tidying his lair). The Owl seems to be completely nonplussed by this mouse but he'll gladly eat a passing bug.
- A more standard example is the fact that Mrs. Brisby is friends with a shrew. Shrews eat mice.
- As do crows.
- As do rats, under normal circumstances.
- Every non-relative she has a conversation with in the entire film would've tried to eat her in Real Life, except Mr. Ages. He might've eaten her kids if he was hungry enough.
- Cat Scare: A rabbit is used instead. The cat is the monster. After all the protagonists are a mouse and a bird...
- Catch Phrase: Scuse me, pardon me. seems to be Jeremy's favorite words
- Chekhov's Gun: The amulet, which grants Mrs. Brisby major telekinetic powers, enough to move a block many times her weight several feet.
- Cobweb Jungle: The Great Owl's lair. The Great Owl himself, come to mention it. Hey, it looks awesome!
- Cool Old Lady: Auntie Shrew is a bossy old Drama Queen, but when necessary she is an absolute Badass, shutting down a tractor single-handedly.
- Cold Open: The film starts with Nicodemus recording in his book about the death of Jonathan Brisby, and putting away a red medallion while talking to John in spirit. Obviously, this proves to be important later.
- Covers Always Lie / Contemptible Cover: The suggested solution for your long-awaited two-disc widescreen edition DVD is to print the Badass poster art seen above and paste it over the official art.
- It gets worse. The movie is now being sold along with the sequel, and guess who's hogging the cover? Timmy Brisby, from the sequel.
- Conspicuously Light Patch: While the characters' fairly straightforward animation is understandable in contrast to the sumptuously painted backgrounds, when something in the background needs animating, it can be rather jarring. The mud sloshing around the Brisby's house as they're trying to move it is particularly obvious.
- Cowardly Lion:
- Crush the Giant Spider
- Crystal Ball: Essentially, Nicodemus' whirling bronze portal-thing, which allows him to scry on others from a great distance.
- Dark Is Not Evil: The Great Owl, who is neutral. Also, Nicodemus; not only is he scary and ugly (the "ugly" being mostly because of how disturbingly anthropomorphic he is), but also actually quite dark in himself (largely thanks to the fact that the colours in the movie are quite dull and brown, as was the style in fantastic films of the time).
- Death by Adaptation: Near the end of the film, Nicodemus is killed by Jenner. This does not happen the novel, as Jenner had already left the rats and Nicodemus goes to Thorn Valley in the end.
- Death Equals Redemption: Sullivan, who after being slashed across the throat by Jenner, uses his last breath to throw a knife in Jenner's back as he prepares to kill Justin.
- Deus ex Machina / Chekhov's Gun: The ending. It can count as either. Chekhov's Gun in that the stone was mentioned to have a power early, but Deus ex Machina in that the power wasn't fully explained. In other words, it's a type 2 or 3 Deus ex Machina.
- Didn't Think This Through: Jenner's plan is clever in theory: destroy the Brisby House and kill Nicodemus so that the rats are stuck on the farm and he can become their ruler. The flaw in the plan is that he won't be able to rule them for very long because soon the rosebush will be destroyed and they'll all die. Not such a Magnificent Bastard after all?
- It's not so much he didn't think of that problem, as much as he is so stubborn (and somewhat unhinged) in his efforts that he refused to believe it when warned.
- Disguised in Drag: Played With. Jeremy, while helping Mrs. Brisby reach the rosebush to find the rats, decides it'd be a great idea to disguise himself by sneaking around inside a pair of ladies' bloomers.
- Drama Queen: Auntie Shrew is a stereotypical gossipy dramatic put-upon old woman, yet is an epic Badass when called upon.
- The Dreaded:
- Dragon, the farm cat is truly monstrous and feared by all the woodland animals save for the rats who know how to pacify him.
- The Great Owl is this towards the woodland animals, for obvious reasons.
- The rats of NIMH who live in the rosebush are this to some of the woodland creatures, especially Auntie Shrew. The same Auntie Shrew who single-handedly faces down a tractor and wins, later tells Mrs. Brisby to show courage in asking an owl for help, and captures and ties up a crow, visibly panics at the sound of the rats arriving.
- Elaborate Underground Base: The Rats colony below the rose bush.
- Evil Gloating: After murdering Nicodemus, Jenner cannot resist spilling the beans about it as soon as Justin figures it out and accuses him.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Jenner has a very impressive speaking voice.
- Eyepatch of Power: Dragon is blind in one eye and it doesn't make him any less effective as a menace.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Jenner slashing Sullivan across his throat with his sword is startling even to adults.
- Faux Affably Evil: Jenner is possessed of a singular charm and charisma that makes it easy to see how he manipulates others around him. However, almost all of his charm and courtesy towards others is solely to meet his ends, and when things start to turn against him he devolves into a feral creature, and there is no one he won't kill in cold blood to keep his plan in motion.
- Flat Character: Timothy in the first film; he has exactly one line of dialogue, and is little more than a bed-ridden plot device that gives Ms. Brisby a reason to go on her adventure.
- Four Lines, All Waiting: There are at least four ongoing plots tied together in the original film—Ms. Brisby trying to save her children from the farmer's plow, the Rats of NIMH trying to leave for Thorn Valley, Jenner trying to sabotage their moving plans by murdering Nicodemus in a staged accident, so in turn he can usurp leadership of the Rats of NIMH, and Jeremy the Crow trying to find a love interest. And if you count the tiny subplot of the farmer interacting with people from NIMH who are searching for the rats and plan to destroy them, that's a grand total of five. Surprisingly, the sequel directly followed up on that last plot thread.
- Furry Confusion: The Rats angst over this quite a bit. Though, looking at the farm animals, all of them show intelligence and act somewhat like humans — to a point. Only the insects play fully realistic parts.
- Jenner devolves into an animalistic rat during his fight with Justin for a brief moment.
- GASP!: Brisby does this when she sees bones from the Great Owl's previous kills falling after she slips on some.
- Giant Spider: In the Great Owl's lair, before it's crushed to a to pulp.
- Giant Waist Ribbon: Cynthia
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: Subverted. Although two characters look evil and have glowing eyes, they do no harm to anyone.
- Good Is Not Nice: Mr. Ages and Auntie Shrew are both rude and haughty at the best of times, but are also amongst the most courageous characters next to Mrs. Brisby herself.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Both played straight and averted. While Nicodemus's death occurs off-camera, we see the owl causally devour a still-living insect, Mrs. Brisby's cut (hey, it's a G-rated movie, any blood is gore), two characters stabbed, and some rather graphic depictions of animal experimentation, even if only for a few seconds.
- Technically, we do see Nicodemus get hit pretty hard with a pulley and knocked off the rock, which may have killed him before the block did.
- The Greatest Story Never Told: In the movie, how the uplifted mice and rats manage to make their way out of the labyrinthine building their lab is in. The book describes their escape in detail; the movie limits it to a couple of brief scenes (albeit one that's pure, distilled Nightmare Fuel).
- Grumpy Old Man: Mr. Ages is an abrasive misanthrope, but his heart is very much in the right place. Auntie Shrew who is a grumpy old woman herself, even refers to him as "that old flim-flam".
- Hair Decorations: Teresa Brisby and the large bow she sports on her head.
- Hannibal Lecture:
Jenner: Yes! I killed him. He wanted to destroy everything! I've learned this much: take what you can...when you can!
- Heel-Face Turn: See Death Equals Redemption above.
- Hero of Another Story: Johnathan Brisby.
- Heroic Fantasy: The movie is the book's plot redone as a Swords and Sorcery epic, and goes a long way to explain some of the odd depictions and Carnivore Confusion:
- Mrs. Brisby as a peasant girl, beset by forces beyond her understanding;
- Mr. Ages as the grumpy local apothecary (and Gadgeteer Genius);
- Auntie Shrew as the Town Crier and gossip (and very useful when danger comes calling);
- Jeremy as the helpful but bumbling village idiot (Any crow flock would certainly consider him an idiot!);
- The rats as a powerful Hidden Elf Kingdom, complete with court intrigue;
- Dragon as a troll/griffon/other fantasy monster, not too bright but cunning, the primary local hazard.
- Jenner as the ambitious nobleman, scheming to turn the situation to his advantage to kill Nicodemus and take his throne...
- Nicodemus as a powerful mage, a literal Wizard King, and secretly aligned with...
- ...the Great Owl as the real dragon, an ancient, cave-dwelling "Great Wyrm" that offers Mrs. Brisby salient advice at Nicodemus' behest...
- .. and so on.
- Humans Are Cthulhu: Debatable, but humanity does seem pretty Cthulhuish in several respects here. In particular, the Rats of NIMH are understandably terrified of what humans would do if they found a society of transgenic sentients living in a rosebush in some farmer's front lawn. Makes more sense in the context of Heroic Fantasy, above.
- Identical Stranger: Despite being different species and knowing each other, Nicodemus and the Great Owl have the same glowing eyes, same big eyebrows and same-length moustaches. See picture above.
- Word of God: Don Bluth mentioned that they were meant to be mirror images of one another; both "godlike" in their own realms and thus styled very similarly, which would explain the close alliance they had.
- Ill Boy: Timmy.
- Large Ham:
- Mrs. Shrew seemed to think she was in a perpetual Shakespearean play, Trrrilling Rrrs and all.
- Jenner as well: "...and the WEIGHT of it will CRUSH his BONES!"
- Last Breath Bullet: Knife, actually. It's how Jenner meets his end.
- Leave Him to Me: Jenner pulls this, as he wants to crush Nicodemus under a hoisting crane. Oddly, this is done as a murder plot and not (as it usually is) during a heated battle. He also says this word-for-word when Sullivan asks him what to do about Justin.
- Ludd Was Right: The Rats of NIMH angst over their dependence on electricity, as they must steal it from the farm. The whole plan to move to Thorn Valley hinges on their becoming entirely self-sufficient. It's not that they don't like technology or advancement; stealing electricity from the humans just is dangerously conspicuous activity for hyperintelligent rodents on the run. That and they're starting to gain some human-like morality and deeper emotion, such as the feeling of ennui as they realize that a life living entirely off the back of another was robbing them of self-worth.
- Magical Accessory: Mrs. Brisby wears The Stone as a pendant.
- Magitek: The rats' technology is human artifacts, mixed with Nicodemus' technomagery.
- Mama Bear: Not as violent as standard examples, but any mouse (especially a semi-anthropomorphic one) who'll enter the dark spooky lair of one of her natural predators, in order to save her children, deserves a mention.
- Manipulative Bastard: Jenner.
- Meaningful Name: Farmer Fitzgibbon, as in "son of an ape". Not helped by the fact that the prefix "fitz" was, in medieval times, widely used for the surnames of acknowledged illegitimate children - thus making it into "bastard son of an ape". Which is far more insulting, when you think about it.
- Minion with an F in Evil: Sullivan doesn't really do anything to further Jenner's plots. He can't bear the thought of killing Nicodemus and refuses to swing his sword at the crucial moment, leaving Jenner to do the dirty deed. He even tries to stop Jenner from going over the edge and gets his throat cut for his troubles. He lives just long enough to redeem himself by stabbing Jenner In the Back before he kills Justin.
- Mr. Exposition: Nicodemus, but he actually does it well. Mr. Ages and Justin too.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: "Oh, that's just Brutus." Also Dragon. Only a bastard son of an ape would give their pet that name.
- Never Live It Down: Justin suggesting to Mrs. Brisby that she remove her cape. The action also highlights Mrs. Brisby as a Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal.
- Never Say "Die": Averted, consistently, in that even the youngest characters confront death head on and discuss the possibility openly.
- Nice Hat: Invoked by Jeremy ("Oh, what a lovely hat!") to Auntie Shrew when trying to sweet talk her.
- No Control Group: Averted; in the flashback, when Nicodemus escapes from his cage, the row below his are clearly marked "CONTROL GROUP" (though this was hard to make out in the VHS version). The book more clearly mentions them. In the film, they're using wild-caught specimens, which rather negates the control group in Real Life with lab animals that you can buy from breeders. (Yes, there are purebred lines of lab rats and mice.)
- Explained a bit better in the book, as domestic lab rats are reared in plain cages and thus don't get the mental stimulation that wild ones do. Using wild-caught rats for both the experimental and control groups gave the researchers' subjects an intellectual head start, even before being injected with brain enhancers.
- Not Now, Kiddo: Auntie Shrew won't listen to the youngest Brisby child when she tries to tell her that her brother is sick.
- Obviously Evil: Jenner wears an Ominous Opera Cape, with Big Ol' Eyebrows that he's constantly arching, and has a long goatee. He may as well walk around wearing a sign around his neck saying "Evil Megalomaniac."
- Off Model: During Nicodemus' "We Know Too Much" speech to Ms. Brisby, at one part his eyebrows inexplicably disconnect from his head for a few frames! The same occurs with Jenner when he tells Sullivan, "Accidents could happen."
- Older Than They Look: Nicodemus mentions to Mrs. Brisby that the genetic manipulation slowed their aging process, and that Johnathan would have continued to live on and still look young while she grew old.
- Ominous Opera Cape: Jenner, and he uses it for an impressive Cape Swish.
- Papa Wolf: Jeremy tries to act as one, but ultimately his clumsiness intervenes — as well as inadvertently falling under the wrath of a Mama Bear in the process. That said he does act out a pretty valid showing of this for Mrs. Brisby, and to a lesser extent, Timmy.
- Playing with Syringes: The scenes set within NIMH.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Jeremy, somewhat.
- Plummet Perspective: Used a few times.
- Posthumous Character: Jonathan Brisby.
- Power Glows: Nicodemus is the king of Glowy Thingies of Power.
- The Power of Love: Mrs. Brisby's greatest gift.
- Power Strain Blackout: Mrs. Brisby, immediately following the film's climax, wherein she uses The Stone for the first and only time to move her home. She collapses as its power subsides, then passes out.
- Precision F-Strike: "Damn..."
- Psychic Powers: Nicodemus has Telekinesis, and Mrs. Brisby pulls some tricks at the end.
- Quicksand Sucks: A house made from a cinder block is disposed of like this-after being dropped by crane onto Nicodemus. As a murder weapon. The residents are also still inside.
- Red Filter of Doom:
- During Brisby's encounter with Brutus.
- Also much of the fight between Justin and Jenner is filmed/animated in reddish hues.
- Red String of Fate: This may or may not be an intentional usage; when Mrs. Brisby first meets Jeremy, he is tangled in red string, which he is retrieving to build a "love nest" for his future "Mrs. Right".
- The Renaissance Age of Animation: One of the (if not the) real instigators of it; animated films hadn't been made as seriously as this for quite a while when it came out and it would still be a few good years before Who Framed Roger Rabbit was made.
- Scenery Porn: A lot of it, especially in the rat colony.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Hugely averted in this film. Just look at the size of the plow and Dragon to the rest of the rats and mice of NIMH.
- Played straighter however in that Dragon is a little too big for even a good-sized housecat, being closer in size to an almost medium-sized dog.
- Schizo Tech: Crosses over with Hammerspace when Justin and Jenner pull out their swords. Considering that the rats adapt human technology based on their functioning understanding of it (well, at least in the novel), one might wonder where they managed to come up with the idea that full-on medieval swords in tiny miniature version would be a good idea. Especially considering the kinds of heat needed to shape metal when they live in a flammable environment (it's a rose bush). In any case, for some this might lean into Fridge Logic country, and for others it leans in the opposite direction, however you can't deny that the combination of electricity, elevators, lighting... and magic and swords is a little schizoid.
- Possibly the swords are justified, as the rats did need some means of defense against predators such as snakes or weasels. While they probably had the know-how to build firearms, those would be too noisy for creatures that live in hiding.
- It also goes right along with the idea of the whole thing being a Heroic Fantasy; of course our medieval warriors would have swords, the rest of their technology being Magitek.
- Ship Tease: Justin and Mrs. Brisby flirt a bit over the course of the movie, but both have more important things on their minds.
- Shout-Out: Ms. Brisby raising her house with the medallion at the end, at least how its visually presented, is very likely a homage to Yoda using the Force to raise Luke's X-Wing in The Empire Strikes Back.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Justin, who becomes the leader of the rats after Nicodemus' death. Justin supposedly died in the novel by getting poisoned by NIMH. He gets better in the book's sequel.
- Stealth Insult
The Thorn Valley Plan is the aspiration of idiots
! We... (sees Justin and Mr. Ages and chuckles)
We were just talking about you...
- Translation Convention: In an interesting variation, Dragon's meows are rendered (except in a brief scene centered on the humans) as horrific, dragony roars to reflect that, as far as his prey is concerned, he lives up to his name.
- Possibly justified, as mouse ears are attuned to higher-pitched sounds than humans. A cat's yowls could quite plausibly be at the far low-frequency end of Mrs. Brisby's range of hearing, even though they'd sound high and plaintive to humans.
- In the scene when Mrs. Brisby is imprisoned in the cage, and Mrs. Fitzgibbon goes to let Dragon in the back door, we hear him make perfectly normal feline meows. Like the scene where she's hanging the laundry, this moment is shown from more of an omniscient viewpoint than Mrs. Brisby's first-person angle, suggesting we're not seeing things from a mouse POV anymore.
- Truth in Television: The research lab the rats and mice break out of is based off the real-life National Institutes of Health Building 10◊, the largest hospital in the U.S., where all their clinical trials (and many animal labs) are located. The picture shows about a quarter of the building; it's as big as a city block, and people get lost in there routinely. Try to imagine escaping from a building that size if you are a rat or mouse...
- In actuality, almost everything that appears in the movie from the Interspecies Friendships to the rather smart intelligence of animals to the cooperation of two different species has actually been observed and recorded both in captivity and in the wild, though the chances of it being seen and recorded is incredibly rare. In fact, the only thing that is blatantly untrue in this movie is the anthropomorphic shape of the animals.
- Unwanted Assistance: Mrs. Brisby gets irritated by Jeremy's continued antics, which are more likely to bring the wrath of Dragon down on her head than aid her. Eventually, she tricks him into leaving her alone by claiming that she needs him to look after the children while she is gone.
- Verbal Tic: Aunt Shrew sure loves to roll her R's.
- Villainous Breakdown: Jenner spends most of his time in the film being a Faux Affably Evil Smug Snake. When it looks like his plans have come to fruition near the end once Nicodemus is dead, Mrs. Brisby comes to warn the rats of their impending demise at the hands of NIMH. Jenner is so frustrated that he loses all semblance of civility and attacks her, trying to take the amulet and then engages in a feral swordfight with Justin, freely admitting his part in trying to stop the plan.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Jeremy gains a strong liking and responsibility to help Mrs. Brisby throughout her turmoils. Mrs. Brisby on the other hand is more along trying desperately to brush the clingy nuisance off her back (in a progressively less gentle manner). She does seem to like him when he isn't causing trouble for her, however.
Jeremy:: "So....do ya like me?"
Mrs. Brisby:: "Of course I like you. Bye now!"
- Walking Disaster Area: Jeremy, oh so much.
- Wizard Beard: Nicodemus.
- Voice-Acting Around Trademarks: Late in production, concerns arose that the name "Frisby" would land them in legal trouble with the makers of the Frisbee toy. Many of the voice actors returned to the studio for additional ADR work in order to replace every instance of the name "Frisby" in the film with "Brisby". Only Elizabeth Hartman and John Carradine—the actors for said character and the Great Owl—could not, so their lines were mechanically edited.
- Would Hit a Girl: Near the end, Jenner smacks Mrs. Brisby out of the way when she tries to warn the rats that NIMH is coming.
- You Dirty Rat: Averted for the most part. The rats even gain a sense of morality and even consider it wrong to steal from humans, the very species who locked them up and experimented on them. However, this trope is played frighteningly straight with Jenner.
Tropes exclusive to The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue: