Reviews: The Secretof NIMH

...or: How I Stopped Fawning and Learned to Hate the Space Whale Aesop

The first half of the film is amazing. Somehow the kind of music and animation that would make me inclined to dismiss a film as cheesy American drivel made the film feel awe-inspiring. Mrs. Brisby’s devotion was beautiful. Everything seemed to work just fine until the introduction of Jenner, whose personality clashes horribly with the rest of the film. It got worse when the amulet was introduced, and later when the house-moving scene happened and felt way too rushed, especially Jenner’s rapid outward moral decline (they way he instantly confessed killing Nicodemus felt idiotic). Finally, which is my biggest beef with the film, the amulet’s power, while supposedly symbolising the film’s main message, made that very message absurd. Had it at least been set up more properly I would’ve let it slide, but it felt like a rushed Deus ex Machina.

Finally, Jeremy’s antics got old really quickly, and while it was cute that he was thrown a bone at the end, it felt very forced.

I get that the film was made on No Budget, but as a viewer those were serious downsides that detracted a good deal of the second half’s value.



Yeah, after the baptism-by-fire that was Banjo the Woodpile Cat (judging by its feverish workload), Don Bluth finally got his chance at creating a full-length animated feature under his own production banner, with no Executive Meddling from the complacent giant that was early '80s Disney. And the end result was perhaps the most Don Bluthiest piece of Don Bluth artistry that ever Don Bluthed. For better or worse.

Let's get the obvious parts out of the way: the film looks amazing to this day. It truly revives the feel of those Disney classics of old like few movies have done after the passing of the Golden Age. But it retains that sorta gloomy Don Bluth grittiness. You can't replicate the magic wrought by human hands with a computer, and this just drives that point home. I could just watch a sequence of the film's backgrounds for the entire running time and leave with the same all-encompassing feeling of forbidding, atmospheric beauty. And the actual animation is archetypal Bluth, never once sacrificing character, quirkiness, and identity for cheap marketability.

The story is also a strong one, featuring one of my most favourite female protagonists in all fiction. Ahhh, that Mrs. Brisby. Just a tiny mouse in the great scheme of things—timid and not at all happy to go on a "great adventure"—she nevertheless summons forth great courage and heart to save her terminally ill son. That scene where she ultimately saves her children—after the single darkest moment of a film filled with family-unfriendly horrors—is just one of those all-time great scenes that draw on all the medium's strengths—animation, music, dialogue—to embody everything traditional animation can be at its very best. Goddamn! Power of the fucking heart, man.

Still, there are some sticking points. Apart from the ending, the last act progresses way too fast after a little under an hour of tense, languid buildup, with a dull, underdeveloped villain to boot. The darkness can also get a bit stifling. I'm all for some good, trauma-inducing (childhood trauma builds character, don't ya know?) animated darkness and all that, but I feel maybe the balance between dark subject matter and levity isn't all that, well... balanced.

It's not my favourite Bluth film, but it rightfully earns the title of a true animation classic.