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The Secret of NIMH 1982 ****

Regular readers will have noticed that my website has changed from the basic WordPress shell to something a little fancier; this process involves something called a migration. Every time this ‘migration’; is mentioned, for some reason, my mind would turn to Robert C O’Brien’s book Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and the grand Moving Day that Mrs Frisby frets about in the opening chapter.

Disney didn’t fancy adapting Mrs Frisby’s adventures back in the 1970’s, when animation somehow wasn’t Disney’s thing; instead the enterprising Don Bluth stepped up to the plate, and the result is a stunningly realised animated film with wonderful character designs and magical backdrops. Bluth amped up the mystical elements of the book, adding enchanted amulets and elements of sorcery, but he kept the key and most controversial element. Mrs Frisby has to save her children, but to do so, she has to engage the rats of NIMH, and NIMH is not some arcane kingdom, but the National Institute of Mental Health.

Yes, this film is based on real-life animal testing, always a great selling point for the little ones, but fortunately no actual cartoon mice suffered to make this film. It must have been tough for the film-makers to see the similarly themed Watership Down and The Plague Dogs aim to beat them to the punch, but The Secret of NIMH is neither as brutal or hard-hitting as these two other well-meaning sources of childhood nightmare fuel. Bluth’s film is set in our world, with a fierce cat to escape from, plus a helpful crow voiced, rather over-bearingly, by Dom Deluise. Elsewhere, the spot the voice game is in overdrive with Shannen Doherty, Peter Strauss, Derek Jacobi, John Carradine, Will Wheaton and Edie McClurg all contributing to the lively cast of characters.

The Secret of NIMH is an animation that rivals the best of Disney and Pixar; it’s cute and funny, but also leads from the known to the unknown in terms of a child’s understanding of the world. Bluth is one of the world’s great talents in terms of visual story-telling, and with the Russo brothers announced as custodians of the remake, The Secret of NIMH is finally getting enshrined as one of the high-water marks of non -Mouse-house animation.

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  1. Something about rats and mice always kept me from reading the books and then from trying the movie. I have to admit, I just assumed it was a disney movie…

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