In this episode of Creations of Chaos, it’s the other Don Bluth mouse movie. The Secret of NIMH is filled with sword toting rodents, a glowy- eyed mystic, and more questions than answers.
This July, The Secret of NIMH turned thirty-five.
Like The Last Unicorn, The Secret of NIMH is a film that ignites nostalgic, childhood remembrances, in many of my peers, but is a film I didn’t see until I was a young adult.
Directed by Don Bluth, who traumatized me as a child, by instilling a fear of parental separation with An American Tale, I wasn’t sure I could handle another mouse based tear jerker, but those who remembered The Secret of NIMH with nothing but fondness, insisted that it was a must watch.
A science lab, conducting animal experiments, succeeds in creating super intelligent mice and rats. Unfortunately for the lab, the rodents become so intelligent, they figure out a way to escape.
Later, one of the escaped mice, Jonathan, perishes in a tragic cat attack, leaving behind a wife and four children. When one of the children falls ill, the widowed Mrs. Brisby seeks assistance from the rats. Little does she know that her decision will result in her entanglement in a political coup.
Brushing the Surface
I’m starting to fear that the fantastic story telling that is currently going on in television and movies, is clouding my perspective. I love science fiction and fantasy. I especially enjoy getting into the details of how things work. With the ability to now tell continuing stories over multiple seasons, or six, seven, or more movies, all questions are usually, eventually, answered.
I haven’t read the book that The Secret of NIMH is based on, so I’m unsure if the answers to the myriad of questions the film left me with are contained within the book’s pages.
The film feels too short. It jumps from one thing to the next in an effort to keep momentum, resulting in only brushing the surface of the story.
I wanted to know if Jonathan was only one of two mice who escaped the lab, how are Mrs. Brisby and her children also seemingly intelligent? Is it a gene that gets passed on? Could there eventually be a whole world filled with intelligent mice and rats who decide to overthrow humans?
I also couldn’t figure out how what seemed to start out as a science based, intelligence increasing formula, lead to the rat leader Nicodemus, having mystical powers. Was he just the oldest, or the most enlightened? Was he able to pull upon some already existing magic? I wanted details, lots of details, but only minimal information was provided.
At times it is hard to tell what the film wants to be. If it’s supposed to be a science fiction film, then it would be great if NIMH and it’s threat to the mice and rats was more in the forefront. If it’s supposed to be a political thriller, then more of Jenner and his rat government coup would work well.
If it is supposed to be a happy, tug-at-your-heartstrings family film, then perhaps less torment for the poor Brisby family.
For the Love of Timothy
Confession, I verbally yelled at the screen while watching The Secret of NIMH.
Timothy, child mouse, has pneumonia. Mrs. Brisby is told that Timothy cannot get out of bed or go outside, because doing so will cause his death.
Normally when plow season begins, the family moves away from their house for the season, but since Timothy, under no circumstance, is allowed to leave the house, they must move the entire house.
The moving of the house is not a smooth process. It involves a lot of swinging and swaying, and for some reason no one thought it might be good idea not to have a burning candle around while everything is flying around willy-nilly.
Of course, with the help of Jenner, the ropes break, and the house plummets to the ground, trapping Timothy, thanks to the careless candle, in a burning tomb. He’s only saved due to an accidental spillage of water. Then the cinder block house, with Timothy trapped inside, sinks into the mud, resulting in the children suffering a slow death by drowning in an ooze of suffocating mud. They are only saved by a magical stone, that just so happens to work at the right time. So, for the love of Timothy, these events seem far more detrimental to his health and well-being, than if they just figured out the best way to move his tiny, sick, mouse body.
Magic and Mayhem
The Secret of NIMH does a great job creating characters that you care enough about, that you fear for their safety, and morn their lose. There is danger, and the potential for catastrophe, at every turn. As a viewer, you are on the edge of your seat, in constant anticipation of unfortunate rodent deaths. It’s more anxiety provoking than your average animated film.
Made in the 80s, when animated features leaned toward dark and brooding, it was a time when you could show rats being tortured in a lab, or a fantastic, mouse knife throwing death scene, and no one complained that it was too intense for little eyes.
The magic in the film isn’t fun, whimsical, shiny magic. It’s mysterious, gloomy, with an undertone of nefarious. It’s believable that if the power ended up in the wrong hands, it could cause serious damage. It made me miss the time when I was a kid, and magic felt shadowy, ominous, and thrilling.
I can’t say that I love The Secret of NIMH. Though I appreciate the grittiness, and the attempt to make an intelligent, science fiction, fantasy combo, the plot is frustrating, and there is a lot of missing explanation. If you are a Don Bluth fan, or like to indulge in all things 80s, including animation, then I do believe that it is worth watching.