MarzGurl Loves Don Bluth: The Secret of NIMH
August 1, 2011
(A clip from Banjo the Woodpile Cat is shown)
MarzGurl (vo): It would appear that after Banjo the Woodpile Cat, Don Bluth had successfully got people's attention. It was after that animation that in 1980...
(Clips from Xanadu are shown)
MarzGurl (vo): ...Bluth was given the opportunity to animate a short segment for the movie, Xanadu, which was basically Electric Light Orchestra: The Movie, starring Olivia Newton-John. The animated segment is short, only a couple of minutes long, but man, is it pretty. It really does what Bluth had proven what he could do best: animate animals, and while that's good at being cartoony and all, my favorite portions of the animation are the brief moments where you get to see the two main characters as humans. Their movements and interactions with one another are very realistic, probably due to rotoscoping, which Bluth has been known to do, but the fact that they still look cartoony enough to not seem terribly creepy is amazing. I mean, let me just put it this way...
(A rotoscoped clip of a woman singing is shown)
MarzGurl (vo): I've definitely seen rotoscoping that looks much, much scarier.
(Clips from The Secret of NIMH are shown)
MarzGurl (vo): But finally, in 1982, Don Bluth made his first full-length directorial debut with The Secret of NIMH. The movie is actually an adaptation of the children's novel, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and has a number of significant changes made throughout the course of this story. For one, the main character, a mouse named Mrs. Frisby, is now referred to as Mrs. Brisby, if only so because copyright infringement could be avoided with...
(A picture of a Frisbee is shown)
MarzGurl (vo): ...a certain flying disc. Kinda silly, right?
(More clips are shown)
MarzGurl (vo): For another, Nicodemus, the leader of the rats, is quite old and filled with mystical powers. In the novel, not only was Nicodemus not nearly as old, but magic wasn't really a thing. Electricity was, but not magic. Aside from a few other noticeable things, the plot of the novel carries on to the movie and remains relatively intact. Mrs. Brisby is the widow of Jonathan Brisby, a mouse with some history, but nobody seems to directly want to tell her what that history was. A day called Moving Day is fast approaching, where the farm that she and the other animals live on will soon start to get mowed and plowed by the farmers who live there. The unfortunate fact of the matter's that Mrs. Brisby's son, Timmy is sick with pneumonia and is unable to move. During the course of the movie, she meets another mouse by the name of Mr. Ages, who fixes her some medicine for Timmy; Jeremy, a bumbling crow with good intentions; and Auntie Shrew, who can't seem to keep her nose out of the Brisbys' life. It's interesting to think about Jeremy, who is voiced by Dom DeLuise. Dom shows up in Don Bluth movies over and over again, and it's, like, every time, it just sounds like Dom DeLuise playing Dom DeLuise.
Jeremy: No, I mean...uh, uh, I-I mean you don't think I'm clumsy or anything? (yelps as he falls) Oh, sorry, excuse me, pardon me.
MarzGurl (vo): On Moving Day, Mrs. Brisby and the shrew are able to disable the farmer's tractor, but that's not gonna stop them forever. Brisby makes her way to the Great Owl, who has a striking resemblance to other owls that Don Bluth would animate later on down the line. The owl suggests visiting the rats to ask them for help with moving Timmy. What she discovers is that the rats are incredibly intelligent and can harness the power of electricity. Well, this is where I sort of don't understand why changes needed to be made to the original story. As it is, the electricity is already coming off as being incredibly different and mystifying; I don't fully understand why it was necessary to make Nicodemus some kind of an amazing wizard in a world of technology, but I digress. Nicodemus tells a story about how the rats in this colony escaped from a group of humans known as the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH for short. Okay, so that's what the title means. NIMH is a group of scientists who do experiments on rats, and although we know how science works, the ways portrayed on screen are pretty mystical and somewhat frightening. The scientific experiments somehow gave the rats the intelligence of average human beings, giving them the ability to read, write, comprehend, work out logistics, all that amazing junk, and in the middle of it all, Mrs. Brisby's late husband, Jonathan, was there to set all the rats free. That's why in the community of the rats of NIMH, Jonathan is considered a hero. Adding to the mysticism, Nicodemus gives Mrs. Brisby a stone said to be carried by her late husband; it supposedly gives someone some kind of magic something when the person wearing it shows great courage. Remember this thing, kids, it'll be important later. Anyway, Nicodemus' idea is that the rats shouldn't have to steal electricity, so he and several other rats are coming up with an ingenious plan to leave the farm and start living for themselves. But one rat by the name of Jenner isn't particularly thrilled with that. Not only does he want to stay and keep using the electricity, but he wants to take over leadership of all the rats, naturally. So he comes up with a cunning plan to pretend to help Mrs. Brisby move her whole house, making him look like the good guy, but after a long series of events throughout the movie, it's more than obvious that he was never good at all and even ends up killing Nicodemus, crushing him under the Brisby house, making it appear to be an accident. But Justin, a good fellow member of the rats of NIMH who you get to know slightly over the course of the movie, completely sees through Jenner's act and he sword fights Jenner to the death, and I do indeed mean the death! This fight is amazing; this isn't just some silly, overly choreographed fight, this is two men, or rats, as the case may be, swinging huge sheets of metal at one another, using the field to their advantage and blood is getting split and characters die. It totally isn't something you would expect from something mostly considered to be a children's movie; the whole scene is dark and grim, and even when the fight is over, the doom and gloom isn't, because the Brisby household is still sinking into the mud, with Mrs. Brisby's children still inside, but because Mrs. Brisby has shown amazing courage, the stone that Nicodemus gave her does this amazing mystical thing and lifts the house out of the mud like a Jedi magic trick. The movie ends on a particularly happy and upbeat note: The Brisby house is moved, Timmy's just fine, Mrs. Brisby has given the stone away to Justin, and unfortunately, Jeremy the crow is suddenly thrown a derpy girlfriend at the end, kind of a sudden unnecessary move, if you ask me, but it's nice to see a happy ending all the same.
This movie is beautiful, but it isn't perfect. One of my biggest complaints is the voice acting, actually. Now it isn't awful, it just often comes across as kind of awkward, mostly from Elizabeth Hartman's role as Mrs. Brisby; so often, I just found her acting to be, again, not awful, but just really bland.
Mr. Ages: Now you must excuse me, uh, you know the way out.
Mrs. Brisby: Oh, uh, of course, thank you once again.
Mr. Ages: Shoo, shoo, you go on now.
Mrs. Brisby: Thank you so-(the door gets slammed on her)...much...bye.
MarzGurl (vo): And so often, there were moments where characters' faces would be doing something incredibly expressive, but the voice wasn't reacting the same way. Take, for example, Mrs. Brisby riding on Jeremy's back; she's never flown before and she's scared, but in scary situations like this one, she never screams, she barely sounds excited at all, really.
Jeremy: I told you you'd love flying.
Mrs. Brisby: I don't know how I let you talk me into this!
Jeremy: Ah, don't thank me, Mrs. Bris!
MarzGurl (vo): Or there'll be moments where a character is falling or sliding; again, their faces appear to be terrified, but sometimes, the sound doesn't come out of their mouths at all.
(Another clip shows Mr. Ages sliding and falling down a flashing corridor due to a shakeup)
MarzGurl (vo): It's a little bit of a jarring mix of audio and visuals, but overall, the movie is a stunning piece of animation. Even the credits are pretty to look at. Speaking of the credits, look at how many animators are credited, just these guys, just this one page! That is amazing to me! I mean, granted, the process of animation has tons of steps and plenty of other staff members were required to complete the job, but honestly, this STILL amazes me. The movie is a masterful piece of work that somehow magically ended up with a G rating with all the dark tones, the violence, the blood, and even some swearing. You'd really expect to see, again, a PG, and yet, somehow, it didn't. The hard work and effort that Don Bluth and his studio put into the production of this movie is amazingly evident, and it's a solid remainder that under personal opinion, no other animation style beats traditional animation.
(Credits are shown)