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Film Review: The Secret of NIMH

Updated on December 15, 2016


In 1982, Don Bluth’s released The Secret of NIMH, based on the 1971 novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien. Starring Hermione Baddeley, John Carradine, Dom DeLuise, Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Arthur Malet, Paul Shenar, and Peter Strauss, the film grossed $14.7 at the box office.


Mrs. Brisby, widowed mouse and mother of four, has to move her family in order to avoid the plow. However, one of her children, Timmy, has pneumonia and can’t be moved, so she seeks out the Great Owl and the rats of NIMH for help.


The Secret of NIMH is such a great film and possibly one of the best animated films to not be put out by Disney. Contained within the overall story are four ongoing plots that seamlessly tie together. Mrs. Brisby tries to save her children from the plow and the rats of NIMH are trying to leave the farm to make it to Thorn Valley. At the same time, Jenner is conspiring to kill Nicodemus so he can be leader of the rats and Jeremy is searching for a love interest. It would seem that Brisby’s story is the perpendicular thread that connects them all, showing how one person’s story can intrude in the middle of another’s only to become a part of the latter and if it weren't for that one person, none of them would have had the endings they did either, which gives rise to how meaningful meeting someone is. Jeremy would likely have flown off and not met his love interest, Jenner would have successfully become the leader of the rats and none of them would never have gone to Thorn Valley.

The film also deals heavily with the theme of bravery and how far someone will go for family. Early on, Brisby seeing Mr. Ages for some medicine isn’t much of an imposition nor a hard thing to do for Brisby. Soon though, plow comes and she can’t move Timmy so she immediately goes to break it, which could have killed her. Yet, that becomes a temporary solution and she is advised to speak with the Great Owl. The only problem is: owls eat mice, which Brisby knows full well, and it just keeps going on from there. All the acts Brisby does in the film, from stopping the plow to ensuring that her home is moved to be out of its way permanently keep requiring greater acts of bravery that a normal character would have just quit halfway through and moved Timmy just so the former could be safe and not in harm’s way.

There’s also the point that first appearances aren’t quite what they seem. Mr. Ages and Auntie Shrew are abrasive and very grumpy, but they have hearts of gold. The former helps to give Brisby medicine for Timmy and helps the other rats move the house. The latter immediately joins Brisby in stopping the plow and takes out Jeremy when she thinks he’s a spy from the rats. The Great Owl is also a foreboding character that could kill Brisby in a heartbeat, but actually take the time to listen to her and give advice on what to do. At the same time, Jenner is charming and charismatic, but it all turns out to be manipulation and when his plans start to turn sour, he becomes feral and doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone who stands in his way. This includes his right hand man.

There’s no doubt the content of the film speaks for its greatness. But what it took to make it shouldn’t be forgotten either. Bluth broke away from Disney to produce his own films just because he wanted to and nothing was going to stop him. Therefore, he and other higher-ups involved mortgaged their homes so they could pay for it and many staff members worked 110-hour weeks to produce it. This film is not only a testament to the sacrifices that Brisby endured for her children, but showed what filmmakers who love their craft will be willing to do for their art.

5 stars for The Secret of NIMH

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinion

Awards won

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA Saturn Awards

  • Best Animated Film

Nominated for

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA Saturn Awards

  • Best Fantasy Film

Young Artist Awards

  • Best Family Feature - Animated, Musical or Fantasy


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