Saturday, 28 December 2013

Film Review: The Secret of NIMH

When The Lord of the Rings films came out I was quite pleased to find that I'd been a fan of Peter Jackson as a director since before it became fashionable to be a fan of his work, having loved The Frighteners since I was about eleven or twelve (even though it scared the bejeezus out of me).

Since then I've discovered that I actually had very particular tastes in my directors from an early age. One day while listing favourite animated films from when I was a child I realised that a substantial chunk of those animated films were directed by Don Bluth. This Christmas I asked Mr Click for any Don Bluth films he could find, and he came through magnificently.

On Christmas Day night we watched The Secret of NIMH, which is based on the book Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien. The film was made in 1982, Don Bluth's first film after leaving Disney. It was such a huge gamble that actually saw the lead filmmakers mortgaging their homes to provide funds for production. It made a modest $14 million (after costing the relatively small $7 million to make) but paved the way for Bluth's later films An American Tale, Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven.

The Secret of NIMH follows Mrs Brisby (renamed for the film to avoid any legal conflicts with Frisbee toys) as she tries to help save her poorly young son Timothy. He has contracted pneumonia and cannot be moved from their winter home in a brick situated in a farmer's field; however the farmer is preparing to plough the field and her son will almost certainly be killed if he remains. Acting on the advice of an owl, Mrs Brisby goes to visit the strange rats who live below a rose bush on the farm, learning something unexpected about her deceased husband and proving that she will do anything for her children.

It's a lot darker than the cover above would suggest. The original film poster is a lot more fitting for the story, in fact some die-hard fans apparently print this off and use it to replace the DVD cover. As much as I like the poster, I'm not quite going to go that far (I do like it though, the Great Owl reminds me of Gandalf).

I used to have this on DVD and I watched it a lot as a child so I'm very familiar with the story. I also read the book within the last couple of years so the story was still fresh in my mind. Having read the book more recently than having watched the film there were a couple of places where things happened differently to what I was expecting because I'd forgotten the changes between the book and the film.

The animation in this film is absolutely beautiful. The backgrounds are totally stunning and the way the characters are animated is perfect. Of course all the animals are anthropomorphised but the mice are mouse-ish and the rats are rattish. Being a big rat lover I really enjoy watching this film for these rats alone. I couldn't help but notice that perhaps our Carol-rat was related to those NIMH rats; except she didn't need a sign telling her how to open the cage, she figured it out all on her own!

I know that this is a film I'm going to want to watch over and over again. Despite the Disneyfied cover, it probably wouldn't suit a lot of young children, there's a scene where a rat is crushed to death as well as several mice falling to an uncomfortable end. Like Watership Down it's given a U rating when it probably would've been better suited to being a PG, but it's definitely a film that adults can enjoy without feeling like they're watching a children's film.

Now I'm really looking forward to rewatching An American Tail and All Dogs Go To Heaven (even though the latter of those will almost certainly make me want to cry!).

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