Don Bluth’s The Secret Of Nimh

I remember reading the book Mrs. Frisby & The Rats Of Nimh as a child and being utterly transported by Robert C. O’Brien’s prose and storytelling. I think it’s the duty of any filmmaker adapting a literary work to do three things; 1) keep the spirit, themes and intention of the sacred source material on hand and implement it accordingly, 2) present a great deal of their own artistic and personal flourishes wherever they can and 3) utterly transport their audience to the world they are both adapting and further exploring. In the case of Don Bluth’s The Secret Of Nimh he has outdone himself by keeping the dark, often threatening beats of the book intact while offering up a dazzling galaxy of unbelievably gorgeous still-frame animation tableaus for equally stunning animated animals in motion to inhabit and tell this unique story. Mrs. Frisby (Elizabeth Hartman) is a widowed field mouse living in a vast and dangerous farmyard realm with her wee mousie children, one of whom is very ill. Every year when the farmer comes to plow the fields, all the woodland creatures are violently displaced in an apocalyptic ritual they refer to as ‘moving day.’ Because of her youngest child’s illness, moving day would be especially torturous for them this year and so she sets out on a mythical quest to find a better life for her family, a quest that puts her in contact with many other animals in the realm including friendly crow Jeremiah (Dom DeLuise), a spooky old great horned owl (John Carradine), the vicious and predatory farmer’s cat and a troupe of scheming rats, some trustworthy and others treacherous. This is a dark, prophetic, devilishly imaginative story that isn’t just children’s nursery rhymes but gets intense, introspective and downright menacing, I can see how this would scare the ever-loving soul out of young kids. Bluth’s animation is the real star here and every breathtaking backdrop is gorgeously hand painted, detailed and atmospheric tapestry of swirling colour, borderline abstract shapes and boldly audacious expressionism. The animals are vividly drawn with a touch of the surreal and the images and sound on display are dreamlike wonders of artistic creation. The world feels frightening, full of wonder, lived-in and soaked in ambience whether it’s overgrown forest thickets, arcing wheatgrass meadows, cluttered farmyard dwellings and even a brief trip to a nocturnal cityscape in a hellish flashback that holds the key to the story’s central mystery. This film is an unbelievable artistic achievement and benchmark in the medium of animation.

-Nate Hill