The Summer of ’82: The Secret of NIMH

Fante’s Inferno revisits the Summer of 1982, considered to be the greatest movie summer for fantasy and sci-fi fans.

The Secret of NIMH

Release Date: 7/2/82

Directed by Don Bluth; Written by Don Bluth, John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman and Will Finn; based on the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

Starring: Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Arthur Malet, Dom DeLuise, Peter Strauss, Paul Shenar, Aldo Ray, John Carradine

See the trailer here.

The Secret of NIMH is one of my favorite animated films of all time along with Watership Down, Fire and Ice, and Heavy Metal.  One thing that always concerns me when I revisit an animated feature from the 70’s or 80’s is the possibility of losing the excitement I had for the film when compared to present day animation.  Luckily this didn’t happen when I watched NIMH earlier this week.

As amazing as 3D animation looks, I still have more of an appreciation for the technique of 2D, hand drawn animation.  I still consider The Secret of NIMH to be one of the best examples of traditional animation in the last 50 years, and I say this knowing that many Disney fans will disagree with me.  One thing I forgot over the years was how striking the background paintings were.  Each of them stood on their own as more than just background, they were works of art that set the mood and tone of the film.

One game I like to play when I research a film on iMDb is a “where are they now” of the cast.  Of the films I’ve revisited so far in my Summer of ’82 series of posts, the cast of The Secret of NIMH surprised me the most.  I easily remembered Derek Jacobi as Nicodemus and Dom DeLuise as Jeremy the crow, but I was surprised to find the voice of Mrs. Brisby was Elizabeth Hartman, who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as Sidney Poitier’s blind love interest in the 1965 film A Patch of Blue.  Other surprises were Shannen Doherty and Wil Wheaton as Mrs. Brisby’s children Teresa and Martin, and Peter Strauss as Justin.  Aldo Ray was the voice of Sullivan.  And how about John Carradine as the Great Owl!  Don Bluth and Gary Goldman pulled out all the stops with this film (their first animated feature after they left Disney) and they definitely invested in a great cast.

I was surprised The Secret of NIMH was given a G rating considering many of the darker elements in the film.  I remembered the scene of the rats going through the tests at NIMH as being too much for a child to be able to handle at a young age, but even scenes such as Mrs. Brisby’s meeting with the Great Owl and her first encounter with the rat Brutus might scare the bejeezus out of out of a young child.

Thirty years later, The Secret of NIMH doesn’t only hold up, it reminds me of why I love animation.  The story, characters and especially the animation drew me back in and brought me back to my local theater back in 1982.  All I needed was a large Coke and a 1/2 pound bag of strawberry Twizzlers.

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