The Secret of NIMH (Blu-ray)
Directed by Don Bluth
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 83 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English, Spanish, others
Subtitles: SDH. French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Review Date: March 28, 2011
Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH is a darker and more ominous animated film than the features that were then being produced at his old home Disney at the time (the closest Disney title in tone and temperament to NIMH was The Black Cauldron which premiered three years after this), and while the animation is first-rate, the storytelling is still a bit rocky and erratic. Based on an award-winning children’s book, The Secret of NIMH likely plays much better today than it did on its first release. A more serious story and the lack of lovable, huggable characters distinguish it from what was passing as top tier feature animation at the time.
With her son desperately ill with pneumonia and her home under imminent threat from a man pulling a plow over the concrete block where they reside, field mouse Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Hartman) ventures out into the world to get medicine from Mr. Ages (Arthur Malet) and advice on moving her concrete block from the Great Owl (John Carradine). He suggests that she enlist the “rats of NIMH” to help her with her moving problem, and during the course of her adventures, she learns that these particular rats were scientifically experimented upon resulting in super intelligence and that they have ties to her late husband. The rat pack is in the midst of a struggle for power with the evil Jenner (Paul Shenar) battling with the heroic Justin (Peter Strauss) for control of the group. Head sorcerer Nicodemus (Derek Jacobi) does what he can to instill confidence in Mrs. Brisby that things can turn out for the best if she’s willing to conquer her fears and proceeed with courage.
With superb animation on display (but lacking the multiplane camera which would have given the images even greater depth than they now have), the film is a pleasure to experience. It gets off to a somewhat murky start with a pre-credit sequence that’s puzzling (we don’t know who’s speaking or what he’s talking about, and it isn’t cleared up for almost an hour), and some rather flat early sequences as Mrs. Brisby struggles frantically to get to the doctor to get medicine for her child may leave adults squirming in their seats early on. Her initial encounters with the klutzy crow Jeremy (Dom DeLuise) wear out their welcome fast, and while the bewildered bird is probably a kiddie favorite, a little of him goes a long way throughout the film. (Originally planned to be in only two scenes, the actor voicing him was such a hit in the recording studio that his improvisations were incorporated into seven sequences of the movie.) Action picks up and the tone becomes more deliciously threatening as the film proceeds neatly drawing in everyone’s attention to the climactic fight sequence. Earlier, an escape from a cat makes for engrossing viewing, and the “moving day” sequence with frantic field animals scurrying away en masse lend a real air of excitement to the drama of the movie. To their credit, the filmmakers have not shied away from the darker aspects of life. There are three prominent deaths in the movie, and they aren’t sugar-coated for the young ones either. No, the film doesn’t become a blood-spattered canvas, but the realities and harshness of life for these creatures aren’t neglected either.
The voice casting is superb. Elizabeth Hartman gracefully segues from tentative fright to real resolve during the course of the movie. The wonderful Hermione Baddeley steals all of her scenes as the scatter-brained know-it-all Auntie Shrew. John Carradine’s naturally low-speaking voice lends a real gravitas to his lordly owl sequence while Dom DeLuise does his usual chattering silliness as the addled crow. There is wonderful contrast to the respective heroics and villainy of Peter Strauss and Paul Shenar as the rivals for the control of NIMH. Look closely into the cast list, and you’ll see the very young Wil Wheaton and Shannen Doherty voicing two of Mrs. Frisby’s children.
The film has been framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. While the image has not been given the scrub and polish of the latest Disney animated classics (which some will breathe a sigh of relief about), the integrity of the film look has been retained with grain present and colors alternately bright or muted depending on the shots. Color density is generally fine though occasionally there is slight flicker in the image. There is no banding to be seen in the frame. Sharpness is generally excellent, but there are some shots which seem a bit soft and ill-matched to the shots before and after them. Clean-up has removed all scratches from previous releases and most of the dirt, too, though there are some white and black specks to be seen throughout the presentation. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound presentation effectively blends the well-recorded dialogue with the decent (but not outstanding) sound effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s winning score to produce a very good aural experience. The song “Flying Dreams” makes for a lovely ballad reproduced with better than average fidelity, and there is some good, tight bass in the mix, too.
The audio commentary is provided by producer-director-writer-animator Don Bluth and producer-animator-writer Gary Goldman. They have an easy camaraderie and both contribute many memories about the making of the movie. Fans of the movie will enjoy hearing the two men discuss problems they encountered, shots they’d like to go back and fix, and praise to all who worked on the film.
“Secrets Behind the Secret” is a 2007 making-of featurette where Gary Goldman and Don Bluth discuss putting their new studio together, the importance of animators being actors, and other assorted memories of making this movie. It runs for 14 ½ minutes in 480i.
The theatrical trailer is presented in 4:3 but is in 1080p and runs for 2 ¼ minutes.
The disc also contains a promo trailer in 1080p for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
3.5/5 (not an average)
A dark but delightful animated adventure with perhaps a more menacing tone than much of the animation being produced at the time, The Secret of NIMH looks and sounds very nice in high definition, and the sprinkling of bonus material is also welcome.