Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Afternoon Movie - The Secret of NIMH

 Continuing very slowly my adaptation theme, I thought it had been quite a few months since the last 'Afternoon Movie' post and that it was high time for another. 

Perfect for those lazy weekends or indeed afternoons. The 1982 Don Bluth classic, 'The Secret of NIMH', based on the book 'Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH' was one of those film we had on VHS. My sister and I loved it. I always remember quoting and so did my family, 'Move your house, to the lean of the stone.' Seems random and out of context for those who haven't enjoyed it yet, I apologise for this.

The story is about a field mouse, Mrs Brisby (changed from Frisby) who's husband, Jonathan has recently died. She seeks help from a fellow mouse, Mr Ages, as her youngest son is sick and cannot move from bed. To make matters worse, 'moving day' is upon her family and all the other animals tha live in the fields of the farm. This means the farmer is going to plow the fields with a tractor and will wreck the inhabitants homes. Desperate for a solution, Mrs Brisby, braves a visit to the 'Great Owl' with the help from her friend, Jeremy the clumsy crow. The owl only offers advise after finding out she is Jonathan's widow. He tells her to seek help from the rats that live in the rose bush in the farmers garden. At first the rats do not want to help but eventually agree to move the Brisby home to safety, again, only because of Jonathan. Mrs Brisby finds out that Jonathan, along with the rats all came from NIMH, where they were experimented on. The treatment and torture resulted in them becoming intelligent, almost to the level of a human. The rats, lead by the wise old Nicodemus, have devised a plan to escape the farm and start a colony elsewhere, but Jenner, an angry violent rat, opposes this idea and plans to kill Nicodemus to push his own agenda. There is a showdown between rats during the moving of the Brisby home, putting the family in danger.

Trying not to spoil the ending, there is also a weird supernatural element to the story involving a magic red stone that can cause miracles, but I really want those who haven't seen it to enjoy an air of mystery.

The book was written by Robert C O'Brien in 1972 and was inspired by research about mice and rats dynamics at The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) from the 40's to the 60's. I read the book while at secondary school and at first, I didn't like it, I was too used to the animated film. But as we, the class, got through it, I ultimately preferred the book. The change of names aside, the true story is still there. The horror of what happened to the mice and rats in lab is carried across in the film as well as the danger of the plow for all the animals. But the weird, some what uncomfortable super stone side element is not in the book, and the story has more focus because of it. But, it is such a small part of the whole plot, it might not bother others as it did me.

Apart from the Don Bluth classic touch to this film, the animation isn't too bad for the 80s (outside of Disney). The story has a strong female lead, Mrs Brisby, who is literally willing to do absolutely anything to not get her child out of bed to save her family, especially her sick son, Timothy. It was also a great background story that may seem like it overshadows the present story, but when Nicodemus relates how they escaped from NIMH is actually one of the best sequences in the film. It also highlight blatant animal cruelty and the effects of humans interfering with nature to help themselves. That might be a bit too deep.

While watching it recently, I began to take in the shock and absolute horror that the film presents. For the farmer, its just a small chore, plowing the back field but for all the animals, it means danger, having to evacuate and literally run for their lives, just as Aunty Shrew yells. The animals are terrified, these feeling were not as clear to me when I was younger, I just animals worried, running away, that's it. Mrs Brisby definitely goes through at least 5 traumas a day from flying on a crow, meeting an owl that might eat her to confronting violent rats who love electricity.

If you are a fan of the film, I would recommend the book, just to see the differences. I would suggest that you steer clear of the direct to video sequel, 'The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the rescue'. The disturbing poster is enough to put you off as well as the fact Don Bluth had nothing to do with it.

The film is out there to buy on DVD, watch on youtube and I think I've seen a VHS copy floating around some charity shop too. Delve into the small world of mice, rats and a secret that isn't really a secret, you won't regret it.

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