The Secret of NIMH

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The Secret of NIMH
The Secret of NIMH.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Tim Hildebrandt
Directed by Don Bluth
Produced by Don Bluth
Gary Goldman
John Pomeroy
Screenplay by Will Finn
Don Bluth
Gary Goldman
John Pomeroy
Based on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH 
by Robert C. O'Brien
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography Bill Butler (uncredited)
Edited by Jeffrey C. Patch
Distributed by MGM/UA Entertainment
Release dates
  • July 2, 1982 (1982-07-02) (United States)
Running time
82 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7 million
Box office $14.6 million

The Secret of NIMH is a 1982 American animated fantasy adventure drama film directed by Don Bluth in his directorial debut. It is an adaptation of Robert C. O'Brien's 1971 children's novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The film was produced by Aurora Pictures and released by United Artists, and features the voices of Elizabeth Hartman, Dom DeLuise, Arthur Malet, Derek Jacobi, Hermione Baddeley, John Carradine, Peter Strauss, and Paul Shenar. The "Mrs. Frisby" name in the novel had to be changed to "Mrs. Brisby" during production due to trademark concerns with Frisbee discs. Released to wide critical acclaim, the film was a moderate commercial success. It was followed in 1998 by a direct-to-video sequel called The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue, which was made without Bluth's input or consent.

A CGI/live action reboot is currently in the works.[2]


Mrs. Brisby, a timid widowed field mouse, lives in a cinder block with her children in a field on the Fitzgibbons' farm. She prepares to move her family out of the field as plowing time approaches, but her son Timothy has fallen ill. She visits Mr. Ages, another mouse and friend of her late husband, Jonathan, who diagnoses Timothy with pneumonia and provides her with medicine. Mr. Ages warns her that Timothy must stay inside for at least three weeks or he will die. On her way home she encounters Jeremy, a clumsy but friendly crow. They both narrowly escape from the Fitzgibbons' cat, Dragon.

The next day, Mrs. Brisby discovers that Farmer Fitzgibbons has started plowing early. Although her neighbour Auntie Shrew helps her disable his tractor, Mrs. Brisby knows she must devise another plan. Jeremy takes her to visit the Great Owl, who tells her to visit a group of rats that live beneath a rose bush on the farm and ask for Nicodemus, their wise and mystical leader.

Mrs. Brisby enters the rose bush and encounters a tough and aggressive guard rat named Brutus, who chases her away with a battle axe. She encounters Mr. Ages (who now has his leg bandaged up), and is amazed to see the rats' use of electricity and other technology. She meets Nicodemus and Justin, the Captain of the Guard, and a ruthless, power-hungry rat named Jenner. From Nicodemus she learns that many years ago her husband, along with the rats and Mr. Ages, were part of a series of experiments at a place known as NIMH, the National Institute of Mental Health. The experiments boosted their intelligence, enabling them to escape, as well as extending their lifespans. However, they are unable to live only as rats, needing human technology to survive, which they have only accomplished by stealing. The rats have concocted "The Plan", which is to leave the farm and live independently. Nicodemus gives Mrs. Brisby an amulet called "The Stone", that gives magical power when its wearer is courageous.

Because of her husband's relationship with the rats, they agree to help Mrs. Brisby move her home. First they need to drug Dragon to sleep, so that they can complete the move safely. Only Mrs. Brisby can do this, as only mice are small enough to fit through the hole leading into the house; Jonathan was killed by Dragon in a previous attempt, while Mr. Ages broke his leg in another. That night, she puts the drug into the cat's food dish, but the Fitzgibbons' son Billy catches her. While trapped in a birdcage, she overhears a telephone conversation between Farmer Fitzgibbons and NIMH and learns that the Institute intends to exterminate the rats the next day. She escapes from the cage and runs off to warn Justin and the others.

The rats are moving the Brisby home using a rope and pulley system during a thunderstorm. Jenner, who wishes for the rats to remain in the rose bush, sabotages the ropes with his reluctant accomplice Sullivan, causing the assembly to fly apart and kill Nicodemus. Mrs. Brisby arrives and tries to convince the rats that NIMH is coming and they must leave, but Jenner calls her a hysterical liar, attacks her, and attempts to take the amulet from her neck. Sullivan alerts Justin, who rushes to Mrs. Brisby's aid. After mortally wounding Sullivan, Jenner engages Justin in a sword fight, which ends in Justin stabbing him. Justin then addresses the other rats to prepare for their departure from the farm. Jenner recovers and advances on an unaware Justin, but the dying Sullivan hurls his own dagger into Jenner's back, killing him.

The Brisby house (which contains Mrs. Brisby's children) begins to sink into the mud, but Justin and the rats are unable to raise it. Mrs. Brisby's will to save her children gives power to the amulet, which she uses to lift the house and move it to safety. The rats depart to Thorn Valley with Justin as their new leader, and Timothy begins to recover. Jeremy eventually meets "Miss Right", another crow who is just as clumsy as he is, and the two fly away together.

Voice cast[edit]


Mrs. Brisby meets Nicodemus. Backlighting techniques are used in this scene to give Nicodemus's eyes a bright glow. According to the 2007 DVD release, Bluth wanted Nicodemus and the Great Owl to be seen as aspects of the same character, accounting for some similarities in their designs.

The Secret of NIMH was the first feature film to be directed by Don Bluth. In September 1979 he, fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy, and eight other animation staff left Walt Disney Productions animation department to set up their own independent studio, Don Bluth Productions. The studio worked, at first, out of Bluth's house and garage, but moved to a two-story, 5,500-square-foot (510 m2) facility in Studio City, California several months later. After completing work on several shorter projects, including a two-minute animated sequence for the film Xanadu, the studio forged a deal with Aurora Productions, a film-making partnership established by former Disney executives.[3]

The rights to the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH had reportedly been offered to Disney in 1972 but turned down.[4] At Bluth, Goldman and Pomeroy's request, Aurora Productions acquired the film rights, and offered Don Bluth Productions a budget of US$5.7 million and 30 months to complete the film, tighter in both budget and schedule than most Disney animated features at the time. The studio set out with the explicit goal in mind of returning feature animation to its “golden era”, concentrating on strong characters and story, and experimenting with unusual and often more labor-intensive animation techniques.[5] Bluth believed older techniques were being abandoned in favor of lower production costs, and the only way animation could survive was to continue traditional production methods. Among the techniques experimented with on The Secret of NIMH were rotoscoping, multiple passes on the camera to achieve transparent shadows, and backlit animation (where animated mattes are shot with light shining through color gels to produce glowing areas for artificial light and fire effects), multiple color palettes for characters to fit in different lighting situations, from daylight, to night, to warm environments, to underwater. Mrs Brisby had 46 different lighting situations, therefore there were 46 different color palettes, or lists of color, for her. Two modern, computerized versions of the multiplane camera were also manufactured for this production.[6]

To achieve the film's detailed full animation while keeping to the tight budget, the studio strove to keep any waste of time and resources to a minimum. The crew often worked long hours with no immediate financial reward (though they were offered a cut of the film's profits, a practice common for producers, directors and stars of live action films but never before offered to artists on an animated feature); producer Gary Goldman recalled working 110 hour weeks during the final six months of production.[4] Around 100 in-house staff worked on the film, with the labor-intensive cel painting farmed out to 45 people working from home.[7] Many minor roles, including incidental and crowd voice work, were filled in by the in-house staff. The final cost of the film was $6.385 million. The producers, Bluth, Goldman, Pomeroy, and the executive producers at Aurora mortgaged their homes collectively for $700,000 to complete the film, with the understanding that their investment would be the first to be repaid. The film was the sixth animated feature to be presented in the Dolby Stereo sound system.

During the film's production, Aurora contacted Wham-O, the manufacturers of Frisbee flying discs, with concerns about possible trademark infringements if the "Mrs. Frisby" name in O'Brien's original book was used in the movie. Wham-O rejected Aurora's request for waiver to use the same-sounding name to their "Frisbee", in the movie. Aurora informed Bluth & company that Mrs. Frisby's name would have to be altered. By then, the voice work had already been recorded for the film, so the name change to "Mrs. Brisby" necessitated a combination of re-recording some lines and, because John Carradine was unavailable for further recordings, careful sound editing had to be performed, taking the "B" sound of another word from Carradine's recorded lines, and replace the "F" sound with the "B" sound, altering the name from "Frisby" to "Brisby".[4]


The Secret of NIMH: Original Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released July 2, 1982
Genre Soundtrack
Length 48:17 (original release), 63:09 (2015 expansion)
Label MCA Records (1982)
Varèse Sarabande (1995)
Intrada Records (2015)
Producer Jerry Goldsmith
Don Bluth Music of Films chronology
- The Secret of NIMH
An American Tail

The Secret of NIMH: Original Soundtrack contains songs from the film written by Jerry Goldsmith, and performed by Paul H. Williams and Sally Stevens. It was released on July 2, 1982 on vinyl and audio cassette and re-released on March 3, 1995 on CD with a rearranged track listing.[8]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars [1]
Filmtracks 4/5 stars[8]
  1. "Main Title" (3:13)
  2. "Allergic Reaction/Athletic Type" (2:40)
  3. "Flying Dreams Lullaby" (3:45) - performed by Sally Stevens
  4. "The Tractor" (2:58)
  5. "The Sentry Reel/The Story of NIMH" (6:03)
  6. "Escape from NIMH/In Disguise" (4:58)
  7. "Flying Dreams" (3:21) - performed by Paul H. Williams
  8. "Step Inside My House" (4:40)
  9. "No Thanks" (2:01)
  10. "Moving Day" (7:57)
  11. "The House Rising" (4:33)
  12. "Flying High/End Title" (2:38)

Intrada Records issued a remastered limited edition album on CD on August 17, 2015 with one previously unreleased cue ("At Your Service," running 3:39) and three demos of "Flying Dreams" (as performed by Sally Stevens, Paul Williams and as a piano duet) totalling 10:09.[9]


The film's distributor, MGM/UA Entertainment Co., barely did any promotional material for the film, leading Aurora to finance the advertising campaign themselves. The financiers had expected the film to open in wide release in 1,000 venues, but MGM opted for a limited opening weekend in 100 theaters, with its widest release in only 700. Although in competition with the blockbuster E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial directed by future Bluth partner Steven Spielberg,[10] it performed better in those theaters alone in its opening week than Poltergeist, Rocky III, Firefox, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. However, as a result of its release and competition with other summer fare, NIMH ultimately made a disappointing $14,665,733 in North America, though it was more successful on home video, cable, and foreign release, ultimately putting the film in the black.[4]


The film garnered critical acclaim for being one of the most vibrantly animated films of its time and has earned a 96% "certified fresh" approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.[11] Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film two "thumbs up" on their television program At the Movies in 1982.[11] Ebert would give Secret of NIMH three out of four stars in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, calling it "an artistic success," praising the quality of its animation, and that it "contains that absolute rarity among feature-length animated cartoons, an interesting premise."[12] However, Ebert found that NIMH may not resonate as well on an emotional level with younger viewers, since "it has so many characters and involves them in so many different problems that there's nobody for the kids in the audience to strongly identify with."[12] Siskel, writing for the Chicago Tribune, found the movie "charming", but stated that the narrative was "littered with too many unimportant characters" and that Dom DeLuise "insert[ed] too much of himself" into the character of Jeremy.[13] Despite this, Siskel found the film, particularly the second half, to be a "genuine pleasure", and felt that even adults will be drawn into the story by the end, giving it three stars out of four.[13]

In his review for the 1990 VHS re-release, Jeff Unger of Entertainment Weekly gave The Secret of NIMH a grade of "A", calling it "a wonderful adaptation" of the original book, adding that "Bluth and his animators, bless them, chose to revive an endangered art form -- classically detailed animation. They drew their characters exquisitely and gave them individual personalities. The entire ensemble -- artists, actors, animals, and musicians -- created something unique: the world's first enjoyable rat race."[14] Similarly, Richard Corliss of Time magazine called the movie "something gorgeous to look at."[15]

The American Film Institute nominated The Secret of NIMH for its Top 10 Animated Films list in 2008,[16] but it did not make the final list.[17]


The Secret of NIMH won Best Animated Film of 1982 at the 10th annual Saturn Awards, where it also received a nomination for Best Fantasy Film.[18] In his acceptance speech, Bluth remarked, "Thanks. We didn't think anyone had noticed."[4] The film was also nominated for Best Family Feature for Animation, Musical or Fantasy at the 4th annual Youth in Film Awards,[19] while the home video release received an Award of Excellence from the Film Advisory Board.[20]

Award Nominee Result
Saturn Awards
Best Animated Film The Secret of NIMH Won
Best Fantasy Film The Secret of NIMH Nominated
Youth in Film Awards
Best Family Feature: Animated, Musical or Fantasy The Secret of NIMH Nominated

Home video[edit]

The Secret of NIMH debuted on several home video formats in 1983, including VHS,[4] Betamax, CED Videodisc, Video8,[21] and LaserDisc,[22] which were distributed by MGM and United Artists in North America, and Warner Home Video in Europe and Australia.[23][24] A Video 2000 version was also released exclusively in Europe.[23] With a $79 purchase price in the US, the VHS version sold approximately 25,000 copies within the first few months.[4]

In 1990, the film was re-released on both VHS and LaserDisc in a new advertising campaign with lower retail prices. It was this new wide availability on video, as well as broadcasts on cable, that helped NIMH garner a cult following long after its theatrical debut.[4] This was followed by another VHS release, now in a "clamshell" case, in 1994, along with a Philips CD-i video disc version that same year.[21]

The film was released on DVD for the first time on November 17, 1998, which was reprinted numerous times in the ensuing years, both as a stand-alone release or bundled with other animated movies from MGM or 20th Century Fox.[25] A few years later, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman oversaw a high-definition restoration of the film, which was released on June 19, 2007 in a 2-disc DVD set under the "Family Fun Edition" label. Improvements in the transfer over the 1998 DVD include color correction and dirt and dust removal, and included special features such as audio commentary from both individuals, and an interview featurette.[25] A Blu-ray version was released on March 29, 2011, which retained the special features of the Family Fun Edition.[26]


A direct-to-video sequel entitled Timmy to the Rescue was released in 1998 and produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Animation. Upon its release, it was widely panned by critics and fans of the first film.


  1. ^ "THE SECRET OF NIMH (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 1982-06-17. Retrieved 2013-07-02. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Beck, Jerry (October 2005). The Animated Movie Guide. Chicago Review Press. pp. 243–4. ISBN 1-55652-591-5. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Cawley, John (October 1991). "The Secret of N.I.M.H.". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Image Pub of New York. ISBN 0-685-50334-8. 
  5. ^ Counts, Kyle (February 1982). "Coming: The Secret of NIMH". Cinefantastique. 
  6. ^ Mandell, Paul (June 1982). "Interview with Dorse Lanpher". Fantastic Films. Retrieved 2007-01-30. 
  7. ^ McDaniel, Adam. "Remembering NIMH: An Interview with Don Bluth Studios". Retrieved 2011-07-11. 
  8. ^ a b "Filmtracks: The Secret of N.I.M.H. (Jerry Goldsmith)". Filmtracks. June 4, 2003. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  9. ^ [ "Intrada album page"] Check |url= scheme (help). Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  10. ^ Beck, Jerry (1996-06-01). "Don Bluth Goes Independent". Animation World Magazine. 
  11. ^ a b "The Secret of NIMH Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  12. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. "The Secret of NIMH Movie Review (1982)". Retrieved December 20, 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Siskel, Gene (July 19, 1982). "July 19, 1982 - Tempo". The Chicago Tribune Archives. Retrieved December 20, 2014. 
  14. ^ Unger, Jeff (September 21, 1990). "The Secret of NIMH Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  15. ^ Corliss, Richard (July 26, 1982). "Cinema: Bright Rats, Bright Lights". Time Magazine. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  16. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2008. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  17. ^ "AFI: 10 Top 10: Top 10 Animation". American Film Institute. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  18. ^ "The 10th Saturn Awards 1983". Retrieved December 20, 2014. 
  19. ^ "4th Annual Awards". Young Artist Awards. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Film Advisory Board, Inc.". Film Advisory Board. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  21. ^ a b "Theatrical/VHS/DVD". Nimhster's Secret of NIMH Fandom Website. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  22. ^ "LaserDisc Database - Secret of NIMH, The [ML100211]". LaserDisc Databae. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  23. ^ a b "Pre-Cert Video: The Secret of NIMH (1982) on Warner Home Video". Pre-Cert Video. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Pre-Cert Video: The Secret of NIMH (1982) on Warner Home Video". Pre-Cert Video. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  25. ^ a b "The Secret of NIMH: Family Fun Edition DVD Review". Retrieved 2011-07-11. 
  26. ^ "More MGM Catalog Titles Heading to Blu-ray". Retrieved 2011-02-21. 

External links[edit]