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 Co.
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 involvement or input. 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, with the children inside, 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 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]

Changes from the book[edit]

"The amulet was a device, or symbol, to represent the internal power of Mrs. Brisby. [...] In many ways, it was an extension of Mrs. Brisby... a visual extension of an internal (and harder to show in a film) power."

-- Don Bluth, explaining the amulet's inclusion in the film[4]

One of the earliest drafts of the film was written by Steven Barnes, who received a creative consultant credit in the final product, and was closer to the original novel.[4] The story would have focused more on the rats and their time at NIMH as it did in the book, which was reduced to a short flashback in later revisions to bring Mrs. Brisby and her plight into the forefront. It also included a female rat named Isabella (described as a "a young, cute, somewhat motor-mouthed rat with a crush on Justin"), who was ultimately left out and much of her dialog given to Nicodemus. A revised synopsis dated July 2, 1980 by an unattributed author would take the movie closer to its completed form, which ended with the mysterious disappearance of the rats, leading the characters and audience to wonder if they ever really existed, or were just an elaborate illusion.[4]

Bluth himself would later make several changes to the story, most notably with the addition of mystical elements not present in the original novel.[4] He explained "Regarding magic, we really believe that animation calls for some magic, to give it a special 'fantastic' quality."[8] This was most apparent in the magic amulet given to Mrs. Brisby, which was meant to be a visual representation of her character's internal power; something harder to show on film. The object was also meant to introduce a spiritual aspect to the plot, with the director remarking, "The stone or amulet is just a method of letting the audience know that Mrs. Brisby has found 'Courage of the Heart'. Magic? Maybe. Spiritual? Yes."[8] In the same vein, Nicodemus was made into a wizard to "create more mystery" about himself and the rats' colony. The antagonist Jenner was given much more prominence in the movie, being only mentioned as traitor who leaves in the book, to "add drama" to the narrative by giving it a more visible enemy. Justin also now succeeds Nicodemus as the leader of the rats to give his character more of an arc, and allow him an opportunity to "grow and change."[4] Unlike the original work, Justin does not rescue Mrs. Brisby from the cage at the Fitzgibbons' house, and she now helps her children without the rats' assistance by using the amulet; once again giving focus to her personal story. As Bluth put it, "The Secret of NIMH is really a story about Mrs. Brisby and her need to save her children. If the rats save her children, then she hasn't grown in the film."[4]


The Secret of NIMH Original Motion Picture 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 Motion Picture Soundtrack contains songs from the film written by Jerry Goldsmith and performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra, with vocal selections by Paul Williams and Sally Stevens.[9] It was Goldsmith's first composition for an animated feature, which he admitted was such a departure from his normal work that in the end he approached the project like a live action score, employing the same kind of extended themes and structural development.[9] The album 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.[10]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3.5/5 stars [1]
Filmtracks 4/5 stars[10]
  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 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) totaling 10:09.[11]

Home media[edit]

The Secret of NIMH debuted on several home video formats in 1983, including VHS,[4] Betamax, CED Videodisc, Video8,[12] and LaserDisc,[13] which were distributed by MGM and United Artists in North America, and Warner Home Video in Europe and Australia.[14][15] A Video 2000 version was also released exclusively in Europe.[14] 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 in 1994, along with a Philips CD-i video disc version that same year.[12]

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.[16] Don Bluth and Gary Goldman later oversaw a high-definition restoration of the film, which was released on June 19, 2007 in a 2-disc DVD set called the "Family Fun Edition". 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.[16] A Blu-ray version was released on March 29, 2011, which retained the special features of the Family Fun Edition.[17]


Critical response[edit]

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 Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus that "The Secret of NIMH is a dark, well-told tale that respects its young audience enough to not tone down its subject matter."[18] Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the movie two positive "yes" votes on a July 15, 1982 episode of their television program Sneak Previews.[19][20] 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."[21] 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."[21] 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.[22] 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.[22] 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."[23] Similarly, Richard Corliss of Time magazine called the movie "something gorgeous to look at."[24]

Box office[edit]

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,[25] 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 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, losing to The Dark Crystal.[26] 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, being beaten by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,[27] while the home video release received an Award of Excellence from the Film Advisory Board.[28] The American Film Institute nominated The Secret of NIMH for its Top 10 Animated Films list in 2008,[29] but it did not make the final list.[30]

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


A direct-to-video sequel directed by Dick Sebast and produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Animation titled Timmy to the Rescue was released on December 22, 1998.[31] Set several years after the events of the first film, the plot focuses on Mrs. Brisby's son Timothy as he struggles to live up to his father's prestigious reputation. The movie was made without Don Bluth's input or involvement, and was panned by critics upon release.[31][32]


On March 4, 2015, reported that MGM had re-acquired the rights to produce a new film based on the original novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The film will be produced by the team of Daniel Bobker and Ehren Kruger, with screenplay by Ice Age series writer Michael Berg.[33] It is planned as a CGI/live action hybrid "à la The Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks", and will be "an origin story in which an imperiled mouse protagonist befriends a comical crew of lab rats as they turn hyper-intelligent. They escape a secret laboratory and become the great minds of vermin civilization, forced to outwit the humans hot on their tails."[2] The studio plans to turn the novel into a family franchise.[33]


  1. ^ "THE SECRET OF NIMH". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Nicholson, Max (March 4, 2015). "Live-Action/CG Rats of NIMH Movie in the Works". IGN. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  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 i j k l m n 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. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  6. ^ Mandell, Paul (June 1982). "Interview with Dorse Lanpher". Fantastic Films. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  7. ^ McDaniel, Adam. "Reflections on the Film". Remembering NIMH: An Interview with Don Bluth. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  8. ^ a b McDaniel, Adam. "About the Script". Remembering NIMH: An Interview with Don Bluth. Retrieved October 31, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b "Secret of N.I.M.H. - National Philharmonic Orchestra". AllMusic. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "Filmtracks: The Secret of N.I.M.H. (Jerry Goldsmith)". Filmtracks. June 4, 2003. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  11. ^ "SECRET OF NIMH, THE". Intrada Records. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b "Theatrical/VHS/DVD". Nimhster's Secret of NIMH Fandom Website. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  13. ^ "LaserDisc Database - Secret of NIMH, The [ML100211]". LaserDisc Database. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  14. ^ a b "Pre-Cert Video: The Secret of NIMH (1982) on Warner Home Video". Pre-Cert Video. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Pre-Cert Video: The Secret of NIMH (1982) on Warner Home Video". Pre-Cert Video. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  16. ^ a b Gutierrez, Albert. "The Secret of NIMH: Family Fun Edition DVD Review". Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  17. ^ "More MGM Catalog Titles Heading to Blu-ray". Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  18. ^ "The Secret of NIMH Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 27, 2015. 
  19. ^ "Tron, The Secret of NIMH, The Devils Playground (1982)". Siskel & Retrieved October 16, 2015. 
  20. ^ "Sneak Previews (TV Series 1975-1996) - Episodes". IMDb. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  21. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. "The Secret of NIMH Movie Review (1982)". Retrieved December 20, 2014. 
  22. ^ a b Siskel, Gene (July 19, 1982). "Tempo: 'NIMH' charmer could have used more Disney". The Chicago Tribune Archives. p. 29. Retrieved December 20, 2014. 
  23. ^ Unger, Jeff (September 21, 1990). "The Secret of NIMH Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  24. ^ Corliss, Richard (July 26, 1982). "Cinema: Bright Rats, Bright Lights". Time Magazine. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  25. ^ Beck, Jerry (June 1, 1996). "Don Bluth Goes Independent". Animation World. Retrieved October 20, 2015. 
  26. ^ "The 10th Saturn Awards 1983". Retrieved December 20, 2014. 
  27. ^ "4th Annual Awards". Young Artist Awards. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Film Advisory Board, Inc.". Film Advisory Board. Retrieved December 30, 2014. 
  29. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2008. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  30. ^ "AFI: 10 Top 10: Top 10 Animation". American Film Institute. Retrieved December 23, 2014. 
  31. ^ a b Bernardin, Mark (December 18, 1998). "The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 19, 2015. 
  32. ^ Ellin, Harlene (December 24, 1998). "The Mystery of 'NIMH II': Why Did They Even Bother?". Chicago Tribune (Tribune Company). p. 7.B. Retrieved October 28, 2015. (registration required (help)). 
  33. ^ a b Fleming Jr., Michael (March 4, 2015). "MGM Options ‘Mrs. Frisby & The Rats Of Nimh’, Sets ‘Ice Age’s Michael Berg To Hatch Family Franchise". Retrieved October 19, 2015. 

External links[edit]