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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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Don Bluth's animated features are pretty much overlooked or forgotten these days, but there was a time when he was regarded as a real challenger to Disney's animation crown, and not just because he led a group of disgruntled ex-Disney animators to start up a rival studio. Sadly most of his films didn't really work - only the Spielberg-produced An American Tail and The Land Before Time were hits - but there's no doubting that this stands head and shoulders not only above them, but also over most of the competing Disney titles. It may have turned out to be a one-off from a director who never fulfilled his promise, but it's a genuine animation masterpiece that briefly reignited a sense of magic and wonder into a then-failing genre.

The plot is simple, but remarkably well constructed and with surprising emotional depth. One of her children sick and unable to be moved, widowed fieldmouse Mrs Brisby has to seek the help of the mysterious rats of N.I.M.H. - escapees from a scientific experiment who now have extraordinary powers and intellect - to help move her home before the harvest. But the rats are in the midst of a project of their own, with the evil Jenner planning to use the situation to help him usurp the kindly Nicodemus...

The care and attention to detail is quite astounding, with brilliant effects animation that sees shimmering light reflected on cobwebs and underground lakes and a depth and texture a million miles away from the xerox animation then so prevalent that takes the breath away. The film has a real sense of wonder and magic, with Jerry Goldsmith's beautiful score playing no small part.

Equally impressive are the voice cast; at a time when there was a tendency for actors to overplay animation, here they give the same kind of rounded performances you would expect of a live action feature. Elizabeth Hartman is especially good as Mrs Brisby, with good support from Peter Strauss and Paul Shenar as the villainous Jenner, while even Dom De Luise underplays it for once. Throughout, the production values are those you would expect from an adult feature, with a strong screenplay that does not patronise its audience because 'it's only animation'. The film is moving, exciting and altogether the best animated feature since Pinocchio. Bluth has never even come close to this standard since.

The UK DVD boasts a fine widescreen transfer with only a trailer as an extra. The US NTSC special edition is rather light on extras for a two-disc set - an excellent audio commentary by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman that doesn't gloss over the practical problems they faced on making their labour of love on a shoestring budget, brief featurette Secrets Behind the Secret that includes a surprising amount of vintage behind the scenes footage and detail (for example, the animators took acting lessons to improve their craft) and 5 interactive games but no trailer - but also has a good but not outstanding widescreen transfer. The flaws in the transfer are more noticeable in the region-free Blu-ray (which includes the commentary, featurette and trailer but not the games), but despite some speckling on the print and less depth than a properly restored transfer should have it's certainly acceptable, especially considering MGM/UA's financial worries precluding a full restoration.. If you don't already have it in your collection, it's a must for all lovers of animation.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 July 2007
This little known movie is a rare treasure. Extremely original story, very touching main hero (mother trying to save her sick child), great visual aspect (the Great Owl is particularly impressive), this movie desserves to be on every DVD shelf in every place where there are children. And their parents.
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on 21 April 2010
I watched this with my kids when they were younger and it stayed locked in my memory bank, so at 63 I thought i would get it and watch it again, (the joys of being able to do that now without feeling like a prune) and it was even better. The animation is great, the story line strong and the message powerful. Might be a little scary for very small children, but for those of 8 or over, great film to have in the library.
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on 8 December 2007
The Secret of NIMH is an animated rarity. The story is a serious one - nobody bursts into song and there are quite a few disturbing sequences. Don Bluth's masterpiece deserves to be up there with Bambi as one of the greatest animated films of our time. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend you see it, especially if you love Don Bluth's other classics like The Land Before Time or An American Tail.

The story itself is simple - a mother mouse (Mrs Brisby) must move her family, but she desperately needs help because her son is seriously ill. She seeks the aid of a clan of super-intelligent rats, led by the wise Nicodemus. As Mrs Brisby uncovers a secret about her late husband's past, the power-hungry rat Jenner seeks out to ruin everything. Okay, maybe not so simple, but it's easy enough to follow.

The animation is in the style of old Disney films from the 40s but Don Bluth has his own style too. It's a simple mix of elegance and cuteness that makes the characters so warm and full of life. The backgrounds are soft but vivid and change colour to reflect the character's mood - much like in Bambi.

The music is very beautiful and atmospheric. As I said before, none of the characters erupt into song. We have one song - Flying Dreams. It's a very sweet song that is played in the background, much like 'Someone's Waiting for You' in The Rescuers (another great mouse movie!) Flying Dreams tenderly invites us into a gentle moment between Mrs Brisby and her children.

As great as it is, The Secret of NIMH does have a few flaws. Some ideas could've been developed more and some sequences, as enchanting as they are, could have easily been omitted. But the good far outweighs the bad, and beats the heck out of Don Bluth's later flicks.

I've seen some people simply bash this gem because it's not entirely loyal to the book. Get over it. It's called creative license. Yes, the film does take some liberties, but it still stick quite close to the original plot line. I see films like Tarzan get gushed over with needless praise, despite the fact they don't even give a fig to their original source material.
This is one of the best animated films out there. It easily surpasses the likes of The Lion King or Finding Nemo. This is a film that truly reaches for the child-within. It's dark and scary, but some children might be able to handle it. However, if The Land Before Time III is your idea of a work of art, than skip this.

As for the deducted star, that was because of the DVD. There's few extras - the wonderful theatrical trailer, and 'interactive menus.' You know when THAT is put as a 'special feature,' then the company's trying to glamourise a poor release. Not to mention that the film is very grainy and the picture shudders at times. But don't let this awful release stop you from enjoying this classic, which is a five-star work of art.
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on 9 November 2002
One of the promotional posters for The Secret of NIMH states that it is "Animation in the grand tradition". This a staement I disagree with strongly.
If the "grand tradition" is Disney then NIMH creates it's own style vastly superior to the tradition.
The film was from the outset intended to be as realistic as possable in an animated film and in this respect it is not wanting. The charecters are beautifully drawn, as are the backgrounds.
Strong praise must go to Elizebeth Heartman (Mrs Brisby) who poured her heart and sole into her charecter and created what I believe is the most adorable charecter ever.
The music by Jerry Goldsmith is astounding. It breaks the Disney tradition and remains entirly as background music (with the exception of Mrs Brisby's lulliby) which means there are no parts of the film in which the charecters break into mass, impossably choriographed song and dance.
The Secret of NIMH has touched people in a way that films are not usually capable. The blurb on the back of the video box suggests "share it with someone you love". A fittingly charming statement.
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on 28 August 2002
At 23 years of age I'm certainly not ashamed to admit that The Secret of NIMH is one of my favourite films. The story and characters are wonderful, Jeremy the crow is definitely the best animated character in existance. Every element of this film has been brought together into a fantastic masterpiece. It's one cartoon worth watching again and again.
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on 27 December 2000
A wonderful adaption of the book recreating both its darkness and magic. The voices are chosen splenidly and really bring the characters to life. If you enjoyed the book you will love this adaptation!
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on 17 July 2009
was pretty desperate to get hold of this after i dried to down load from itunes and it was a corrupt file. my main reason was to share a film with a thin lace of magic throughout with my little brother who is heavily into this kind of thing. perfect, a combination of sci-fi and fantasy that really surprised him. quite dark at times so maybe not for the tinies but use your own judgement on that i hate it when sensors dictate to an audience and they may surprise you at how well they take it, afterall, everyone knows disney vilains are going to die.
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on 17 July 2010
Don Bluth's directorial debut and my personal favourite. The film is full of adventure, magic and an owl voiced by John Carradine. The film follows Mrs. Brisby (Frisby in the original novel) as she looks for a way to safely move her family before the plough starts.

This is one of those films that is severely underrated. I haven't seen any negative reviews of it, but not alot of people know of it. The animaton is typical of Don Bluth, with very detailed settings and experimenting with rotoscope and other techniques. Alot of the time i cannot help but stare at the backgrounds. My favourite bit is in the library of Nicodemus (Derek Jacobi), the leader of the Rats of N.I.M.H. The character is incredible and the background is enchanting with the spectrum flickering.

There are some dark bits as well, as with most great kids films and there are times I am surprised it is a 'U'. So just to recap: Great artwork, well-thought storyline and just a great film.
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on 8 February 2013
This is a good little animated cartoon film from the early 80's from ex-Disney animator Don Bluth. I have the DVD too (bought from Woolworth several years ago), but when I tried playing it late last year I found the picture wasn't anamorphic, so my widescreen TV made the 4:3 letterbox version a thin strip in the middle of the screen with short fat characters. So I risked buying the Bluray US Import as it doesn't appear to be available in the UK. Firstly, the US Import works fine, so don't worry about region code nonsense. Secondly, the picture is beautiful! The film has been digitally restored and now looks bright and vibrant. Even faults in the original negative have been cleaned up and replaced. And the film is now in Anamorphic 1.85:1 ratio. The sound is clear (2.0 Surround), with a delightful Jerry Goldsmith score helping an enchanting little story with interesting characters. There is an enlightening Director and Producer commentary for the animation enthusiast, with a Behind the scenes documentary and the original trailer. My kids didn't fancy the film before, but when they found me watching and listening to the commentary they decided they wanted to watch it themselves. The film as a bit slow moving for kids these days, but if you stick with it it's a lovely little film at 83 minutes. A recommended film for a pleasant Sunday afternoon with the kids.
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