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 novelMrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. The film was produced by Aurora Pictures and released by United Artists. The film features the voices of Elizabeth HartmanDom DeLuiseArthur Malet,Derek JacobiHermione BaddeleyJohn CarradinePeter 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.


 [hide*1 Plot


Mrs. Brisby, a shy and timid 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 old 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 compassionate crow. They both narrowly escape from the Fitzgibbons' cat, Dragon, who had killed and eaten Jonathan.

The next day, Mrs. Brisby discovers that Farmer Fitzgibbons has started plowing early, causing Auntie Shrew to tell all the other animals to run for their lives in order to escape death. Although her neighbour Auntie Shrew helps her disable his tractor, Mrs. Brisby knows she must devise another plan. With Jeremy's help, she visits the Great Owl to ask for help. He tells her to visit a group of rats who live beneath a rose bush on the farm and ask for Nicodemus, their wise and mystical leader.

Mrs. Brisby enters the rose bush and is amazed to see the rats' use of electricity and other technology. She meets Nicodemus, Justin, a kind and friendly rat who is 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. 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.

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 hesitant accomplice Sullivan, causing the cinder block to fall and kill Nicodemus, though it is made to look like an accident. Mrs. Brisby arrives and tries to convince the rats that NIMH is coming and they must leave immediately, but Jenner calls her a liar, attacks her, and attempts to take the amulet from her neck. Alerted to the situation by Sullivan, who is then mortally wounded by Jenner, Justin rushes to Mrs. Brisby's aid and battles Jenner, who admits to having plotted to kill Nicodemus. Justin defeats Jenner by stabbing him, then addresses the other rats to prepare for their departure from the farm. Jenner moves to stab Justin from behind, but Sullivan throws a dagger into Jenner's back, killing him before succumbing to his own injuries.

Mrs. Brisby sees the house sinking in 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 also goes with them and eventually finds "Miss Right", an equally clumsy crow just like him, and the two fly away together.

Voice cast[edit]Edit


[1][2]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 intended that Nicodemus and the Great Owl should be seen as aspects of the same character, accounting for some similarities in their design.

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.[2]

The rights to the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH had reportedly been offered to Disney in 1972 but turned down.[3] 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.[4] 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 wererotoscoping, 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 themultiplane camera were also manufactured for this production.[5]

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.[3] Around 100 in-house staff worked on the film, with the labor-intensive cel painting farmed out to 45 people working from home.[6] 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.

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".[3]


The Secret of NIMH: Original Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released July 2, 1982
Genre Soundtrack
Length 48:17
Label MCA Records (1982)

Varèse Sarabande (1995)

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 onvinyl and audio cassette and re-released on March 3, 1995 on CD with a rearranged track listing.[7]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic [1]
Filmtracks link
  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)


The film's distributor, MGM/UA, 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,[8] it performed better in those theaters alone in its opening week than PoltergeistRocky IIIFirefox, 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.[3]


The film garnered critical acclaim for being one of the most vibrantly animated films of its time and has earned a 95% "certified fresh" approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune and Roger Ebertof the Chicago Sun Times gave the film two "thumbs up".[9]

The American Film Institute nominated The Secret of NIMH for its Top 10 Animated Films list.[10]


The Secret of NIMH debuted on video in 1983. With a $79 purchase price, it sold 25,000 copies within the first few months. It was rereleased on video in 1990 in a new advertising campaign and a $20 purchase price. It was its availability on video as well as cable that helped NIMH garner a cult following.[3]

The Secret of NIMH was released on DVD for the first time in 1998 and was re-released on DVD in 2003. The 2003 DVD release of the film retains the material from the 1998 DVD release.[11]

In 2007, 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 some color correction, and dirt and dust removal from the cels.[11] The Blu-ray edition was released on March 29, 2011.[12]

In 2010, The Secret of NIMH and its sequel The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue were released together as a Double Feature double-sided DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (though it carries the 1998 un-restored print).


Main article: The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue

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, due to its inaccurate and juvenile appearance.

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