#WayBackWednesday – The Secret of NIMH (1982)

We’re all stuck in the house, right? There’s never been a better time to dig into those retro movies that you’ve always wanted to watch, but never had the time for. Personally, I’m a bit of a retrophile and tend to watch more older flicks than newer ones. On Fangirlish, you can now look forward to a retro review from me each Wednesday in this column. I’ll be highlighting one throwback movie a week, offering a spoiler-free review of the film, any throwback thoughts from my childhood, and where you can watch the movie yourself. Sit back, relax, and enjoy #WayBackWednesday.

There are a few films from my early childhood that made a serious impression on me. Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH is one of those films that is forever seared in my mind, not just for its beauty, but because many aspects of the film terrified me as a child. A sweeping score, stunning animation, and a top notch voice cast truly make this an animated film for the ages.

Don Bluth and “The Disney Defectors” left the House of Mouse after the powers that be deemed the pitch for The Secret of NIMH far too dark to be a commercial success. Based on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, the dark fairy tale actually became the biggest animated film that was not produced by Disney at the time. Ironically, I believe my mother recorded this film off the Disney Channel for me in the late 80s, which is how I was able to watch it so many times. Regardless, The Secret of NIMH is an entrancing tale that I love to revisit, even as an adult. Get a glimpse for yourself by watching the trailer. 


Firing up The Secret of NIMH for this week’s column, I was immediately sucked into the story with its storybook opening and Nicodemus’ mystical writing with a quill. Even though Nicodemus’ hands and appearance were a bit creepy to me as a kid and still give me an eerie feeling as an adult, I found myself entranced all over again. As a kid, I was enamored with the beyond gorgeous animation. As an adult, I am taken aback by just how good this film still looks nearly 40 years later. Traditional animation is truly a lost art. 

Rewatching this film, I was rocketed back to my childhood, seeing the parts that scared me and also being surprised at some of the content. As a child, I was absolutely terrified of The Great Owl, but as an adult, I was disturbed by the act of murder the comes later in the film. It is definitely shocking and makes me unsurprised that Disney chose to pass on this film.

However, it seems they took a leaf from Don Bluth’s book a few years later with their 1985 film, The Black Cauldron. (That’s a film I’ll be reviewing in an upcoming #WayBackWednesday post, so stay tuned for that). I sure do miss the days when animation studios were in the business of scaring children. It creates for long lasting storytelling. 

The cast makes this film not only a treat for the eyes, but for the ears too. Top notch actors create a list of voice acting greatness, like John Carradine, Dom DeLuise, Derek Jacobi, and the gone-to-soon Elizabeth Hartman as Mrs. Brisby (the name was changed to avoid any potential legal entanglements with the “frisbee” toy). This was Hartman’s final film. Listen closely and you’ll hear a young Wil Wheaton and Shannen Dougherty as well. 

What I love the most about this film is how it makes me feel. The film’s aesthetic beauty, a majestic, whimsical, and at times, even haunting score by renown film and television composer, Jerry Goldsmith, but also the moral philosophy the film puts forth keep me returning to it time and again. Lines like “We can no longer live as rats. We know too much,” from Nicodemus, as well as, “Courage of the heart is very rare,” give this film a deeper quality than just the feelings its beauty conjures up.

When we know better, we must do better. Who would’ve expected that kind of idea from a 1980s children’s movie? 

For these reasons, I commend The Secret of NIMH to you. It’s one to enjoy as an adult, but also a high quality film to enjoy with the kids in your life. 

The Secret of NIMH is streaming now on Amazon Prime. 

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  1. My kid brain used to confuse Secret of Nimh and the rescuers. Both films I loved. Nimh was the one that I and my brothers liked more. I read Mrs Frisby just last year. Also loved flushed away and Ratatouille. Irl not a fan of rodents. Thank you for the memories you awakened.

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