Rewatched Jun 27, 2012
Michael Mackenzie’s review:
I know this film is beloved by many animation aficionados, but I'm afraid I can't really get behind it. As most people will know, it was the first feature-length film to be directed by Don Bluth, who along with several fellow artists walked out of Disney in 1979, severely depleting the studio's ranks and forcing the delay of its next film, THE FOX AND THE HOUND. Bluth felt that Disney had lost its magic and was annoyed at the cost-cutting being forced on the artists by management... and it's certainly true that THE SECRET OF NIMH is visually many times more ambitious than anything Disney had produced since the 1950s. The film was a labour of love for Bluth and his crew, and what they were able to pull off on a shoestring budget is quite remarkable.
But this doesn't change the fact that, as with most of Bluth's films, it's simply not a very well-told story. Despite the short running time of 83 minutes, it drags like nobody's business and only really comes alive during the climax. The really interesting stuff - the genetically modified rats and their escape from a research lab - is glossed over in favour of devoting oodles of screen time to some mildly funny but ultimately pointless comic relief involving a dopey crow voiced by Dom DeLuise. While the colour palette and effects animation are impressive, the character animation has all the hallmarks of a Bluth production: open-mouthed, buck-toothed, goofy-looking characters flailing about wildly accompanied by strangely anaemic vocal performances. The insertion of magical elements completely absent from the source novel also doesn't quite gel with the scientific origins of the rats' transformation, and leads to a thoroughly convenient deus ex machina solution to protagonist Mrs. Brisby's problems.
Jerry Goldsmith's score is among the great man's best work and gives the film a sense of grandeur I suspect it wouldn't otherwise has possessed, and I do have to admire any "children's" animated feature that includes multiple deaths by stabbing. Overall, though, it's a rather ineffective film and about on par with Disney's THE FOX AND THE HOUND, released a year earlier.