Friday, February 10, 2017

A Quick Look: THE SECRET OF NIMH (1982-color)

   I sometimes forget just how cool the 80's were. In the previous decade, Don Bluth and some other Disney animators formed their own company. Success was slow in coming, and the studio's major claim to fame at the start of the 80's was a segment for the bizarre musical XANADU. In 1982, the long-in-production THE SECRET OF NIMH hit theaters. THE SECRET OF NIMH was a unique and beautifully animated science fiction epic owing much to Disney, Harryhausen, and older costume dramas. Widowed field mouse Mrs. Brisby is in a desperate situation. Her home is about to be destroyed, but she can't leave because her bedridden son is ill. Mrs. Brisby seeks help from the (terrifying, but wise) old owl of the forest, who tells her to seek the aid of "the rats of NIMH." Said rats are escaped test animals who have developed full intelligence and technological abilities. Turns out it was Mrs. Brisby's late husband who, among them as another test animal, made possible their escape. Wonderfully entertaining adventure tries for a more somber tone than the Disney stuff, and employs and amazing voice cast (John Carradine, for example, is the owl). Paul Williams provides an end title song. Though it didn't do Disney business, it was a success that secured the studio and paved the way for other hits such as AN AMERICAN TAIL, THE LAND BEFORE TIME, and ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN. The film even revolutionized the young arcade video game market, when Bluth's team was hired by producers who saw the film to create cel animated graphics for Dragon's Lair. The game was so successful that it stabilized the video game industry, and a sequel game followed, as well as a space opera game titled Space Ace. Disney even tried to produce a Bluth-like epic in the form of THE BLACK CAULDRON, which quickly bombed at the box office and slid into obscurity. Unfortunately, the 90's wouldn't be as kind. Sequels were produced by other studios, and Bluth's fun-but-quirky ROCK-A-DOODLE was the first in a string of failures that eventually brought the studio to it's knees.

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