Blu-ray
A Rental at Best
3.5 stars
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
2.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
2 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
A Rental at Best

The Secret of NIMH

Street Date:
March 29th, 2011
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
April 7th, 2011
Movie Release Year:
1982
Studio:
MGM/UA
Length:
82 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated G
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

I think it's fair to say that 'The Secret of NIMH' is Don Bluth's masterpiece. Bluth proved he didn't need Disney behind him to make a story full of heart and character. He could do it his own way, keeping the animation skills he'd garnered after working on numerous Disney classics. He and his team went on to create numerous other animated features, but 'NIMH' stands out amongst the rest as a visually arresting, character identifying, action-packed film. It also takes some old ideas of animated features, and turns them completely on their head.

For example, in 'NIMH' a group of rats and mice were administered an experimental solution at a local laboratory. A solution that caused them to evolve. Their brains suddenly comprehended how to read, write, and figure out complex problems. They'd become humans, except smaller and hairier. We've seen animals take on human characteristics and intelligence ever since animated films began. 'NIMH' finally gave a good reason for why animals were acting and thinking like humans.

With these new found powers, also came abstract thinking such as guilt, shame, and remorse. The rats have built a wide network under the rose bush in the farmer's garden. An underground city of sorts, that comes complete with electricity. As the rats became accustomed to their new found intellect they became worried and felt shame for stealing what they needed from the farmer. These are complex beings, and the movie treats them as such.

A small mouse by the name of Mrs. Frisby is a single mother. Her husband, Jonathan, died a while back and now moving day has come. If Mrs. Frisby isn't able to move her house in time, the farmer's tractor will destroy it. It just so happens that her late husband Jonathan may have much more pull with the rats than she ever would have thought.

'NIMH' moves quickly and may lose younger viewers. It also features that trademark darker aspects of many Bluth movies. 'NIMH' isn't afraid of death, violence, or the odd bit of cussing. It's a grown up animated film. Most animated films nowadays won't even touch death for fear that it may scare the younger ones, and if death is ever talked about it's in broad terms. We hardly ever have to watch someone die in an animated film, here they not only die, but they're also involved in vicious sword fights to the death.

See, there's no circumventing human emotion, if by chance animals were able to gain human intellect. With that new intelligence, these animals are suddenly thrust into creating a society with rules. Some of them want to do good, others aspire to gain power through evil ways. That's what's so endearing about 'NIMH.' It isn't afraid to discuss the more sinister impulses of humankind. Through these rats, and their actions, we witness everything from greed to compassion. Throw Mrs. Brisby into the mix and we get endless amounts of courage and sacrifice.

If there's one thing about 'NIMH' that makes it less than perfect it's the fact that it moves far too fast. Bluth packs quite a lot into under 90 minutes, but it would have been nicer to have a longer story that fleshed some of these wonderful characters, like Justin and Nicodemus, out a tad more.

I can't help but get choked up at the end each time I rewatch 'NIMH,' It's such a simple story, but it makes such a profound statement.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Even though Bluth proved that he could create lovable animated features without Disney, he still could use their help and advice when restoring his classic films. DNR gets a bad wrap most of the time, but that's when it's egregiously noticeable and snuffs out detail along with the noise. However, I must say that some judicious digital noise reduction would have worked wonders here. What a missed opportunity by MGM to put out an animated classic with a flawless looking transfer.

Like 'All Dogs Go to Heaven', 'NIMH's 1080p transfer leaves much to be desired. It's full of errant noise, scratches, flecks, dust, and hairs. They appear so often that after a while you make yourself stop noticing them, or else you won't watch the movie. Color constantly flickers during numerous scenes, as shading goes darker, then lighter, then darker again. Edges aren't precise. Instead they get lost in the backgrounds sometimes, like at the beginning when Jeremy is hanging upside down by the string. The edges on the strings are in a constant state of flux, without ever defining their own space. High-def clarity is altogether unavailable here. Like 'Dogs', 'NIMH' doesn't seem like that much of a upgrade from the 2007 DVD edition. Colors are a bit bolder, and there are some scenes – like the scene where Justin, Mrs. Brisby, and Nicodemus floating in the boat under the mill – that look pretty well done. It's just that the entire presentation is so inconsistent it becomes frustrating after a while. It's a shame, because the film really deserves a better looking, painstaking transfer.

Hopefully, some sort of anniversary edition will get a new remaster, but I'm not holding my breath.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

I am pleased to announce that even though 'NIMH' is just as disappointing as 'All Dogs Go to Heaven' was in the video category, it's audio is heads and shoulders above it.

The film's DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix sounds much more full-bodied than 'Dogs' did. It has a resonant feel to it. Dialogue has more oomph, lower end frequencies are much more prevalent, especially during the suspense-filled final scenes. High-end frequencies still encounter that proverbial ceiling where older recordings have a hard time passing up. There are a few moments, especially during Jeremy's many high-pitched rants, where tiny cackles and hisses can be heard.

Overall, there aren't nearly as many problems with 'NIMH's audio as there are with its video. At least they got that right.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

  • Audio Commentary — Don Bluth and Gary Goldman discuss 'NIMH.' This is the very same commentary that was recorded in 2007 for the DVD release. The two of them are fun to listen to. They talk about animation and the way they approach it. They discuss how hard it was to make a full-length animated feature on a budget that didn't come near to rivaling the budgets Disney was putting into their films. They share a vast wealth of animation knowledge. Fans and animators alike will want to give this commentary a good listen to.

  • Secrets Behind the Secret (SD, 14 min.) — This short making-of featurette talks in-depth about the movie was adapted from the book and the genesis of the project. It is hosted by Bluth and Goldman.

  • Trailer (HD, 2 min.) — The theatrical trailer is provided.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no Blu-ray exclusives included.

Final Thoughts

It's great to finally start getting some of the Bluth animated classics on Blu-ray, but alas, they don't feel like they're looking or sounding the best that they could be. The video here is disappointing to say the least. A fantastically animated film like this deserves to be completely remastered and reworked. I'm holding out a small shred of hope that may happen at some point, but this is probably the best us Bluth fans are going to get for quite a long time. As much as it pains me to say it, renting this one is as much as I can recommend.

Technical Specs

  • 25GB Blu-ray Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Portuguese: Dolby Digital Mono
  • German: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Italian: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH, French, Spanish

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Making of Featurette

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