Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #60

60. The Secret of NIMH (1982)

This is the best Non-Disney animated film of all-time. If bitterness can yield the most creative successes, then there can be no better examples than the ones created by the people who have left (or been forced to leave) the Disney Studio. Don Bluth began his animation career working as an apprentice animator on some of its most successful films (including Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians). Later, he moved up to the credited title of animator on Disney films like Robin Hood and The Rescuers in the 1970's. But it was during this decade that he (and several of his fellow animators) were becoming dissatisified with the way the studio was treating their department. In the decade following the death of the titular studio head (Walt Disney passed away in 1967), the company began to pull focus (and budgets) away from their animated films and more towards their live-action films (some of which were successful and some of which were not). The final straw happened when after the very mediocre success of The Rescuers, the studio passed on a project that the animators were excited about: a film based on the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. So in 1979, Bluth and seven other animators exited their contracts with the studio and began their own animation company.

After a few shorts and an animated sequence for the flop musical-movie Xanadu, the animators decided to pursue their pet project. And what resulted was their magnum opus. The Secret of NIMH became a huge critical and audience success (especially over Disney's The Fox and the Hound, which by Disney standards flopped). The film tells the story of Mrs. Brisby (the name was changed because of a threat from the Frisbee corporation) and her struggle to protect her children from the Farmer who is plowing the field where she lives. Her youngest son, Timothy, is extremely ill and she has been counseled to see the Rats who live in the bush by the farmhouse. Through sheer determination of will, she makes her way to the bush and meets with the intelligent Rats (some of whom are extremely vicious and some of whom are sympathetic). Without spoiling the story for those who have not seen it, what she finds is a world of mystery, science and magic. The story is extremely well-defined and the characters are very well thought out. Some of the most memorable (and frightening) scenes include Mrs. Brisby's visit with the Great Owl and her experience in the farmhouse. The voice cast is marvelous including Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Dom DeLuise and a young Shannen Doherty. The score, by composing legend Jerry Goldsmith, is beautifully haunting. It is a little dark for an animated film, but it is quite enjoyable for the entire family.

Next Post: #59

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