For the month of March, I thought I'd take a look at the material of classic animator, Don Bluth, and some of his best and highest recommended material from yours truly. With that said, I have to be honest when I say this is also a re-watch for me with a lot of these titles, after spending at least a good decade in the back of my mind. We start this all off with a true classic; 1982's 'The Secret of NIMH'.
If I'm going to be talkign about Don Bluth's best material this month, this is for sure a great place to start, as it's arguably one of his best titles. Most people I know would argue 'The Land Before Time', but for my money, this is Bluth Golden Standard. It's everything you could possibly want from a Bluth movie. It's the perfect combination of fun, dramatic, and fantastic, and even kind of dark. Although it's not without its dashes of goofy comedy, most of this is a testament to how Bluth never wanted to talk down to kids. The fact of the matter is, story-wise, this could give your average Pixar film a run for its money today.
In a small world that takes place on the Fitzgibbons' farm, we meet the likes of a widowed field mouse named Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Hartman, in her final role) and her family of four children; Theresa (Shannen Doherty), Martin (Wil Wheaton), Cynthia (Jodi Hicks) and the ill-fallen Timothy (Ian Fried). Without understanding Timothy's illness, Mrs. Brisby seeks out the help of Mr. Ages (Arthur Malet); an old friend of her late husband, Jonathan's. Mr. Ages diagnoses Timothy with pneumonia, and warns not to move him and allow him proper rest and medicine for about three weeks.
In the meantime, the farmer intends to plow the field where they reside, which means the family must find a way to move without forcing Timothy out of bed, or he risks death. Mrs. Brisby then sets out on a journey, seeking help from the Great Owl (John Carradine), a bumbling crow named Jeremy (Dom DeLuise), and a clan of rats, lead by the seemingly ancient and wise Nicodemus (Derek Jacobi) who holds an intriguing secret based on the rats' friendly relationship with the late Jonathan Brisby. This all creates a more intense and interesting subplot to the film as well, throwing us all a bit of a curveball.
Being that this one is from the early 80s, one can appreciate the fact that animation was much tougher to do back then, and Bluth proves to be extremely successful with it here. I absolutely love the dream-like atmosphere that this movie provides, and it's an odd case where I wouldn't actually want to see it cleaned up with CG. There's something about the oldschool animation here that gives this movie so much of its charm, and we'll learn Bluth pulls this off in his early days. Back in the 80s and early 90s, I'd say Bluth movies were to Disney what Dreamworks is to Pixar now - it's a bit of a "lesser" brand in theory, but in reality, sometimes the stories are just as good, if not better. It was an honest to God coin-flip for us kids.
I didn't really pick up on this title until much later in my life, but I'm very glad I did, and in my own way, I regret not giving it a proper chance in my early days. I was born the same year this came out, so I've been familiar with the title as far back as I can remember. Nevertheless, this totally holds up, and it's actually a great example of a family film with a strong female lead, if you're looking for one. In its own way, it provided that nostalgic factor, regardless of the fact that I saw it for the first time well into my twenties. That all comes from the style, and the memory that Don Bluth had a way of providing that escape from reality very easily. It's one of the best examples of his more dream-like stuff, and it really does take you away into a whole other world. It's Bluth fantasy at its peak.