The Secret of NIMH is my favorite Don Bluth movie without a doubt. While a number of his films cater exclusively to the youngest of kids, which I suppose cartoons probably should, NIHM is at times definitely not for children. Secret of NIMH follows the adventures of Mrs. Brisby, the recently widowed mouse taking care of her sick child. From running from the murderous cat, Dragon, to seeking advice from the terrifying Owl, she finds herself in situations that could traumatize kids. It's no wonder I love this movie.
Because her late husband, Jonathan, died a hero, Mrs Brisby is destined to save the field from an unknown danger. While many if the creatures in the field, the land surrounding a farmer's house, lead simple lives, the rats are far from ordinary rodents. Living within the farmer's rose bush, the rats have mastered electricity and even some form of magic. All thanks to NIHM.
The National Institute of Mental Health has a vested interest in the rats, calling the farmer throughout the movie and asking about their abilities. Abilities they received after they were captured on the streets and injected with untested chemical formulas. A number of rats and mice we subjected to the trials and afterwards found they were learning to read and figure their way out of their cages. There's no mention of what kinds of tests they were performing, but the rodents' arrival to the lab showed a lot of other animals there as well. I guess their formulas were only successful on our bald-tailed friends.
The rat and mice test subjects escaped and while most of the mice were lost in an air duct (a character points out they absolutely died, just one of the dark tones of the movie), two survived, one being Jonathan Brisby, who earned the rats' eternal gratitude by opening the final gate between them and freedom.
NIHM wants to clear out the rats for whatever reason and the rats know it, preparing for a move to a safer place. Before they can go, they pledge to help move Brisby's home from the path of the farmer's plow. She can't move her family because her son is sick with pneumonia, being treated by the other surviving mouse from NIHM, Mr. Ages, whose intelligence manifested in medical knowledge, I guess.
The Secret of NIHM is an incredible movie, easily one of the best to come out of the 80s. And like many others of this age, it had it's fair share of villains. Though NIHM is treated as the big evil threatening all of the rats, there's also a traitor on their midst with Jenner. He wants to take control of leadership by killing Nicodemus, the eldest and wisest among them. He uses Brisby's relocation as the best opportunity, cutting the ropes holding the cinder block home aloft and crushing the old rat under it. A swordfight erupts between Jenner and Justin, Nicodemus's loyal follower, that culminates in one of the rare shots of blood in a cartoon that I saw as a kid.
NIMH's treatment of animals as lab rats (literally and figuratively) is among the earliest exposure kids my age had to how medicine, and more frivolously cosmetics, was made safe for human consumption. It was a hard thing to see, made even worse by the writhing silhouettes and pained whines after the animated injections. Even though Jenner was the villain we could see and root against and see defeated in the end, NIHM was truly the villain here, if not at least for their threats of extinguishing their failed former test subjects. And unfortunately, it's an evil they could only escape from for there was no defeating it.
This post was made as part of the Medicine in Movies Blogathon hosted by Charlene's (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews. check out the post to see how medicine is portrayed and influenced by medicine both modern and barbaric.