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Destroy All Podcasts DX Episode 181 - The Secret of NIMH


20 comments posted
I'm pretty sure that was my

I'm pretty sure that was my comment about Doctor Atomic. And I'm not sure how you want me to "defend" it haha.

TheMarkSewell's picture
Posted by TheMarkSewell on 28 March, 2011 - 00:16
It's Don Bluth after all!

Though you use the usual movie poster to open your podcast thread, I kinda prefer this pre-release poster which I felt was more effective...

I first saw Secret of NIMH when I was 5 or 6 back in '83, through an airing on Showtime my mom taped for me to watch all the time. Probably the best edition to get the movie nowadays is a 2-disc DVD release that came out a couple years back (not the earlier releases) that sports a widescreen transfer of the film (albeit, cropped if you're an animation nut and can tell what's missing) along with an audio commentary by Don Bluth & Co. and a few other goodies...

I kinda thought the thing the owl ate in this film was a moth. He also stomped on that rather realistically-drawn spider too! I'll give Bluth credit for that one. And yes, they had to change the name because of the Wham-O Corporation getting on their ass about the namesake. While true that the rats as well as both Jonathan and Mr. Ages were given some chemical to slow their aging process, it certainly doesn't explain why Mr. Ages ended up a crotchety old coot. But yeah, the anthropormophism certainly makes this film (and I'll get to that soon enough here).

Don't forget Bluth also worked on those video games like Dragon's Lair and Space Age. That giant robot mouse does exist in the first movie "An American Tail", it was suppose to represent some mythical mouse they used to get back at the cats in New York. While Bluth is indeed 'old', he's still apparently around. He just worked on some iPod/iPhone version of Tapper you can download.

Also interesting noting the future stars of Star Trek:TNG and 90210 are in this film (albeit playing children).

That glowy animation effect has been around for a very long time, it's basically done by back-lighting part of the scene that needs to be shown such as fire or light, as a pass during the filming that could take several exposures to get the desired effect. There's an animated short done sometime in the 80's I'll link here that uses it very extensively...

Aside from the romantic side plot, many of us fans wished there was some sort of romantic connection between Brisby and Justin, one of the good rats she meets in the rose bush with Mr. Ages. He was quite a fan favorite as I noticed alongside Jenner in the film. When I got into the internet some 15 years ago, I noticed a number of NIMH fansites out there for this one and often notice the many fanfics made involving the characters in further stories which strayed greatly from the book this was based on.

The magic element certainly was inventive to the story that shouldn't be there, but I guess we can blame Bluth for feeling he needed to embellish things a little for this story, and Star Wars certainly was probably instrumental in opening up that sort of angle in movies. Aside from that, there are moments in the film that were lifted from different movies used as reference. The Justin/Jenner sword fight used footage from the 1938 version of "Robin Hood" starring Errol Flynn. There's other uses of live-action as reference in this movie like the bird cage Mrs. Brisby is stuck in as they had filmed a model of the cage and transferred that to cel later on (a technique Disney had developed years earlier in films like 101 Dalmatians).

I think where the house was placed, it was underneath some stone that leaned over it, so perhaps the plow wouldn't be able to go through there perhaps (unless Farmer Fitzgibbons gets wised to that). There was also an animated sequel made back in the 90's called "Timmy to the Rescue" you mentioned, but I suggest not to watch that if you loved the first movie. It's certainly bullshit in the writing dept. and there's like a ton of song 'n dance numbers to boot! Just avoid it, trust me!

The death issue is certainly one I felt this movie gave me a good idea of at an early age I probably would never get from films today. I think it was glad it didn't shy away from that as well as give us a rather dark ambiance to the backgrounds and all that. It was the kind of movie I would watch in a very dark room to get the full desired illusion!

The sword fight certainly feels like a tacked-on sort of deal to get the people in the theater...

The music in the film certainly does make me think of old times myself, if only a point in my life where I probably felt the best in when this movie came out (albeit, a snot-nosed kindergarten'er).

I was going to say something about this film being the genesis for those to find an interest in a fandom towards anthropomorphism, but I feel that's already too evident out there in InternetLand. I'm glad the film didn't date itself in the dialogue dept. or anything we see in films today that would do so. Of course the fans would watch more Justin too.

If you guys want another animated film about animals killing each other to watch (besides Watership Down), I'd suggest "Felidae" (not really a kid's film mind you here)...

Chris@StudioToledo's picture
Posted by Chris@StudioToledo on 28 March, 2011 - 08:35
Oh and thanks for the "eye

Oh and thanks for the "eye roll". I'd figured my words would be thrown back at me like that soon enough. I guess it comes down to not proof-reading my statements anyway, and a shame when I back out of here I can't re-edit these things or delete them.

Chris@StudioToledo's picture
Posted by Chris@StudioToledo on 28 March, 2011 - 10:37
I remember seeing this movie

I remember seeing this movie when I was a kid as well. I havent seen it in a very long time, but it was cool to hear you guys talk about it and bring out some of the finer points. Now Im going to have to see this again.
Good stuff guys.


NEOGETTER's picture
Posted by NEOGETTER on 28 March, 2011 - 10:54
One of my favorites!

This is such a good movie.

I remember this being the first time that I had seen the glowing effect in cartoons, an effect with which I had fallen in love throughout the 80s. I kind of miss it now that everything is digital. They still kinda do it, but it's not as pretty.

I never thought of this as a girl's movie, but I guess it kind of is. I suppose it doesn't condescend to the young female audience the way, oh, My Little Pony The Movie condescends. NIMH portrays Mrs. Brisby in such a way that your attention is never drawn to the fact that it's an atypical choice for a protagonist of this era to be female. The viewer simply accepts it immediately, and that's a good thing.

And I find it interesting that the female hosts are defending the portrayal of Mrs. Brisby, whereas the males are getting all bent out of shape because Brisby has no first name. Calling it classic chauvinism is a bit over-the-top, especially when you look at how she's knocking down gender barriers all over the place in the film. She stops the plow. She drugs the cat. She confronts an owl. Bluth really gave her an active role. In contrast, the name thing just seems superfluous. Finding sexist subtext in a movie like this is just anomaly-hunting. I really don't think that the choice to use the name Mrs. Brisby (or Frisby) was anything more than a means of giving her that connection to her husband that other characters could catch. That's why the owl says "Mrs. Jonathan Brisby?". Stop anomaly-hunting, Jeremy.

Oh and sorry, Jeremy. I think you're totally wrong in comparing the music to Star Wars. I agree with Betty (or is it Nicole? Sorry, I can't tell your voices apart.), because John Williams is known for his heavy brass section, and NIMH is very stringy. You can't just find a string arrangement in a John Williams score and therefore conclude that NIMH is ripping off John Williams. Once again, Jeremy, I think you're anomaly-hunting. You're looking for the tiny piece of evidence from which to extrapolate and justify your theory instead of putting the two bodies of work side-by-side and noting the rather apparent contrast. The entirety NIMH's score is way different than that of Star Wars, and when that's the case, it's kinda b.s. to say that the two are alike, because they're clearly not. On you, sir, I call shenanigans. SHENANIGANS!

My bad thing about this movie is the tired old "science is evil and magic is good." I am SOOOO sick of that. I don't think it's as heavy in this film, but it's there. The pulleys and levers fail to move the block, but the magic amulet saves the day. Come ON! I think you could have taken all of the magic out of this movie and told 99% of it the same way, and the only part that would have to change is where they have to move the cinder block. You have this story about intelligent rats who can build machines, and they get saved by a field mouse using the Force.

Additionally, the evil scientists of NIMH are just ridiculous. First of all, I'm pretty sure labs don't do scientific experiments with rats they get off the street. Second, they're not even doing anything that real science labs do, such as, oh, advancing medicine. No, they're just doing experiments on mice and rats for the sake of doing it. Again, come ON!

Speaking of which, even as a child, I found it odd that Mrs. Brisby could be taught to read. She's just a regular field mouse. She had no experiments done on her, and yet she seems about as intelligent as the rats themselves. Perhaps not as knowledgeable, but the capability of learning is there. That was always peculiar to me. I'm not even going to theorize how she would have been exposed to any fluid that would have enhanced her intelligence. I'm sure your minds have already gone there.

By the way, the sequel to this film is one of the most ridiculous examples of animation degradation I've ever seen. Most sequels to Bluth films, such as All Dogs 2 or American Tail 2, seem to experience this, but NIMH 2 really got a pedestrian treatment in the animation department. And I know it's direct-to-video, but it almost seems as if the Land Before Time sequels were better animated. But to make matters worse for NIMH 2, they actually open the movie with footage of the original film, just so you can see how bad the the rest of the movie is in comparison.

Oh wow... While typing this, I heard my name in the podcast! That was weird. I wasn't expecting that.

Holy crap! I'm being quoted a second time. *blush blush*

No, please don't read my comments in an angry voice, because they're never actually angry. Just opinionated.

But as long as I have your attention, do a show about Roujin Z.

I have to disagree with you guys about the length of the movie. I think 80 minutes is a good length for films, especially a kid's film. I don't necessarily agree with needing to see more of the rats after the last action scene. I think it ended right where it should have, with life carrying on for Mrs. Brisby and her family. It was her journey. The destiny of the rats wasn't important to the finale of the film. It's assumed that they made it. That's good enough for me.

Good show as always, guys.

Mr Neil's picture
Posted by Mr Neil on 28 March, 2011 - 13:54
Itano comment, GO!

Multipack comment reply DEPLOY.

"NIMH portrays Mrs. Brisby in such a way that your attention is never drawn to the fact that it's an atypical choice for a protagonist of this era to be female. The viewer simply accepts it immediately, and that's a good thing."

This is definitely true--and the film doesn't do the very-common "oh here's the girl, she can't lift stuff or do physical things because SHE'S A GIRL, stupid GIRL being all GIRLY and stuff" bit that we still saw even in Disney movies for a long time.

Which is, I think, why it drove me so crazy that the script seems to go out of its way to make "Mrs" be her first name. I know I'm getting into a derail, here, trigger-words and all that, but it just kind of bugged me. I think that it's mostly just an issue of me not being used to how people in the early Eighties thought about things like that; the unspoken, unquestioned assumption that a woman's marital status is the most important thing about how she describes herself to the world. My grandmother, for example, still gets mail as "Mrs. (Grandfather)" even though he's dead... While I was growing up in the Eighties, I didn't really pay very much attention to things like that--mostly because, as I said, the unspoken assumption that This Is The Way Things Are.

Music: Betty is the music nerd. If they had jewelry in the movie Nicole would be all over it, though.

"The pulleys and levers fail to move the block, but the magic amulet saves the day. Come ON! I think you could have taken all of the magic out of this movie and told 99% of it the same way, and the only part that would have to change is where they have to move the cinder block."

That's kind of what I was going for at the end; like, you don't HAVE to use The Force, just make her be brave and swim in the mud puddle or something. Have her remember the thing about "courage can unlock the key" or whatever, and then she goes down and attaches the hook to the cinderblock, and yaaaay the day is saved. And isn't it more inspirational, more morally-redeeming, to have her do it all by herself? What's the moral message of a deus ex machina?

RobotBastard's picture
Posted by RobotBastard on 28 March, 2011 - 14:17
I see your point...

Yeah, I got the deus ex machina thing. It's the same thing in Transformers, as Jeremy brought up repeatedly. They went from doing a series about robots fighting over resources to a story about the object of instant solutions. Oh, and how does it work and why is it the nemesis of a giant transforming planet? The answer is, "stop asking questions, kid."

From my perspective, I'm just getting a little sick of science taking it on the chin. Like I said, it's not AS BAD in this film as it is in others. I don't think that was an intentional subtext, and magic only wins in that one scene, anyway. Even so, I would have liked to have seen the moving of the cinder block be something that was a bit more applicable and realistic to actual problem-solving. Not just a magical metaphor for the strength of one's will.

However, I see that we're converging a lot on the same point here. The only note that I would add is that the deus ex machina doesn't always come from the power of magic, but I find it especially irritating when it does.

Mr Neil's picture
Posted by Mr Neil on 29 March, 2011 - 11:31
A great and interesting review of The Secret of NIMH...

...but I don't think you folks know the first thing about anime. Frankly, I found it shocking how uninformed you all sounded on the subject, especially considering how many anime-related products are reviewed on this site. At a guess your experience is mainly with 70s television shows - especially since the only example of a well-animated anime you could come up with was Akira - which, of course, cannot compare to a feature film from the '80s. I'd suggest that you review some Japanese animated feature films from the same period, *subtitled*, and reconsider your position.

Thanks for the great review, though! ^_^

sleet01's picture
Posted by sleet01 on 28 March, 2011 - 13:12

I'll let Jeremy provide the full savagery this deserves, but I just want to point out that A: this is a review of Secret of NIMH, and as such is focused on that film; B: you're really going to claim that a podcast with Harmagedon, Megazone 23, Baldios, and Angel's Egg in its archives "doesn't know about anime"?, and C: it's not like there aren't a jillion sites out there with lengthy plot summaries (called "reviews" for some reason) of everything that Studio Ghibli put out (that was translated into English) (and released in America) (on DVD) (recently).

RobotBastard's picture
Posted by RobotBastard on 28 March, 2011 - 14:00
A: I liked the parts that

A: I liked the parts that covered The Secret of NIMH; another way of saying this is I liked the vast majority of the podcast. I thought the comments were, for the most part, well-reasoned and fully considered. With the exception of the anime-related comments, though, anything I didn't like specifically about the SoN review has already been fully covered by other commentors.

B: The problem I had was with the comparison between SoN and "anime". The reviewers specifically said "anime" is poorly animated, with mouths not matched to the characters' words, with static backgrounds, etc. This is exactly the sort of uninformed complaint that people who have only seen anime TV shows from the 70s (which, by the way, Baldios is so close to as to make no difference), and only dubbed, spout loudly and repeatedly. That time was 30 years ago or more, while the majority of all anime has been made since then! (edited a typo here)

C: Perhaps I should have said "view" instead of "review". I don't mind if DAPDX doesn't cover anime, and it wasn't my intent that they should start reviewing films for my enjoyment. I just meant that they should watch some of the anime feature films of the 80s again and consider their comments in light of what they saw.

sleet01's picture
Posted by sleet01 on 28 March, 2011 - 17:21

We'll go into this in more detail in a future feedback portion of the podcast, but briefly, anime traditionally does NOT include lip-synching. Akira was much-lauded for being the first anime to actually do this. The vast majority of anime, theatrical or not, does NOT include lip-synching. Typically the mouths are just animated with lip flaps as opposed to lips/mouths being shaped generally the way actually human mouths are when they say different things. I mentioned Akira specifically because it was the first to do that. We've reviewed recent theatrical anime on this podcast, such as The Sky Crawlers and Musashi: Dream of the Last Samurai. Neither of them have lip synch. If you're really curious, here's a convenient website with the most common lip shapes when speaking:

Destroy All Podcasts DX's picture
Posted by Destroy All Pod... on 28 March, 2011 - 19:25
Lip-synching in older anime

I would say that most of the cost-cutting/corner-cutting techniques which became traditions in anime were derived during the streamlining of productions in order to fit them into TV schedules. Therefore, Akira is not the "first" anime to feature lip-synching, some movies did it before, even as early as the 1960s: here's "Horusu no daibouken" from 1968, which looks amazing even today:

In fact, lots of older anime movies, back when they were called "gekijou manga" as opposed to "terebi manga" -- the word "anime" wasn't yet popularized -- have extremely fluid, so-called "full animation", until the TV style began to dominate the production process. You can go back as far as wartime propaganda anime and see some really amazing stuff.

But in any case, I would certainly like to listen to a more in-depth discussion on this side of things, so I'm looking forward to the podcast where you talk about that in more detail.

Oh, and I love Secret of NIMH, of course!

Renato's picture
Posted by Renato on 31 March, 2011 - 07:10

"...the only example of a well-animated anime you could come up with was Akira - which, of course, cannot compare to a feature film from the '80s."

Akira IS a feature film from the 80s.

Mr Neil's picture
Posted by Mr Neil on 28 March, 2011 - 14:27
Excellent out-of-context

Excellent out-of-context quotation, I congratulate you on skipping the first half of the sentence entirely.

Edit: perhaps you just misread it, so here's a different way of writing the original sentence: "At a guess your experience is mainly with 70s television shows (especially since the only example of a well-animated anime you could come up with was Akira) which, of course, cannot compare to a feature film from the '80s.

sleet01's picture
Posted by sleet01 on 28 March, 2011 - 16:55
Yes, thank you for fixing your sentence.

Yes, that is a bit more clear when you actually put a parenthetical statement inside of parentheses. It's still worded kind of poorly. I think your "guess" is an overgeneralization that is a bit unwarranted, but I'll let the hosts handle that.

Mr Neil's picture
Posted by Mr Neil on 28 March, 2011 - 17:32
Parenthetical clauses can be

Parenthetical clauses can be set within commas, dashes (single *or* double), or parentheses.

Yes, if only people didn't make wild generalizations about things... <_<

sleet01's picture
Posted by sleet01 on 28 March, 2011 - 17:39

I see. You couldn't really respond to my criticism, so you went right back to justifying your run-un sentence. Thank you for confirming that you're a troll.

And with that, I have no more to say to you.

Mr Neil's picture
Posted by Mr Neil on 29 March, 2011 - 08:31
I hate to be a butt, but he's actually right

The sentence was "you're comparing TV animation from the ' a feature film from the '80s". You cut off the front half of that part.

Which isn't to say that DAPDX hasn't covered feature films from the '80s. And the point, made a bit clumsily, was that Japanese animation often intentionally takes shortcuts to make the animation easier; and these shortcuts have become part of the general aesthetic of Japanese animation. And, y'know, not without reason--it does save money to do things that way, and you can spend the money on animating robots which is what everyone really wants to see. But it's worth discussing what we actually mean when we say "the animation looks great".

RobotBastard's picture
Posted by RobotBastard on 29 March, 2011 - 12:23
Bothering to add a further

Bothering to add a further post, someone just informed me the film got a Blu-ray release out this week. Where have I been? :-)

Chris@StudioToledo's picture
Posted by Chris@StudioToledo on 30 March, 2011 - 02:01

Cool episode. Jesus the comments are getting crazy long now.

Anyway, my theory on why the Bisbys live so close to where they plow had to do with crop rotation and the fact that a steady food source will be close by. Not every field is plowed and used for crops some are let go grow whatever for a season so it that the soil can regain some nutrients. This was more common before agriculture was heavily industrialized.

Superdeformed's picture
Posted by Superdeformed on 1 April, 2011 - 20:56
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