The children’s film deemed too dark for Disney, The Secret of NIMH was ex-Disney animator Don Bluth’s directorial debut. Bluth left Disney in 1979 to found his own animation studio, and thank goodness he did, otherwise this and other excellent films (like An American Tail and The Land Before Time) might not exist.
Mrs. Brisby is a widowed mouse that lives with her three children in the middle of a farmer’s field. As the film begins, Mrs. Brisby is supposed to be moving her family to safety before the farmer plows, but her youngest son is deathly ill and can’t leave his bed. Determined to find some way to save him that doesn’t involve moving him, Mrs. Brisby eventually discovers the Rats of NIMH.
NIMH stands for the National Institute of Mental Health, and the movie highlights the government’s animal experiments with a vivid montage of rats and mice being injected with sinisterly pointed needles. (This is probably where the “too dark for Disney” comes in.) The experiments endowed the rodents with human intelligence, and they used their newfound smarts to escape the institute. Now they live surreptitiously under a rosebush in the farmer’s front yard, stealing whatever they need from the house, including electricity.
At first Mrs. Brisby is delighted meet the NIMH rats; after all, they seem her best hope for moving her son. But she soon learns that the NIMH society is no utopia, and she is more connected to them than she knew.
With a memorable cast of characters, uplifting soundtrack, and gorgeous animation style, it’s easy to see why this film is a cult classic. This one also packs an emotional wallop, so keep a box of tissues handy if you’re susceptible to that sort of thing.