The Movie Pool checks out the Blu-ray release of the 1980s animated classic The Secret of NIMH!
ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 enhanced for widescreen TVs
RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes
AUDIO: English 2.0 Surround DTS-HD, Spanish Stereo, French Mono
SUBTITLES: English for the hearing impaired, Spanish, French
AUDIO COMMENTARY: Participants include Director Don Bluth and Producer Gary Goldman
SPECIAL FEATURES: "Secrets Behind the Secret" Featurette, Original Theatrical Trailer
A country mouse enlists the help of some mysterious rats to save her son. Based on the Newberry Award-winning novel by Robert C. O'Brien.
The Secret of NIMH is one of the great underrated animated films of all time. This Don Bluth masterpiece from 1982 managed to outdo Disney with innovation and a love for the art. At the same time, Disney was releasing films like The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron, which didn't quite live up to the Disney standard.
NIMH may have been darker and more violent than other cartoons of the time (though tame by today's standards), and that tone may have affected its box office success. It did well enough, thankfully, to give Don Bluth chances to produce more animated films, but those failed to exceed the landmark standard set by NIMH.
As years have passed, and traditional hand-drawn animation has given way to computer-generated animation, the appreciation for NIMH has grown, and the film continues to win new fans.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Don Bluth mentions in the audio commentary that the print we will see on Blu-ray will be cleaned, with the scratches and dirt removed. Unfortunately, that's not entirely true. While the print does look quite good, there is considerable dirt and lint visible. Considering this film was produced almost 30 years ago in a glorified garage on a shoestring budget (as you will learn in the special features), one cannot expect the picture to look perfect. It should, however, look better than it does here.
Considering the color schemes used in the film, dirt and lint stands out quite a bit. This film deserves a full restoration, and I wonder if MGM's bankruptcy may have affected that. That said, the image isn't terrible, in fact the colors are often vivid and the picture looks much better than the VHS transfer we've been used to. It even looks far better than the DVD released several years ago, but I expected more. If you're going to bother releasing this on Blu-ray, the proper work should have been given to making the video presentation worthy of a high-definition release.
The sound mix, true to the original, is 2.0 DTS-HD, which doesn't try to do anything new. It does present the audio in its highest quality, and it sounds excellent. Jerry Goldsmith's stirring score makes up for the lack of songs in the film; it is one of the highlights of the Blu-ray.
By the way, Paul Williams wrote the song "Flying Dreams," the only song featured in the film. It's a great song, and Williams is an artist nearly forgotten by today's kids. Considering his contributions to music, including the great Muppet Movie songs, his work should be more appreciated.
Special features are scarce. There is an impressive commentary (reportedly recorded in 2007), in which Don Bluth and Gary Goldman talk candidly about the making of the movie. It is interesting, and worth listening to just to understand how their commitment made NIMH so much better than its animated contemporaries. A vintage featurette (which includes some great footage of the animation process) and a trailer are also included. A booklet with more information on the film was included in the previous DVD release, and it would have been nice to include it here, but there is no insert. I wonder why studios don't include those anymore.
BUY IT, REDBOX IT, OR NETFLIX IT?
SPECIAL FEATURES: C-
OVERALL GRADE: B-
The lack of special features and a less-than-perfect image would usually make this a rent. However, if you have kids, and don't already own The Secret of NIMH on DVD, it is worth picking up just to see it in the best picture and sound possible. I just hope this film one day gets the full-blown restoration and comprehensive treatment on Blu-ray that it deserves.
The Secret of NIMH is now available on Blu-ray in stores or online.