Monday, January 7, 2013

The Secret of NIMH (review)

I'm pretty sure I'm late to the party on this one, but I finally watched The Secret of NIMH, so you get a read a review about a movie you might not have seen since your childhood.

If you're a fan of Disney and/or Pixar you should definitely check this movie out. The animation and art style in general is awesome (click here for one of my favorite examples). The film oscillates seamlessly between a world of light-hearted comedy and a much darker, more terrifying one. There's something about the way the animators make things glow (if you didn't, click the previous link to see what I mean) that adds another dimension to the art style and gives the film an almost surreal, slightly terrifying, and definitely epic character.

As for the soundtrack I absolutely love most of it. There are these two songs, one towards the beginning and a second accompanying the credits at the end, which are far too cheesy for my taste. I wish so desperately that I could take them out. Just thinking about them leaves a bad taste in my mouth, so let's return to the rest of the music. It's great. It's great enough that I can (almost) overlook these two trashy, aim-for-the-heartstrings croon-fests.

The main characters are sympathetic, the bad guy is evil, the pacing and plot progression are great (the movie could even be a bit longer if it wanted, since—and this is one of my three problems with the movie—it's less than an hour and a half long), and the climax is satisfactory. There, is that enough actual film analysis? Can I talk about theory yet? Whatever, I'm doing it anyway.

Racism. So the comic relief character Jeremy is this clumsy black crow (excellently voiced by Dom DeLuise). He is in one scene tied up by the (apparently racist?) aunt for being a "black buzzard". When Mrs. Brisby brings home a necklace with a sacred jewel, Jeremy can't focus on anything but the "sparkly". And finally, when a female crow literally crashes into him at the end of the film Mrs. Brisby's only advice to help him seduce her is to be "athletic". Maybe I'm reading too much into this but I just wanted to get it out there.

Politics. The antagonist Jenner is a staunch conservative who advocates against change. His home is going to be bulldozed and he refuses to move despite this. Nicodemus, his opponent, is old and frail and argues that they have to move despite the potential risks and the loss of the comfort of home. Without ruining too much, Jenner ends up with a knife in his back (come on, it's a children's movie, the bad guy has to end up dead or banished or something). I found this very satisfying, especially given where the knife comes from (see? I'm not ruining everything).

Freud. So a large portion of the story is a mother trying to save her son from pneumonia. While this is heart-warming and everything, it's a little bit Oedipal. Which is fine—I mean I am Freudian, after all—it just gives this sort of incestuous light to some of Mrs. Brisby's motivation. I think that this is for the most part overshadowed by other factors (e.g. her need to move her house before the bulldozer comes), but it's definitely still there.

Science. This for me is the most problematic and confused theme. So NIMH is the National Institute of Mental Health which abducted some of the rats and mice in the film in order to perform experiments on them. Science = bad. However, as a result of the experiments the rats learned to read and had their lifespan elongated. Science = good. I really don't know what to do with this conundrum. In the right hands I think science is a good thing, and maybe the fact that science is demonized for abducting anthropomorphic rats and mice that can talk (which, last I checked, is not how rats and mice normally are) sort of discredits the science = bad side of the argument, but for me the movie was totally unclear on its position.

Also, Dragon the cat looks like Ed Harris from A History of Violence. Not sure why that matters, but I have it here in my screening notes in all capitals.

So after much deliberation, I've decided to award The Secret of NIMH with 4 beers (losing points for those two songs, for being formulaic, and frankly for being too short) and 3 Slavojs (for being surprisingly deep for a children's movie, but also falling into the traps of possible racism and definite ambiguity).



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