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To save her ill son, a field mouse must seek the aid of a colony of rats, with whom she has a deeper link than she ever suspected.
Critically acclaimed 1982 animation The Secret of NIMH was significant in that it was the first film directed by the esteemed Don Bluth after he had broken away from Disney.
One of the masterful decisions made by the crew was the choice to enlist Jerry Goldsmith as composer. It proved to be a genius move (as did most things with this fabulous composer) and helped lend a riveting sense of dramatic momentum to the film itself. Goldsmith was going through a remarkable purple patch in the year he scored The Secret of NIMH. The Secret of NIMH truly is a remarkable piece of work, one of Goldsmith's finest scores and one of the finest ever composed for an animation. In the original movie Brutus' design was markedly different from that of the other rats as his character's sole function was to look as intimidating as possible and scare Mrs. For my own story I needed a version of Brutus that was more aligned with the rest of the rat characters in order for him to interact better.
I looked at the function "my" Brutus was to fulfill in the story and then adapted his design accordingly. For this I decided that Brutus was to retain his intimidating size and required a character of grumbling discontent.
The body of the original Brutus was hunched over with a huge abdomen and a smaller, lumpier torso, giving him a "flowing" and "unrefined" appearance that suited his function perfectly.
To express his discontent character I went along the lines of "animal association" and gave Brutus a face resembling a grumpy grizzly bear.
A former animator at the House of Mouse, Bluth had left to set up his own production company. NIMH would in fact be his first animated score and Goldsmith admitted that the medium was initially alien to his sensibilities. The end result is one of the greatest animated scores of all time and one of Goldsmith's personal favourites. And the score's "Main Title" bears inflections of his masterful work on Poltergeist, composed around the same time.


Beginning with a stark cello, the music suddenly erupts into one of Goldsmith's patented action cues, in which the orchestra is exploited to its absolute limit. The choir re-appears and Goldsmith then introduces a doom-laden piece for swirling strings as the disturbing history of NIMH is revealed.
That Goldsmith was able to sustain such dramatic tension in a genre renowned for musical "mickey-mousing" was an incredible achievement, and helped pave the way for animated scores to follow.
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Looking at the original design for Brutus I retained his overall proportions and size in relation to mice and then altered certain aspects to make him more "human". For my own story I needed a character that was always "on the edge" from a calm to a violent state. With Justin looking a bit fox-like and Jenner having been positively "lupine" in the original movie I felt this was a justified approach. However, as with all the genres that he tackled, Goldsmith unlocked the conundrum with one devilishly simple and enormously effective move. On the DVD commentary for the film, Bluth explains how Goldsmith put in an extra three weeks overtime on the score, such was his love for the project.
Beginning with a mystical choir and swirling, enticing orchestrations, it gradually builds into beautifully romantic heights. The music is so uncompromisingly bold and dramatic one could be forgiven for thinking it wasn't composed for an animated feature at all. The scene in the film is famous for its unflinching depiction of experimentation on animals, and Goldsmith's hugely dramatic score only adds to its effectiveness. The choir and orchestra reach astonishing proportions and the listener's spirit is sent soaring. Alan Menken's scores for Disney and Goldsmith's 1998 classic Mulan are just some of the scores indebted to NIMH's legacy. He sported large, insect-like eyes that glowed, and an almost complete lack of facial features. He is one half of an almost humorous duo of characters that allows an entry into the storyline.


Also, the new function I had in mind required Brutus to be still immensely intimidating, only in a more "promising" rather than "outright" fashion. The final touches to add to Brutus' inherent "danger" were bushy black brows, small ice-blue eyes and hard-lined facial markings. Instead of "mickey-mousing" the action in the manner of past masters like Carl Stalling, he instead decided to score the film as he would a live-action project, emphasising the emotional core of a given scene instead of accentuating what's apparent on-screen.
A gorgeous solo trumpet then ushers in the first statement of the glorious main theme for strings and celli. From here, the score proceeds to alternate between this thrillingly exciting action music and the soaring interludes for the film's more fantastical sections. The lengthy "Moving Day" expertly builds tension across several minutes before erupting into enormously aggressive music in the final two, as Goldsmith scores the film's terrific climatic swordfight between hero rat Justin and villain Jenner. Combined with his original bulk this gave Brutus the ability to change from being "hugely awkward" to "brutishly violent" within the story.
Entitled the "Flying Dreams Lullaby", it's a truly lovely piece and makes regular appearances throughout the score. At the time of the film's release, Bluth and his fellow animators were dubbed the "Disney Defectors" in the press.
Later on, it receives a heart-wrenching, beautiful vocal rendition by Sally Stevens and a slightly more naff, dated one sung by Paul Williams for the end credits. The year before, he'd scored the final Omen instalment, The Final Conflict and the years before that had seen the likes of The Boys from Brazil, Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Famously, Disney was not experiencing great fortunes in the late 1970s and early 80s and NIMH owed few concessions to the cutesy style associated with the studio.
A dramatic and often frightening children's story, it centres on a timid field mouse (named Mrs Brisby in the film for copyright reasons) who, in order to save her sick son, must seek the help of a group of rats a€“ the subjects of human experimentation.



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