Classic on the BS2: The Secret of NIMH

Today, my oldest daughter and I watched The Secret of NIMH since it’s free on Amazon Prime video. It’s a classic movie from my childhood, and one of the last of the great classically animated movies. Even prior to its release in 1982, director Don Bluth felt that computerization was taking over the animation industry and set out to make the film with no automated help.

In an era that gave us Filmation’s He-man & the Masters of the Universe, She-ra: Princess of Power, Blackstar, Bravestarr, and others, this movie was a refreshing change. These animated series stressed quantity over quality. As I’ve been fond of saying regarding the Filmation Masters of the Universe and Princess of Power series, “For every ‘Rainbow Warrior,’ there’s at least a dozen ‘Flowers for Hordak.'” (Seriously. Watch those episodes if you don’t believe me.)

Animation needs approximately 24 frames per second to simulate motion. Filmation typically did 12-15 frames per second. They also tried to use a dozen or more tricks to speed up the process and reduce the amount of drawings they needed, such as drawing characters as part of the background and only animating mouths and eyes, reusing animated sequences on different backgrounds, using the same character colored differently for different people (Celice the Singer, the Queen of Aquatica, and Mira daughter of Kor the Sorcerer were all the same character in the same outfit).

My childhood was equally Filmation as it was Secret of NIMH. It’s unfair, likely, to compare a series with a movie. Budget, scope, and personnel are totally different. I still watch He-man and She-ra. Don’t think I’m slamming Filmation. That isn’t my intent.

But each frame in The Secret of NIMH is hand-drawn and hand-painted. No automation. No computers. And the detail is incredible. IMdB reports that they filmed the main character, Mrs. Brisby, in 46 different lighting situations, each requiring its own color palette for painting. Animators and painters were working 100 hour weeks, unpaid, to finish the film on time.

The result is amazing. Continue reading “Classic on the BS2: The Secret of NIMH”