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HISTORY

The character of the gatekeeper, “Brutus,” is not credited among the onscreen “voice talents,” as he has no spoken lines.
       Contemporary sources referred to the film throughout production as Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H., and The Secret of N.I.M.H., though its domestic release title was The Secret of NIMH.
       On 19 Sep 1979, Var announced that writer-director-producer Don Bluth joined seven animators and four assistant animators in leaving their positions at Walt Disney Productions to form Don Bluth Productions. The independent animation studio would produce its first feature film, a $7 million production of the 1971 Robert C. O’Brien novel, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, in association with Aurora Productions, the newly-formed production company of former Disney executives Rich Irvine, James L. Stewart, and Jon Lang. Lang, however, does not receive onscreen credit for The Secret of NIMH. A WSJ article published the same day reported that Bluth’s animators left Disney after the studio passed on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, as the studio already possessed film rights to a number of popular novels and had “no incentive to buy…or work on anything new.” Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that Bluth obtained the rights to O’Brien’s novel in 1979, and in 1980, moved from his home garage to a larger office space to begin searching for additional animators and voice talent. WSJ noted that Bluth’s Studio City, CA, headquarters hoped to continue hiring after expanding to thirty employees, eighteen of which came from ...

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The character of the gatekeeper, “Brutus,” is not credited among the onscreen “voice talents,” as he has no spoken lines.
       Contemporary sources referred to the film throughout production as Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H., and The Secret of N.I.M.H., though its domestic release title was The Secret of NIMH.
       On 19 Sep 1979, Var announced that writer-director-producer Don Bluth joined seven animators and four assistant animators in leaving their positions at Walt Disney Productions to form Don Bluth Productions. The independent animation studio would produce its first feature film, a $7 million production of the 1971 Robert C. O’Brien novel, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, in association with Aurora Productions, the newly-formed production company of former Disney executives Rich Irvine, James L. Stewart, and Jon Lang. Lang, however, does not receive onscreen credit for The Secret of NIMH. A WSJ article published the same day reported that Bluth’s animators left Disney after the studio passed on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, as the studio already possessed film rights to a number of popular novels and had “no incentive to buy…or work on anything new.” Production notes in AMPAS library files reported that Bluth obtained the rights to O’Brien’s novel in 1979, and in 1980, moved from his home garage to a larger office space to begin searching for additional animators and voice talent. WSJ noted that Bluth’s Studio City, CA, headquarters hoped to continue hiring after expanding to thirty employees, eighteen of which came from Disney.
       At the onset of production, filmmakers conceded that their biggest struggle would be finding a way to make rats appealing. Animation was estimated to cost roughly $80-85,000 per minute, and promotional materials revealed that the project would be filmed four times in its entirety: once in sketch form, once in rough animation, once in final pencil animation, and once in color.
       Almost a year later, the 6 Aug 1980 Var included Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH among thirteen features that gained exemption from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike under an interim agreement. According to the 22 Oct 1980 CSM, the film used two electronically-operated multi-plane cameras, allowing several layers of animation to be shot simultaneously for a more three-dimensional image. The article expected the project to contain 6,000 feet of film, created by a thirty-eight person staff over the course of three years. Promotional materials suggested that the film contained more than 600 colors, nearly 500 of which were developed by Bluth’s studio. As opposed to live-action film projected at a rate of twenty-four frames per second, the animation contained ninety-six drawings per second, totaling over 1.5 million drawings.
       The 10 Jun 1981 Var announced that animators were at the “midway” point of the thirty month production schedule. A 27 Jul 1981 HR story stated that in order for to meet United Artists’ late Jun 1982 domestic release date, 2,500 feet of film still needed to be completed before 4 Jun 1982. This article reported a $6.1 million budget, and stated that the project contained 1,000 background paintings and 1,200-1,600 drawings, produced at a rate of two to four images per artist, per hour. Although the theatrical release was eighty-two minutes in length, the original runtime was estimated between seventy-five and eighty minutes. At this stage of production, the title had also been changed to The Secret of NIMH, while the main character of “Mrs. Frisby” was renamed “Mrs. Brisby,” due to copyright conflicts with Frisbee toy manufacturer, Wham-O.
       Additional press materials stated that Bluth, John Pomeroy, and Gary Goldman cast Dom DeLuise after watching the actor in a televised performance of his 1978 film, The End (see entry). A 19 Oct 1981 DV brief reported that Hermione Baddeley had arrived in Los Angeles, CA, to record her voice-over for the film, but was suddenly called back to London, England, to complete work on two previous commitments.
       According to a 29 Dec 1982 Var article, Bluth raised The Secret of NIMH’s final $6.5 million budget from private financiers outside the film industry after investing $250,000 in the costs of his new studio. A 12 Aug 1981 DV article reported UA’s settlement on a low 22.5% domestic distribution fee. While only providing $600,000 of production costs, Aurora expected to front an additional $4.4 million in prints and advertising through the corporate entity, Mrs. Frisby Ltd. As stated in DV, Mrs. Frisby, Ltd., was to be repaid from the film’s grosses after production loans had been reimbursed. However, the 29 Dec 1982 Var claimed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (M-G-M), which had formed a merger with UA in 1981, “had no faith” in the project and chose to release the film in a “rollout campaign” starting on the West Coast and moving East. Bluth was forced to independently raise $4.2 million through private funding for M-G-M/UA’s advertising campaigns. In addition, the 12 Aug 1981 DV claimed that Aurora was perpetually guaranteed 15% of all distribution and merchandising profit. M-G-M/UA’s distribution rights were fixed to expire after sixteen years; provided that the company reissued the film within the first eight years of the deal, M-G-M/UA would be granted the option to renew distribution rights for an additional five years. An 18 Apr 1982 HR article announced that The Secret of NIMH was scheduled to open in 1,000 theaters 2 Jul 1982 by M-G-M/UA Entertainment Corp., and reissued the following Christmas.
       On 16 Oct 1981, UA announced a licensing agreement with Western Publishing Company to produce a range of children’s book and game products, which would be introduced at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany, later that month. In addition to Western, the 25 May 1982 HR noted that Scholastic, Antheneum, and Antioch publishing companies would promote book tie-ins at the American Booksellers Association Convention in Anaheim, CA, 28 May—2 Jun 1982. On 29 Jan 1982, a UA press release in AMPAS library files stated that the R. Dakin Company planned to debut a line of plush toys at the American Toy Fair in Feb 1982 before releasing them for general sale in Jun 1982. The 18 Apr 1982 HR reported additional merchandise deals with General Cinema, Circle K, Macy’s, and J. C. Penney stores. As stated in a 13 Apr 1982 UA announcement, Bresler’s 33 Flavors ice cream shops collaborated with M-G-M/UA and Quinn, Brein & McCarthy, Inc. Marketing and Management Services of Santa Clara, CA, to create a special ice cream flavor promoting the picture.
       A 10 Mar 1982 M-G-M release stated that members of the press would screen thirty minutes of the film at the studio before being escorted to the Don Bluth Productions headquarters to observe the animators at work; the event was part of a 15—18 Mar 1982 assembly promoting The Secret of NIMH and Victor/Victoria (1982, see entry). According to the 21 May 1982 HR, the American Film Institute hosted a day-long seminar on 29 May 1982 titled, “Creating an Animated Feature: The Secret of NIMH,” which contained slides and clips from the motion picture.
       A 2 Jul 1982 UA press release indicated that Bluth, Pomeroy, and Goldman planned to separately tour multiple U.S. cities to promote The Secret of NIMH throughout the first half of Jul 1982. A 29 Jul 1982 release announced that the film’s opening in seventy New York City theaters the following day would be accompanied by live shopping mall performances with the characters “Jeremy,” “Dragon,” and “Mrs. Brisby,” in Brooklyn, NY, and Long Island, NY.
       A 25 Aug 1982 LAT article reported that Walt Disney Studios banned multiple film buyers and theater owners from booking The Secret of NIMH as a double feature alongside the studio’s Tron (1982, see entry). Although Disney claimed that they preferred Tron to be paired with another Disney film, the article suggested that the company remained bitter over Bluth’s departure from the company. Bluth indicated interest in bringing a lawsuit against his former employer, although the pursuit of any additional legal action is undetermined.
       The 29 Dec 1982 Var reported a domestic box office gross of $12 million.
       Although Shannen Doherty's first onscreen performance was in Ron Howard's Night Shift, released 30 Jul 1982, The Secret of NIMH marked her motion picture debut.
       In 1998, M-G-M Animation released a direct-to-video sequel titled The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue, but did not feature involvement from Bluth or Don Bluth Productions.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
CSM
22 Oct 1980
Section B, pp. 1-4, 11-12
Daily Variety
12 Aug 1981
---
Daily Variety
19 Oct 1981
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 1981
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
18 Apr 1982
p. 1, 8
Hollywood Reporter
21 May 1982
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 1982
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jun 1982
p. 3, 12
Los Angeles Times
2 Jul 1982
Section VI, p. 1, 14
Los Angeles Times
25 Aug 1982
Section VI, p. 1, 4, 6
New York Times
30 Jul 1982
p. 12
Variety
19 Sep 1979
---
Variety
6 Aug 1980
---
Variety
10 Jun 1981
---
Variety
16 Jun 1982
p. 14
Variety
29 Dec 1982
p. 4, 23
WSJ
19 Sep 1979
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Aurora Presents
A Don Bluth Production
An Aurora Presentation
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
Story adpt
Story adpt
Story adpt
Story adpt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cam stand engineering, Tech acknowledgements
Cam & movements fabrication, Tech acknowledgements
Electronic systems, Tech acknowledgements
Electrical consultants, Tech acknowledgements
Engineering consultants, Tech acknowledgements
Spec equipment fabrication, Tech acknowledgements
Spec equipment fabrication, Tech acknowledgements
Spec equipment fabrication, Tech acknowledgements
Spec equipment fabrication, Tech acknowledgements
Pitching lens system, Tech acknowledgements
Addl laboratory services, Tech acknowledgements
Addl laboratory services, Tech acknowledgements
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Donah Bassett
Negative cutting
MUSIC
Mus ed
London mus ed
Mus rec
Mus rec at
London, England
SOUND
Sd eff ed
Dial rec
Foley
Synthesizer eff
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec recordist
Re-rec recordist
Dolby consultant
Sd services, Tech acknowledgements
Sd services, Tech acknowledgements
Sd services, Tech acknowledgements
Sd services, Tech acknowledgements
Dial rec at
Hollywood, California
Re-rec at
Los Angeles, California
VISUAL EFFECTS
Graphic arts services, Tech acknowledgements
Graphic arts services, Tech acknowledgements
Graphic arts services, Tech acknowledgements
Graphic arts services, Tech acknowledgements
Electrostatic imagers, Tech acknowledgements
Stage facilities, Tech acknowledgements
Opt eff, Tech acknowledgements
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod exec
Prod mgr
Creative consultant
Creative consultant
Creative consultant
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Unit pub
Accounting
Accounting
Accounting
Accounting
Accounting
Screening facilities, Tech acknowledgements
ANIMATION
Directing anim
Directing anim
Directing anim
Anim
Anim
layout
layout
Col story sketch
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Backgrounds
Spec eff anim
Addl spec eff
Addl spec eff
Addl spec eff
Eff assisted by
Eff assisted by
Eff assisted by
Eff assisted by
Eff assisted by
Char key asst
Char key asst
Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Assisted by, Char key asst
Anim cam
Anim cam
Anim cam
Dir of spec processes
Anim col stylist
Anim col stylist
Anim col stylist
Mark up
Paint tech
Anim checking
Anim checking
Anim checking
Final checking
Final checking
Xerography
Xerography
Xerography
Xerography
Xerography
Xerography
Xerography
Xerography
Xerography checkers
Xerography checkers
Ink & paint supv
Inker
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painter
Cel painting service, Tech acknowledgements
Cel paint laboratory, Tech acknowledgements
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (New York, 1971).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
SONGS
"Flying Dreams," composed by Jerry Goldsmith, lyrics written and performed by Paul Williams, orchestrations by Arthur Morton and the National Philharmonic Orchestra, London, England, arranged by Ian Fraser; "'Flying Dreams' Lullaby," performed by Sally Stevens.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
The Secret of N.I.M.H.
Release Date:
2 July 1982
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 2 Jul 1982; New York opening: 30 Jul 1982
Production Date:
mid Sep 1979--early Jun 1982 in Studio City, CA
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Mrs. Brisby Ltd.
25 August 1982
PA148343
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Animation
Lenses
Nikon®
Duration(in mins):
82
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26707
SYNOPSIS

By candlelight, an elderly rat named Nicodemus uses a magic quill to write about the death of his friend, Jonathan Brisby. Resolving not to intervene with the life of Jonathan’s widow, he places a red jeweled amulet into a box. Meanwhile, behind the Fitzgibbons farm, Mrs. Brisby enters a broken-down piece of machinery to find a fellow mouse named Mr. Ages, and begs him to help her son, Timmy, who is sick with fever. Believing Timmy has pneumonia, Mr. Ages prepares medicine for the young mouse and instructs Mrs. Brisby to keep him confined to bed rest. On her way home, Mrs. Brisby encounters Jeremy, a crow, whose feet are tangled in string. He tells Mrs. Brisby that he is building a “love nest” for his future companion, and she warns him of Dragon, Farmer Fitzgibbons’ cat. Shortly after, the vicious feline attacks. In her escape, Mrs. Brisby loses Timmy’s medicine, but Jeremy procures the envelope and follows her to her cinderblock home, asking advice about how to attract females. Meanwhile, the Brisby mouse children—Martin, Teresa, and Cynthia—are annoyed by an unexpected visit from their meddlesome Auntie Shrew, who demands to see their mother. When Mrs. Brisby arrives, Auntie Shrew cautions her of the frost that has covered the ground, indicating that “moving day” is quickly approaching. Mrs. Brisby feeds Timmy his medicine and puts the other children to sleep. That night, in the farmhouse, Mrs. Beth Fitzgibbons tells her husband that a man from “NIMH,” the nearby National Institute of Mental Health, questioned her about any unusual rats prowling the farm. In the morning, Farmer Fitzgibbons plows his tractor across the field, causing the animals to scurry away. ...

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By candlelight, an elderly rat named Nicodemus uses a magic quill to write about the death of his friend, Jonathan Brisby. Resolving not to intervene with the life of Jonathan’s widow, he places a red jeweled amulet into a box. Meanwhile, behind the Fitzgibbons farm, Mrs. Brisby enters a broken-down piece of machinery to find a fellow mouse named Mr. Ages, and begs him to help her son, Timmy, who is sick with fever. Believing Timmy has pneumonia, Mr. Ages prepares medicine for the young mouse and instructs Mrs. Brisby to keep him confined to bed rest. On her way home, Mrs. Brisby encounters Jeremy, a crow, whose feet are tangled in string. He tells Mrs. Brisby that he is building a “love nest” for his future companion, and she warns him of Dragon, Farmer Fitzgibbons’ cat. Shortly after, the vicious feline attacks. In her escape, Mrs. Brisby loses Timmy’s medicine, but Jeremy procures the envelope and follows her to her cinderblock home, asking advice about how to attract females. Meanwhile, the Brisby mouse children—Martin, Teresa, and Cynthia—are annoyed by an unexpected visit from their meddlesome Auntie Shrew, who demands to see their mother. When Mrs. Brisby arrives, Auntie Shrew cautions her of the frost that has covered the ground, indicating that “moving day” is quickly approaching. Mrs. Brisby feeds Timmy his medicine and puts the other children to sleep. That night, in the farmhouse, Mrs. Beth Fitzgibbons tells her husband that a man from “NIMH,” the nearby National Institute of Mental Health, questioned her about any unusual rats prowling the farm. In the morning, Farmer Fitzgibbons plows his tractor across the field, causing the animals to scurry away. Mrs. Brisby leaves Martin, Theresa, and Cynthia with Auntie Shrew while she attempts to stop the machine from reaching their home, where Timmy lays sleeping. Auntie Shrew joins her and cuts the fuel line, preventing Farmer Fitzgibbons from destroying the house. Meanwhile, Nicodemus watches Auntie Shrew and Mrs. Brisby through a magical portal; sensing that Mrs. Brisby is in danger, he telepathically wills the widow to visit the Great Owl. Sometime later, Jeremy flies Mrs. Brisby to the Great Owl’s forest lair. The Great Owl’s voice summons her inside, and he advises her to relocate her family despite Timmy’s illness. Upon discovering that she is Jonathan’s widow, the Great Owl tells her to seek help from the rats living under the rosebush near the farmhouse. After telling her about their leader, Nicodemus, and the “lee of the stone,” he flies into the night. The next day, Mrs. Brisby asks Jeremy to watch over her children as she seeks entrance to the rosebush. Once inside, she passes through a bright room decorated with colorful flowers, but is chased away by a ferocious gatekeeper. She finds Mr. Ages, who agrees to bring her to Nicodemus after learning that she has been sent by the Great Owl. While watching Mrs. Brisby through his portal, Nicodemus speaks aloud to Jonathan, proclaiming that he has kept the amulet hidden from a power-hungry rat named Jenner. In a tunnel, Justin, the Captain of the rat Guard, accompanies Mrs. Brisby and Mr. Ages as they climb inside a lantern that descends to an underwater cavern. Justin warns them of Jenner’s recent scheming before they enter an assembly hall. There, Justin and Mr. Ages plead for the rats to move the Brisby home to safety. Although the council members loudly voice their opposition, Jenner agrees to help her, discreetly informing a colleague, Sullivan, that he has ulterior motives. Meanwhile, Auntie Shrew wraps Jeremy with string and ties him to a tree stump. After she leaves, the children release him, and he reveals that their mother has gone to see the rats. Inside the rosebush, Mrs. Brisby visits Nicodemus’ quarters, asking how all the rats knew her husband. Nicodemus shows her his magical book, which explains that the cat, Dragon, killed Jonathan for attempting to drug its cat food while the rats escaped from NIMH. Nicodemus’ glowing portal shows her their history: although many of the rodents began as ordinary street dwellers, they were captured and sent to NIMH as scientific test subjects for a substance that injected their intelligence. One night, they fled through the institution’s ventilation system; while many mice were sucked into the fan, Jonathan and Mr. Ages survived, and helped the rats escape. Nicodemus gives Mrs. Brisby Jonathan’s amulet and tells her that the stone glows when its owner demonstrates courage. He explains that Jonathan kept NIMH a secret from Mrs. Brisby because the injection also extended his lifespan, meaning his wife would grow old without him. Nicodemus accompanies her outside so he can help transport the residence to the sheltered side of the stone. Meanwhile, Jenner conspires to kill the elderly leader during the move. On the way out, Justin explains that the rats are arranging to move to Thorn Valley so that they no longer have to steal electricity from the farmhouse, but Jenner is strongly opposed to the plan. Mrs. Brisby volunteers to sneak into the house and put a narcotic into Dragon’s water dish. She recruits Jeremy to retrieve string that they can use to lift the cinderblock. That evening, Justin helps Mrs. Brisby deposit the drugs, but the farmer’s son, Billy, captures her and locks her in a cage. Later, Mrs. Brisby overhears Farmer Fitzgibbons on the telephone and learns that employees from NIMH hope to find the rats by removing the rosebush the next morning. Meanwhile, Jenner cuts the ties of the rats’ pulley system, causing the cinderblock, with the children and Auntie Shrew still inside, to crush Nicodemus. Mrs. Brisby escapes the cage through the water feeder, returns home, and warns the rats of their impending slaughter. Refusing to believe her claim, Jenner attacks and tries to steal her glowing amulet. After Jenner admits to murdering Nicodemus, Justin stabs him and announces that the rats will evacuate before daybreak. Jenner rises to kill Justin, but Sullivan throws a dagger in his back. When the cinderblock begins sinking in the mud, the rats attempt to pull it out, but the ropes snap and the house becomes fully submerged. As Justin pulls Mrs. Brisby away, the amulet rises before her, and projects an image of Nicodemus, who reminds her of its power. Upon touching it, the jewel bursts into flame and causes a golden light to emit from her body. Grasping the rope the cinderblock levitates from the sludge and repositions itself to its new location inside a rocky crevasse. The next morning, Mrs. Brisby plays with her children and promises to take them to visit the rats at Thorn Valley once they are older. As Jeremy shows them the colored string he collected for his nest, a female crow crashes into him. They laugh, entangling themselves in the strands, and fly into the sunny sky.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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