Tag Archives: Don Bluth

My Thoughts on: The Secret of NIMH (1982)

*I’m really sorry I’ve been slow with blog posts in recent days, life has been crazy this past week but I’m going to work hard to get back on track this week, that includes reviewing Dodgeball no matter what. Thanks for being so understanding!

Animated films were practically my entire world when I was growing up. I have fond memories of most of them, but The Secret of NIMH (along with most of Don Bluth’s animated films) holds a distinct place in my memory. I must have been pretty young the first time I saw this film, since it’s in my memory as far back as I can remember.

The story is based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (the name was changed to prevent any possible disputes with the makers of Frisbees) and follows Mrs. Brisby, a mouse, as she tries to keep her home safe from a farmer’s plow. Normally she’d just pack the family up and move, but her youngest son is sick with pneumonia and can’t leave the house. That’s the motivation for this dark fantasy story, and it quickly gets darker from there.

The word “dark” to describe this film a lot, because that’s exactly what The Secret of NIMH is: dark! Even the anthropomorphic rats and mice are drawn with a…a sharp grittiness that you just don’t see in Disney (observe the less than welcoming mouth of Auntie Shrew for a case in point, and she’s mean to be a GOOD character). Jenner, the primary villain, is an even bigger example, since he practically oozes menace, even when he’s pretending to be nice. Don’t misunderstand, the animation is exquisite throughout, but there’s no way you’ll mistake this for a Disney film, it’s far too dark (even the colors seem to come from an overall darker color palette).

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Don Bluth, as I’ve said several times before, had a unique viewpoint when it came to animated films. He believed that children could take just about anything in a story so long as there was ultimately a happy ending. That explains why The Secret of NIMH has creatures being brutally squashed underfoot (like the Great Owl killing the spider), stabbed in the back, and even a gruesome example of a throat being cut (that’s what I’m sure the animators were going for, even though the cut looks like it’s in the chest, it feels like it’s meant to be a throat slash). All of these things were burned into my brain from a very young age, but it took me years to understand that what I was feeling was a mild form of trauma, since I was seeing things I shouldn’t have known about for a number of years.

I could honestly go on forever about how traumatizing The Secret of NIMH is (that’s why I created the Disturbing Bluth series), though thankfully the trauma doesn’t stop me from continuing to enjoy it today. However, for the rest of my life, I will always wonder how a film like this was able to be made and marketed for children, containing the dark visuals that it does (only Disney’s The Black Cauldron is darker in my opinion).

If you endured The Secret of NIMH as a child, what did you think about it? Let me know your thoughts about the film in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Disturbing Bluth

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Rock-a-Doodle “The Owls’ Picnic” (1991)

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Rock-a-Doodle is, unfortunately, a cinematic dud for the most part, but it DOES feature some awesome (if somewhat disturbing) songs. One of these is “The Owls’ Picnic” which comes towards the end of the film when our heroes are on their way back to the flooded farm with Chanticleer in tow. While they’ve been gone, the remaining farm residents have been keeping the Grand Duke’s owls at bay with any and all light sources (the film established early on that the owls detest light). However, as the last battery goes dead, the gleeful owls swoop in for a “picnic.”

Who, who, who, who
We are the creatures of the night
And we invite you all for dinner
There’s plenty of food to go around
When the food is you!

Who me?

Yes, you!
We thought a picnic would be nice
And we’re so pleased that you could join us

 

We’re glad you’re home
Trick or treat
Falalalalala
How sweet!

Now’s the time
Say your prayers…
Time’s up!

Falalalalala
How sweet!
Falalalalala
Let’s eat!

As the song is going on, the terrified farm animals are divided among the various owls (with the Grand Duke naturally receiving the largest portion) and the villains prepare to dine on their still-very-much-alive captives (I was tempted to put this scene in Disturbing Bluth because it comes very close to being disturbing)! This doesn’t seem to bother the owls, who are all too happy to prepare a picnic table to have their meal on. After all, they believe that Chanticleer is never coming back, and once their meal is finished, no one will ever be able to stop them.

This is another rare example of the villains almost achieving their goal (for another example, think of the scene where Jasper and Horace have the puppies cornered in 101 Dalmatians). It’s scary because the owls are plucking up the helpless farm animals and are clearly reveling in the thought of the meal they’re about to have. Fortunately for the would-be victims, the heroes arrive just as the meal is about to start, otherwise this scene would be at the top of any “Most Disturbing” list. Even so, this scene always scared me just a little when I was a kid (I had a mild fear of the dark for a time, and the idea that giant owls could swoop down and grab you if the lights went out was terrifying to say the least).

What do you think about “The Owls’ Picnic”? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Rock-a-Doodle “Sun Do Shine” (1991)

Rock-a-Doodle “Never Let Him Crow” (1991)

Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/etc. Soundtracks A-Z

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All Dogs Go to Heaven “You Can’t Keep a Good Dog Down” (1989)

After literally digging his way out of the city pound (the canine equivalent of prison), Charlie (Burt Reynolds) and his long-suffering best friend Itchy (Dom DeLuise) make their way back to the casino that Charlie used to run with Carface (Charlie’s name is conspicuously scratched out on all the signs). All of the dogs are shocked to see Charlie, since apparently he was meant to be “on death row” (scheduled to be euthanized if I had to take a guess). Charlie doesn’t have a clue that it was Carface who set him up to be taken away in the first place, he’s too busy enjoying his freedom. As Charlie explains (with Itchy’s help), nothing is ever going to keep this dog down!

 

Why settle for a couple of bones when you can have the whole bank?”
Oh you can’t keep a good dog down (No sir)
No you can’t keep a good dog down
I’ve seen pain and hurt, I’ve eaten dirt (That’s true)
It’s hard to buy but even I have been jilted by a skirt (He lies)
But look out, I’m still around
Cause you can’t keep a good dog down

Ya can’t keep a good dog down (No you can’t)
No no no no, you can’t keep a good dog down
I’ve been bought and sold
He’s been warm and cold
But ten to one I’ll still be runnin’ rackets when I’m old
Not in some cage in the city pound
Cause you can’t keep a good dog
Can’t keep a good, I say you can’t keep a good dog down

In him’s the luck of the Irish
The pride of the German
And even a bit of Siam
Siam? You see the come of the English
The charm of the Spanish
A pedigree certainly ain’t what I am
So call me a mixed up pup
(You’re a mixed up pup)
But the only way this pup knows is up
Ya can’t keep a good dog down
Ya can’t keep a good dog down

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I need to talk about this verse before we move on to the rest of the song. I nearly fell over in shock when Itchy did the line “And even a bit of Siam” complete with a bowl on his head and a faux Asian face (granted it’s not as extreme as older Asian stereotypes, but still!) The reference to Siam is not a problem in and of itself as the film takes place about 4 months before Siam became Thailand (while only the year 1939 is given, Carface later mentions Mardi Gras which takes place in February). No, my problem is that in a film made in the late 1980s, they thought it was okay to include a racist, Asian stereotype. That is not okay!

This concludes my rant, now back to the song:

He’s been fat and thin
I’ve been out and in
He tried a life of virtue
But prefer a life of sin
So tonight when we own this town
I’ve known hunger, I’ve known thirst
Lived the best and seen the worst
But the only way I know to finish best to finish first
So watch out when you hear this sound
Cause you can’t keep a good dog, no ya
Can’t keep a good, I say you can’t keep a good dog down
You can’t keep a good dog down!

Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise were friends for many years and you can really feel a solid dynamic between them as they perform this song. The song makes it clear that Charlie is popular, charismatic and a confirmed crook (the last verse even mentions “He tried a life of virtue but prefer a life of sin” It’s not wonder Charlie is so nervous about judgement once he arrives in Heaven). I also noticed that despite being a dog, Charlie acts remarkably human during this scene (in that he stands and performs on two legs). Most of the time Charlie gets around like a regular dog, but this is a noticeable exception (sometimes I wonder if Bluth originally meant to make the dogs more anthropomorphic and then changed his mind).

The Siam moment aside (do let me know what you think about that in the comments), “You Can’t Keep a Good Dog Down” provides a rousing musical start to the film. Which is good because the story only gets darker from here (at some point I’ll write some articles pointing out all the Nightmare Fuel aspects of this film). In the meantime, let me know what you think about “You Can’t Keep a Good Dog Down” in the comments below and have a great day! Thanks for helping the blog reach 650 followers!

See also:

All Dogs Go to Heaven “Let Me Be Surprised” (1989)

All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 “It Feels so Good to be Bad!” (1996)

Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/etc. Soundtracks A-Z

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All Dogs Go to Heaven “Let Me Be Surprised” (1989)

After being murdered by his supposed friend and business partner Carface, Charlie B. Barkin (Burt Reynolds) is shocked to find himself in the Hall of Judgement being looked after by Annabelle (Melba Moore), an angelic whippet. Having been a criminal most of his life, Charlie fears judgement, but Annabelle assures Charlie that “all dogs go to heaven” because dogs are naturally loyal and good (she clearly doesn’t know Charlie in the slightest). Annabelle further explains that Charlie has to be dead because the watch representing his life has stopped and that “no one can EVER go back.” Charlie, used to the thrills of being a criminal, is instantly stifled by the utopian atmosphere of heaven, where (according to Annabelle) there are never any surprises. Charlie doesn’t like this one bit and this is the set up for “Let Me Be Surprised.”

I need Brazil
The throb, the thrill
I’ve never been there, but someday I will!
Adventure and danger, love from a stranger
Let me be surprised!

Today there’s sun; they said there’d be snow
When all’s said and done
It’s fun not to know!
What keeps my heart humming, is guessing what’s coming
Let me be surprised!

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Oh! Ain’t it great
Annabelle: (Ain’t it great?)
Charlie: When fate makes you wait?
The world seems mirthless
And you feel worthless
Then suddenly,
There’s a big bone on your plate!

Annabelle: Oh, Charlie, please remember
Down there’s a world of used cars,
And singles’ bars,
Broken dreams,
And out-of-reach stars!
Charlie: But, it isn’t over
Not for this Rover

As Charlie keeps Annabelle distracted, he locates the watch that represents his life and begins to wind it up (having previously asked if he could do just that to keep his life going). It doesn’t take the whippet long to notice and she doesn’t like what she sees one bit!

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I don’t like to steal (Ha, ha!)
But I don’t buy this deal
In ’bout 3 seconds, she’ll have realized (Ha, ha!)
And she’s gonna be…
Annabelle: Charlie, what are you doing?
Charlie: Wait’ll you see!
Annabelle: What’s that you have behind your back?
Charlie: She’s gonna be…
Annabelle: Charlie, don’t wind that watch!
Charlie: Surprised!
Annabelle: CHARLIE!

The moment the watch starts ticking again, Charlie is unceremoniously ejected from Heaven with Annabelle mournfully shouting after Charlie “You can never come back…” Apparently, the penalty for extending your life (or “stealing life” might be the better term) is going straight to Hell the next time you die. That’s why, for most of the remaining story, Charlie will do just about anything to make sure that watch keeps ticking. Of course that all changes once he really gets to know Anne-Marie (Judith Barsi), but that’s a story for another day.

It really shows how selfish Charlie is when he’d rather go back to Earth than stay in Heaven. I really don’t think he counted on being sentenced to Hell for going back though, he just wanted to be alive a little longer. What do you think about “Let Me Be Surprised”? Given how dark this movie can get (it IS a Don Bluth film after all) this whole sequence is surprisingly lighthearted (except for the part where Annabelle happily says “Welcome to being dead”). Let me know what you think about this song in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

All Dogs Go to Heaven “You Can’t Keep a Good Dog Down” (1989)

All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 “It Feels so Good to be Bad!” (1996)

Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/etc. Soundtracks A-Z

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Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

 

Thumbelina “Let Me Be Your Wings” (1994)

In one of Don Bluth’s last animated ventures (the studio closed the following year), Thumbelina follows the titular character as she lives a relatively happy life with her mother in the countryside. The one thing that makes Thumbelina unhappy, however, is the apparent reality that she is the only person her size (she’s only as big as a thumb after all). All of this changes one night when Thumbelina meets the fairy prince Cornelius, who is enchanted by her singing. The pair go for a whirlwind ride on the prince’s bumblebee where he proceeds to woo her with “Let Me Be Your Wings.”

 

Let me be your wings
Let me be your only love
Let me take you far beyond the stars

Let me be your wings
Let me lift you high above
Everything we’re dreaming of will soon be ours

Anything that you desire
Anything at all
Everyday I’ll take you higher
And I’ll never let you fall

Let me be your wings
Leave behind the world you know
For another world of wondrous things
We’ll see the universe and dance on Saturn’s rings
Fly with me and I will be your wings

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“Let Me Be Your Wings” is the quintessential romance song. As Thumbelina has no wings of her own, Cornelius vows he’ll be her “wings” instead and give her everything she ever wanted. Of course, this song does suffer from the flaw found in a lot of pre-2000 animated films in which we have a hero (Cornelius) professing love to a heroine (Thumbelina) that he’s only just met. Of course you can be attracted to someone right away, but professing eternal love and wanting to marry right away? It’s not exactly a realistic depiction of love is it? However, putting that aside, it’s easy to feel happy for Thumbelina as Cornelius shows her a night to remember. Given what happens next though, I’ve always found myself wishing that Cornelius had just whisked her away to the fairy kingdom then and there (which would have avoided so many problems).

What do you think of “Let Me Be Your Wings”? Let me know your thoughts about the song in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Thumbelina “Marry the Mole” (1994)

Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar/etc. Soundtracks A-Z

Become a patron of the blog at: patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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Disturbing Bluth #6: Meeting Brutus in The Secret of NIMH (1982)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

I couldn’t leave The Secret of NIMH without talking about this one moment in particular. To this day it never fails to make me jump in surprise (though thankfully not in fear like it used to), and that is the moment when Mrs. Brisby encounters Brutus the rat.

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The Secret of NIMH (1982)- Into the Rosebush/Brutus

Up until this point, Brisby’s journey through the rose bush has only been mildly scary, but nothing close to disturbing (no mouse eating spiders this time). I’m still surprised that she got as far as she did without encountering any rats, but given we later learn that the rats are in a special meeting, it makes sense.

What makes the run-in with Brutus even more disturbing is, right before it happens, Mrs. Brisby discovers a beautiful garden (with awestruck music to highlight the moment). There are flowers everywhere and what looks like a jeweled brooch leading into the next part of the bush. But here is where Mrs. Brisby’s luck finally runs out. Just as she’s leaving this area, all the flowers around her close up and I’ve always taken this as a clue that something is about to happen because out of nowhere (literally, it’s a textbook jump scare) comes Brutus, a huge rat with a scary looking pike (that emits electricity when banged against the ground).

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It doesn’t help any that the moment Brutus appears the background turns dark and red. Even worse, Brutus doesn’t say a word to the terrified mouse, even when she plainly states her purpose is to see Nicodemus and that the Great Owl sent her. If anything, the words seem to provoke Brutus into striking out with the pike again. It’s terrifying, disturbing, and for many years I did not watch this film because of this moment. The house sinking couldn’t keep me away, Jenner or the Great Owl couldn’t either, but Brutus? Oh yes, he scared me plenty, even though a closer examination of the scene reveals that the rat is only chasing her away and not actually trying to kill her.

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The one thing about this scene that has always bothered me (besides its disturbing nature) is, why did Brutus stop chasing Mrs. Brisby? If he really wanted to make sure she was leaving, he should have chased her all the way back to the entrance. Instead he just…stopped. It just feels weird to me, especially since on the way back in with Mr. Ages, the pair of mice don’t encounter Brutus again (or if they do it’s not shown, but you’d think there’d be a scene where the older mouse would tell the rat “She’s with me.”)

That issue aside, what do you think of the scene where Mrs. Brisby encounters Brutus? Did it disturb you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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Disturbing Bluth #1: The Secret of NIMH (Overview and Trivia)

Disturbing Bluth #2: The Secret of NIMH: Dragon the (Demon) Cat

Disturbing Bluth #3: The Great Owl in The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Disturbing Bluth #4: Jenner in The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Disturbing Bluth #5: The House is Sinking in The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Disturbing Bluth #5: The House is Sinking in The Secret of NIMH (1982)

*If you know anything about The Secret of NIMH then you KNEW this scene was going to be talked about eventually*

By far the most disturbing moment in The Secret of NIMH comes at the end of the film, though you don’t see it coming at first. This is because it appears that the big climax of the film has already happened: Jenner and Justin have just fought a huge duel that ended with Jenner dead (along with his associate Sullivan). With the rats now warned that NIMH is coming, Mrs. Brisby naturally heads back to the fallen house (which smacked into the ground rather hard when the machinery collapsed). The children are alright (WHY the rats didn’t take them out of the house before they started moving it I don’t know) and it seems like we’ve dodged a massive bullet….and then the music starts. This scene is a grade A example of why I study film music: even before the house starts sinking into the mud, the ominous suspenseful tone should tell you that something very bad is about to happen. Jerry Goldsmith, the composer for this film, put all his talents to work here and he did not disappoint.

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The Secret of NIMH (1982): The House Sinking Scene

I should note, this was actually foreshadowed earlier in the film. When the rats and Mrs. Brisby are traveling on the boat, it’s revealed that much of the ground under the farm is hollow, with Justin muttering that it’s all going to collapse someday. The implication then, is that the force of the Brisby home smacking into the ground caused a partial collapse underground which is why the house is now sinking.

As the realization dawns that the house (with the children inside!!!) is sinking into the mud, the music rises quickly into a turmoil that reflects the panic of Mrs. Brisby and the surviving rats. After all, given the esteem they have for Jonathan Brisby, they couldn’t live with themselves if they let his children die. There’s a frantic race on to attach the house (built into a cement block) to any number of lines and stop it from sinking completely. Meanwhile, we actually get a look inside the house as it’s filling up with mud. There’s no sign of Timothy (who, I remind you, is bedridden) and the other children are shrieking “Get us out of here!!” This in itself is disturbing as you don’t normally see children (in animation or live-action) put into such direct peril. Oh it’s been implied before (such as the huntsman nearly stabbing Snow White) but it’s never been so immediate a danger as what we see now.

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The worst moment of the scene comes when the final line keeping the block up snaps and the home is pulled down into a whirlpool of mud while Mrs. Brisby is hauled to safety by Justin. The implications are downright macabre: according to what we just saw, all the children (and Auntie Shrew she’s still inside remember) are dead and Mrs. Brisby has now lost her entire family. It’s heart-wrenching, disturbing and once I fully grasped what was going on, this scene screwed me up in the head for years. Now, even though this is set right less than a minute later (in a spectacular piece of animation I might add), that doesn’t change the fact that we the audience had to go through this first.

This scene is the perfect example of Bluth’s belief that children can take just about anything so long as there is a happy ending afterward. Given my experience however, I don’t think this is true. But what do you think? Is the scene any less disturbing with the happy ending that follows? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Disturbing Bluth #1: The Secret of NIMH (Overview and Trivia)

Disturbing Bluth #2: The Secret of NIMH: Dragon the (Demon) Cat

Disturbing Bluth #3: The Great Owl in The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Disturbing Bluth #4: Jenner in The Secret of NIMH (1982)

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