Tag Archives: Don Bluth

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

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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:

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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)

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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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Disturbing Bluth #4: Jenner 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.

Given that The Secret of NIMH is 36 years old, I sometimes get the feeling that people have forgotten just how disturbing Jenner (the primary rat antagonist) really is. From the moment Mrs. Brisby arrives in the rats’ secret home under the rose bush, she hears about Jenner and how he keeps challenging Nicodemus for leadership of the rats. But there’s so much more to the villain that makes him deeply and truly disturbing.

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The Secret of NIMH (1982): Jenner before the Council

For starters, look at the picture above: this is when Jenner is putting on his ‘nice’ facade for Mrs. Brisby. Even when he’s trying to appear good he looks terrifying. Second, Paul Shenar, Jenner’s voice actor, gives the character a rich, deep voice. This makes Jenner a good speaker and also serves to partially hide how savage he can be. Part of what makes Jenner so disturbing is that he genuinely has no sense of long term consequences and his empathy is non-existent (making him something of a sociopath).

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Even when confronted with the news that NIMH is coming to the rose bush in the morning (and deep down Jenner has to know there’s no reason for Mrs. Brisby to lie), Jenner decries her news as lies simply because it ruins his plans to stay in the rose bush. Third, Jenner is a master manipulator as can be seen in his interactions with Sullivan, a not-so-smart rat who finds himself roped into Jenner’s plans. Jenner openly mocks Sullivan, which is in itself cruel but not disturbing. He convinces the weak-willed rat to go along with him and that everything will be better once Nicodemus and Justin are dead (it’s implied that Jenner will kill the latter as well).

The Secret of NIMH (1982): Jenner’s Plan

Jenner: With Nicodemus out of the way, what’s to stop us from taking over?

Sullivan: Jenner, you can’t kill Nicodemus.

Jenner: No taste for blood, eh? They’ve taken the animal out of you.

The disturbing part comes at the climax of the film when the Brisby home is being relocated by the rats using complex machinery. Jenner wants to sabotage the equipment so that Nicodemus will be killed in the ensuing collapse but Sullivan doesn’t want to do it. This prompts Jenner to hold Sullivan at sword point, implying that if he doesn’t go through with it, he’ll kill him.

Jenner: [Holding a sword to Sullivan’s throat] Don’t get any ideas, my friend. You’re in this up to your neck.

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The Secret of NIMH (1982): Jenner vs Justin

Despite this threat, it’s genuinely shocking when Jenner actually goes through with it in brutal fashion, slicing Sullivan’s throat with his sword when he throws Justin (Jenner’s rival) a weapon to defend himself. It’s one of the most graphic things I’ve ever seen happen to an animated character, but the best is saved for Jenner himself. After a lengthy sword fight, Jenner is wounded in the stomach by Justin, but not fatally. As Justin mobilizes the rats to get ready to leave, Jenner sneaks up from behind to deliver a killing blow…only to be literally stabbed in the back by a dying Sullivan, falling to his death in the mud.

Jenner is a character that gave me nightmares for years and he still remains one of the more disturbing aspects of The Secret of NIMH. What do you think of Jenner? 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)

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

Early on in the story, the plot centers on Mrs. Brisby’s quest to speak to the Great Owl about how to keep her family safe from the farmer’s plow. Normally the family simply relocates, but the youngest son Timmy is sick with pneumonia and can’t go outside. Mrs. Brisby eventually agrees to be flown to the Great Owl’s tree by Jeremy (the talkative crow that she saved from Dragon).

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The Great Owl in The Secret of NIMH (1982)

From the outset there’s already a minor level of disturbing to this scene. Even though the music is happy (as Jeremy is flying), the sky is bright red behind them (that’s not ominous at all). And the forest they approach doesn’t exactly look friendly either. Then there’s the matter of the owl’s tree itself. Go to the video of this scene and check out the entrance: it’s a dark, spooky tunnel filled with cobwebs (that image alone gave me nightmares) and then it gets worse! Just as Jeremy assumes there’s nobody home, you hear this unearthly sound come from inside, a loud rustling and then the deepest, most ominous voice intones “Step inside my house.” (I should mention the Great Owl was voiced by the legendary John Carradine). All of this is disturbing enough, the Great Owl doesn’t sound at all welcoming and, as Mrs. Brisby has pointed out several times, “owls EAT mice!”

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Regardless of her fear, Mrs. Brisby enters the tree and we swiftly come to the second most disturbing portion of this scene. As she unwittingly approaches the Great Owl (whom you can see on the right hand side if you look closely at a long shot of the inside of the tree), a terrifying spider descends behind her. As a lifelong arachnophobe, this moment has traumatized me for years (the ominous music doesn’t help in the slightest). But just as Mrs. Brisby notices the spider, out of nowhere a clawed foot reaches out and crushes it into a pile of goo. And that’s when you realize the owl is right there and he is TERRIFYING. His eyes are two glowing orbs and there’s a sickening moment when you realize his head is crooked upside down and he slowly wrenches it upright. Also he’s covered in cobwebs, which always spooked me for some reason.

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Thankfully, as the scene progresses from here the level of disturbing falls dramatically as it comes out that the owl, for all his scariness, isn’t that bad (and he does give the best advice he can). That doesn’t change the fact that this scene with The Great Owl is highly disturbing (and there are worse examples to come in this film!)

What do you think of the Great Owl in The Secret of NIMH? 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

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

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

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Anastasia “Once Upon a December” (1997)

*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.

The glittering world of the Russian Imperial Family came crashing down almost 100 years ago, when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, he and his family were arrested, and later summarily executed. The ultimate fates of the Tsar, his wife, their four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and the crown prince Alexei were left unknown for decades, which gave rise to rumors and stories that some of the family had survived after all. The most well known story is that of Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Nicholas II. Rumors persisted for decades that the Grand Duchess had survived execution and was out there in the world somewhere. While ultimately disproven when the family’s remains were discovered in 1991, the story continued to be told both on screen and on stage.

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Don Bluth’s 1997 film Anastasia is one such recounting. It imagines a world where, while attempting to flee on a train with her grandmother Marie (played to perfection by Angela Lansbury), Anastasia falls and strikes her head, losing all memory as well as being left behind. Not knowing who she is, she grows up in poverty, with half-remembered songs and images her only clues as to where she came from. Anastasia is a musical film (and is sometimes confused for a Disney film) and my favorite song has to be “Once Upon a December.”

In it, Anastasia is exploring an abandoned palace while looking for Dmitri (a former servant boy who is now working with a con man to find a “fake” Anastasia to claim a large reward) and she reminisces over her fragmented memories.

Anastasia “Once Upon a December” (1997)

Anastasia’s words conjure up a spectral ball as ghostly figures descend from the ceiling to take part in a dance, all dressed in the finery and glamour of the lost Imperial Russia. The royal family comes to “life” as well, with Anastasia’s four sisters dancing around her before finding partners. Anastasia, in the meantime, transforms into the grown-up princess she should have become, dancing with a partner of her own while her father strides onto the dance floor, all bowing to him (while her mother and brother wait in the background. As the song winds down, Anastasia and Nicholas share a brief dance before the magic is shattered and the figures vanish.

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I like to think of this song (and the scene as a whole) as being an homage of sorts to the old world of royalty, balls, and Imperial courts that was irrevocably broken after the First World War. It was an age of palaces, princes and princesses, nobles beyond count that had lasted for over a thousand years, and it will never come again, except in our memories. Hence, my favorite verse is at the end:

“Far away, long ago/glowing dim as an ember/things my heart used to know/things it yearns to remember…”

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This scene really is one of the best in the film, and I hope you enjoy watching and listening.

For more awesome animated songs (Disney and otherwise), check out the awesome main page here

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

Part of the reason it took me so long to get started on this film is I had a difficult time deciding where to start. In fairness, the entire film could be considered one long disturbing moment. But since I had to start somewhere, I decided to go with something easy: Dragon, the unholy possessed demon cat owned by Farmer FitzGibbons.

The Secret of NIMH: Dragon’s first appearance (1982)

Dragon is the first antagonist introduced to the story, and the cat’s entrance is…memorable to say the least. In context, Mrs. Brisby is on her way home after receiving some medicine from Mr. Ages (also an escapee from NIMH, but she doesn’t know that yet) when she comes across a crazy crow (Dom DeLuise) tangled up in some yarn that he was trying to bring back to his nest. Being a nice mouse, Mrs. Brisby decides to help him get free, but when Jeremy (that’s the crow) starts singing about his future “Ms. Right”, she admonishes him to be quiet because “there’s a cat nearby.” And if you haven’t seen this movie before, you might be forgiven for thinking “Oh, it’s a cat, what’s so scary about a cat?”

Take a look at the picture below, and know that Don Bluth can turn ANYTHING into a disturbing terror (also observe Jeremy’s wide-eyed look of terror as he realizes he’s nose-to-nose with a cat):

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Yes, THAT is a cat, but he sure doesn’t look like one does he? Here’s a slightly better view:

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*points up* THIS is a CAT?!?

Dragon is a fat, seemingly mangy farm cat, blind in one eye (that’s the weird blue one, the yellow is his normal eye), and he has a vicious streak a mile wide. What really makes Dragon disturbing besides his appearance? He doesn’t even meow, when he first goes to attack Jeremy, he ROARS like some strange monster!!

This scene (like so many others) messed me up as a kid. It scared me because I’d see Dragon creeping closer and poor Jeremy is just oblivious and the tension build-up is almost unbearable.

I also have to give credit to Jerry Goldsmith’s incredible score (his first for an animated film) for helping to make this scene even more terrifying and disturbing, especially in the build-up to Jeremy coming face to face with Dragon.

While Dragon does appear later on in the film, this is his most menacing appearance by far. But this is nothing compared to other disturbing characters in this story (I’m not sure if I’ll cover The Great Owl next or start in on the rats, Jenner and Brutus are both getting their own sections).

Let me know your thoughts on Dragon, did he scare you when you were younger? Did he disturb you? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

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See also:

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

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

I can’t help but feel that I need to apologize for taking so long with this, even though I promised ages ago that it would be starting soon (life has been a little crazy since then). Nevertheless, here I go with a brief overview of the first film in this sister series to Disturbing Disney: The Secret of NIMH (1982)

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The film was based on the 1971 children’s book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien. In broad strokes the plot is largely the same as the film: the widowed mother of a family of mice must figure out how to keep her home safe from the farmer’s plow while her youngest son recovers from pneumonia. She is advised to ask for help from a colony of rats living in the nearby rosebush and discover that they (along with her late husband Jonathan) are actually escaped laboratory rats experimented on by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

For the movie, Mrs. Frisby becomes Mrs. Brisby to avoid being sued by Wham-O (the company who makes Frisbees) over a similar sounding name. The thing is, by the time the decision was made to change the name to Brisby, all of the actors had already recorded their lines. So…the editors manually edited the voice track to make it sound like Brisby and not Frisby. However, it is not completely perfect: listen closely to The Great Owl’s lines, you can almost hear the original pronunciation of the name.

The voice cast contains some acting greats. The previously mentioned Great Owl was voiced by the legendary actor John Carradine (the father of David, Keith and Robert Carradine). The cranky Auntie Shrew was voiced by Hermione Baddely, better known as Madame in The Aristocats (1970). Derek Jacobi (whose film accomplishments are too many to count) is the voice of Nicodemus, the elderly leader of the rats. Dom DeLuise (aka Tiger the cat in An American Tail) is Jeremy the crow. Wil Wheaton (in his film debut) plays Martin, Mrs. Brisby’s oldest son. And Shannen Doherty (of Charmed fame) is also making her debut as the voice of Teresa, the oldest daughter.

This series will break down the more disturbing scenes (and characters) in the film, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

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