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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.
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).
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).
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.
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!
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