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).
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!”
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.
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!
Disturbing Bluth #1: The Secret of NIMH (Overview and Trivia)
Disturbing Bluth #2: The Secret of NIMH: Dragon the (Demon) Cat
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