If your childhood was anything like mine, with time split between two divorced working parents, you watched a lot of VHS tapes. And back in the 80s, movies for kids were dark. Real dark. Don’t recall? Let me remind you.
Take The Secret of NIMH. While it was released before I was born—proof that I can talk about 80s films while still being a very vibrant and young woman, thank you very much — my parents apparently felt the need to make sure I didn’t miss out on this demented mess about near-dead young ones, animal experimentation, and murder. I doubt helicopter moms allow this to happen nowadays, but when I was growing up, if it had a cartoon on the cover, it was suitable to throw on the TV to distract the kids while directing one’s adult attention to cooking up some porkchops with Shake ‘N’ Bake. (I know you millennials reading this are like, what’s a cover? It’s this. It was made out of paper. Don’t even worry about it.)
The film opens on warty, gnarled hands with coke nails on every finger as a voiceover informs us that someone named Jonathan recently died. Terrific start. Kids love coke nails. We assume the voice is courtesy of whoever owns the hands, which is a little confusing because while the voice is telling us the narrator is old, the hands are telling us he’s been dead for several weeks.
Though his name won’t be revealed until later, we can deduce fairly readily that Nicodemus is a rat wizard since he uses magic glitter dust instead of ink and doesn’t need to touch his pen to the page to write. In further confirmation that this film was inexplicably intended for pre-literate children, the lines the narrator speaks are not the same lines he writes labors over writing in the book. We don’t see his face. As we’ll later learn, we won’t really want to see his face.