Terrifying Children’s Movies: Secret of Nimh

Secret of Nimh

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.)

Secret of NimhThe 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.

Secret of Nimh

Is it ageist to say that Nicodemus looks like an animated corpse?

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.

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    • Dawn

      I loved that movies as a child, and actualyl recently re-read the book (home for Christmas and perusing my childhood book shelf). Significantly different. I wasn’t traumatized by either of them, as far as I know.

    • JennyWren

      I watched that movie repeatedly, never could figure out what in the name of sanity was going on (except for the cross-species fraternization- even a 6 year-old me could work out what was going on THERE, and this from a kid who would regularly try to squeeze down sewer holes), so I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one.

      As for traumatizing, who can say? I was of the generation that watched The Fox and the Hound, The Land Before Time, Watership Down AND The Last Unicorn, not to mention An American Tail (warning children of the dangers of fascism from the age of four upwards) and All Dogs go to Heaven (didn’t that have torture scenes? Man, you wouldn’t get that nowadays). Probaby TSON couldn’t make much impact in the already tortuous vortex that my brain had been turned into.

      • Cassie

        I watched all of these as well and thought nothing of it. My 3 year old has seen LBT and the Fox and the Hound and thinks nothing of it, but I still cry each time and freak out/side eye NIMH.

    • Jenny

      In third grade, we all got to come dressed as a literary character one day. I came dressed as Ms. Brisby, from the novel this was based on, complete with mouse ears, red cape, and amulet. So began my childhood of being just a little bit on the outside.

      Also, I didn’t realize that NIMH stood for National Institute for Mental Health until I was a teenager, and it blew my mind.