The Secret of NIMH

From Academic Kids

The Secret of NIMH is an 1982 animated film adaptation of the Newbery-winning book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, written by American author Robert C. O'Brien. The title of the movie was later used for newer editions of the book. It was directed by Don Bluth, produced by Aurora Pictures, and released by United Artists.

The film tells the story of a widowed field mouse, Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Hartman), who attempts to find help to save her son Timothy (Ian Fried). Timmy has taken ill with pneumonia, and therefore cannot leave the Brisby home to avoid the spring plowing. Following advice given by the Great Owl (John Carradine) Brisby encounters the Rats of NIMH, who have escaped from a laboratory where human experiments made them intelligent. The Rats help Brisby to protect her family.

NIMH is a reference to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health; the connection is explicit in the film version. The story has elements of animal rights activism, but in the end the Rats of NIMH simply wish to gain peace and independence by moving away from human settlement, where they consider their theft of electricity from humans wrong.

The name Brisby was originally recorded as Frisby but was changed during post-production to avoid potential trademark problems with the word Frisbee.

The film was followed up with The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue (in 1998). There have been rumors about a movie titled The Secret of NIMH 3: The Beginning to be released in 2001, however, no such movie has been made yet, although an erroneous IMDB entry exists for it.

Tagline: Right before your eyes and beyond your wildest dreams.



This contains some spoilers for the story, be forewarned.

Mrs. Brisby

Mrs. Brisby is the heroine of the story. She is a fieldmouse whose husband Jonathan Brisby has recently been killed in a tragic accident. Although heartbroken over this loss she pulls herself together in order to take care of Jonathan and her's four children. As the film opens, it is discovered that Timothy, whom is very prone to sickness due to a Spider bite recieved as a child, is showing signs of being extremely sick. Diagnosed with pneumonia by Mr. Ages, Mrs. Brisby is perplexed by this as this is an extremely bad time for Timothy to get sick. "Moving Day" has come, where the Farmer who owns the land they live on must plow the field shortly after winter. Mrs. Brisby knows the family must move to a new location or risk being crushed, but to move Timothy in this state is highly risky. At a total loss of what to do, she is directed towards a mysterious animal known as the Great Owl, who in turn tells her to go to the Rats of NIMH.

Mrs. Brisby doesn't know who or what these Rats are, and what makes them special. But little does she realize that through her Husband, Mrs. Brisby has much more to do with the Rats than she realizes as she embarks on a desperate journey to not only save Timothy and her children in tow, but of self discovery for both herself and her recently deceased husband. Mrs. Brisby is a beloved character by many, and is signified by her trademark red cloak. Although similar to the book counterpart, Mrs. Frisby, Brisby is described as being considerably more fleshed out emotionally in the film. She shows signs of possibly being somewhat manic, but is nontheless very courageous inside.

Martin Brisby

Martin is Mrs. Brisby's eldest son, and the second of four to be born. Martin seems to be something of the family black sheep and rebel in the story, and is somewhat disruptive and saucy. He is however, well meaning and very caring underneath that exterior apparently. He is the largest of the four children as well as the apparent strongest as well. He seems possibly slightly overweight at this age. He wears a snug fitting blue t-shirt.

Out of the four children, Martin's character differ's the most between the book and movie version. In the book Martin is somewhat well mannered although slightly impetuous, where as Martin in the movie is loud mouthed and a bit of a trouble maker. Most don't mind this change however, and think that it gave Martin a lot of personality.

Teresa Brisby

Teresa is Mrs Brisby's eldest daughter, and the first born of four children. Teresa in contrast to Martin, is quiet, well mannered, and highly responsible. She seems like somewhat of a very bookwormish person in her mannerisms. Teresa resembles her mother the most in looks, and to an extent in mannerism as well. She seems to have something of a saucy side inside similar to Martin as well, however she keeps it in check and is much more subtle about it than her reckless younger brother.

Teresa is identified by her simple dress, and a large pink bow tied into her head fur.

Timothy Brisby

Timothy is the catalyst to the entire story. He is the youngest son, and third born of four. In the story, Timothy contracts pneumonia and is confined to bed. He is very small and thin, which is attributed to having been bitten by a Spider when much younger. This may have stunted his physical growth and health somewhat.

Timothy is an active character for a very brief scene in the film near the end, spending most of his time in bed. In the book however, Timothy has a considerably higher amount of speaking lines. In the book, Timothy is described as being the most potentially intelligent of all of his siblings. Like all of his siblings, his future is an often enthusiastically discussed and interpreted subject among the movie and book's fandom.

Cynthia Brisby

Cynthia is the youngest child and daughter of Mrs. Brisby. She is often considered the cutest character in the movie, but not to a degree where its annoying. Most attribute this to Don Bluth's masterful character design talents. Cynthia is the most unique looking of her four siblings by far, sporting a beautiful cream yellow fur color, and wearing a rather charming emerald green bow around her body. She seems to be somewhat of a different character even at a young age, often showing a sort of awkwardness attributed to eccentric artists or expressionists and the like.

In the book itself, this is furthuer played upon as Cynthia is described as somewhat of an easily distracted space cadet compared to her siblings.


Jeremy is a well meaning but clutzy and somewhat awkward crow whom helps Mrs. Brisby in her journey's. He fancies himself a lady killer, and believes his charm to be irresistable. In actuality, Jeremy is in desperate need of eloquence and seems eternally doomed to be something of an oddball. Despite this however, he is very kind and equally very willing to help Mrs. Brisby despite. There are times where Jeremy seems to be a burden for Mrs. Brisby as much as he is a useful ally. Mrs. Brisby often finds herself humorously trying to distract Jeremy with something else so she can continue her endeavors.

Jeremy has a rather odd fixation with string, but seeing as how he is a bird, this behavior is not all that surprising. In the book, Jeremy is much more straight-forward and calm. Although many tend to prefer the sillier Jeremy to this.


Justin is one of the Rats of NIMH, a secret sect of Rats whom escaped from a N.I.M.H research center after having miracuously rendered far more intelligent by experiments, and single handedly elevating these Rats to the level of intelligent life. Justin himself is Captain of the Guard to the Rats' sentry force. He is very natural and suave, making him something of a very charismatic person. He seems very close to the Rats' leader, Nicodemus, and seems to have had relations with Mrs. Brisby's late husband. He seems to be very much on Mrs. Brisby's side because of this, and sticks by her through the story in order to lend what hand he can.

Justin may be the second most different character between the book and the movie. Personality wise, Justin is the same for the most part. However, in the book Justin is hinted at having sacrificed himself in order to save the Rats from NIMH in the end, by acting as a distraction. In the film, he not only clearly survives, but also has a highly memorable sword duel with a crazed Jenner, which does not happen in the book. Regardless, this sword fight is often considered many of the film viewers' favorite scenes.


Nicodemus is the leader of the Rats of NIMH. He is the oldest, although in the book and movie, this differ's somewhat. In the movie, Nicodemus is seen as a Merlin esque wizard or seer of sorts and is considerably older. In the book however, Nicodemus is a middle aged, but very strong bodied sort of bandit like character sporting an eyepatch. Both characters serve a similar purpose however, of being a fountain of wisdom for Mrs. Brisby. Nicodemus reveals to Mrs. Brisby the history of the Rats of NIMH, as well as that of her Husband. As it turns out, Jonathan was also an escapee along with Mr. Ages, and is also highly intelligent. This trait he has passed on to all his children. Apparently there were many more Mice, however, many were lost down a ventilation shaft which sucked them in during the daring escape from NIMH. Jonathan was small enough to unlock a hatch blocking their exit, and the Rats feel they are indebted to him and his family.

Nicodemus oversee's the moving of Mrs. Brisby's home as a loophole to her problem, by moving the family without moving Timothy. This is done with advanced equipment, further showcasing the Rats' talents. Another split from the book to the movie however, is in the book this operation is successful. In the film however, it is sabotaged by a power hungry Jenner and Nicodemus is killed. Nicodemus also gives Mrs. Brisby a mysterious amulet, which glows red. It is supposedly a gift from Jonathan, and is one of the movie's most ambiguous details.


Jenner is the main antagonist to the story, although he comes in halfway into the story. He is probably the most different character from book to film, as his character in the book barely appears at all. In fact, in the book, Jenner isn't even very villain like. Here, he disagreed with Nicodemus' decision to move to the countryside, and believed staying in the city with its more bountiful supplies was the best way to survive. This split many of the rats, but most with with Nicodemus. But many went with Jenner as well. It is alluded to that Jenner and his separatists may have been caught by NIMH and exterminated, although the semi official sequel to the book proves otherwise.

In the film, Jenner's dissagreement is kept in the film, but is highly modified. Instead of never having gone with the Rats at all, Jenner acompanies them to their Rosebush lair and has apparently become a well known member of its community. Jenner is in harsh dissagreement with Nicodemus's plan for moving away from the Rosebush and into the unknown reaches of a place called Thorn Valley. The rats you see, have electricity which they steal from the farmer in order to give them power. Nicodemus believes the Rats, if they are to continue as a new race, must begin to run off of their own power and wishes to leave to a more remote location. Jenner believes this to be nonsense, and plots with his friend Sullivan to kill Nicodemus. Whilst Sullivan cannot go through with the murder, Jenner slices the ropes that send the equipment crashing down upon the rat leader and killing him. He also seems to wish to take power for himself, and is generally perceived to be extremely greedy and power hungry. Often the negative traits of a Rat. Jenner in the end, is revealed for what he has done, but at catching a glimpse of Mrs. Brisby's amulet, he becomes enraged as he seems to hold it of high value. He tries to attack her, and is in turn attacked by Justin whom duels Jenner. When Sullivan attempts to help Justin, Jenner cuts him down. In the fight, Jenner reveals to Justin that Nicodemus' death was no accident. After a long duel, Justin stabs Jenner but does not kill him. As Justin turns his back on Jenner, he climbs up a rock and takes his sword with him. As Jenner prepares to kill Justin, Sullivan who is barely alive draws a dagger and throws it towards Jenner. The dagger flys through the air and plants itslef deep in Jenner's back. Jenner stunned falls from the rock where he dies.

Auntie Shrew

Her species seems to be something of a pun on her personality. She is indeed, something of a shrew in mannerisms. She is one of Mrs. Brisby's neighboring animals, and often finds herself taking care of her four children while Mrs. Brisby is busy elsewhere. She has something of a strict way of things, and seems like your typical nosey neighbor. She means well however, and actually saves Mrs. Brisby from being run over by the plow in the film and book. She finds Mrs. Brisby's family to be very odd, but nonetheless seems compelled to help them. She fears and hates Rats.

Auntie Shrew seems to have quite a troublesome relationship with young Martin Brisby. Although the two probably do respect eachother inside, they seem to quarrel and bicker extremely often, Martin often disobeying and talking back to Auntie Shrew's orders.


Sullivan is a friend of Jenner's. He seems to be on the main counsel of the Rats, and at first seems something of an elitest. He seems however, to ultimatly wish no one harm. He is however, proven to be somewhat weak willed as Jenner is able to manipulated him into helping him kill Nicodemus. Sullivan however, already troubled by this, decides not to at the last moment. Jenner by himself however, is still able to sabotage the moving operation and is still successful in killing Nicodemus. Sullivan seems very guilty about this, and helps Justin fight Jenner at the cost of his own life. Sullivan however, has the last laugh as it is his thrown knife which ends Jenner before he can attack Justin from behind after Justin thinks he's bested him. Sullivan appears to be an obese rat.

His role in the book is relatively minor in comparison.

Controversy over the Red Amulet

In the film, there is a major plot detail not present in the mostly scientifically driven book. Mrs. Brisby is given a supposedly magical red amulet by Nicodemus. With the help of this amulet, Mrs. Brisby is able to save her children from their sinking home, dropped into a mud pool when the moving operation by the rats fails. She seems to attain temporary but great telekinetic ability, and mentally moves her home with the power of both her mind and the amulet. The nature of this amulet is never explored and is one of the most ambiguous parts of the story.

Many fans of the book critisize the use of this amulet as being nothing more than a rushed in plot point to give the film a more exciting climax than the book's rather straight forward one. Many believe the book's very down to earth, scientific plotline was superior. Many others, both fans of the book and the movie however, say that the Amulet was a very clever way to distinctify the film from its book counterpart. Many believe the Stone helped give The Secret of NIMH its own distinct atmosphere and aura. Similar to the original Star Wars trilogy, we are presented with a mostly Science Fiction-ish setting and plot, but throw in mysterious and mystical elements into it in order to give it a feeling of surreal awe and mystery. Whatever one's opinion of it is, this amulet is often credited with making the book and film adaptations of the story practically two completely different entities.

Crew members

Cast members

(all voices)

The main characters

The Brisby children

The Fitzgibbons family

Other characters

External links



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