Making the Grades
Even though Mrs. Brisby (voiced by Elizabeth Hartman) is a mouse, like any good mother she is alarmed by the illness of her youngest child. So the plucky widow sets off to get medicine from the reclusive Mr. Ages (voiced by Arthur Malet). Besides his home-brewed potion, the sage mouse insists the invalid get complete bed rest for the next three weeks. This directive presents a problem because the Brisby home is located in a farmer's field and sowing season is fast approaching. The concerned parent knows if she doesn't move her family immediately they will get plowed under, and if she does, young Timmy will die.
Mrs. Brisby's desire to insure her son's return to health leads her on a dangerous quest. Along the way, she is directed to seek help from the mysterious Rats of NIMH. Swallowing her fear, the desperate mom sneaks past the farmer's cat and into the old rose bush that shields the underground society. However, by entering the forbidden realm, Mrs. Brisby becomes privy to the clever creatures' secret, success, and shame.
It is also here that this animated tale diverts from the traditional children's adventure formula, and delves into a deeper world of social issues and ethical debate. Escapees of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), these animals have become as intelligent as people due to laboratory experimentation. Along with their increased genius has come a greater accountability for their actions. While the Rat Council debates their moral responsibilities, other human characteristics, like greed and power-lust gnaw at their attempts for a utopian community.
The arrival of Mrs. Brisby acts as a catalyst in a situation already brewing with rebellion. While most of the rats desire to assist the endangered family, a few with evil intentions see her plight as the perfect cover for a murderous plot.
Except for the comic relief provided by a bumbling lovesick crow (voiced by Dom DeLuise), much of the movie depicts perilous situations likely to frighten young viewers. But older children and teens will find plenty to think about in this adaptation of Robert C. O'Brien's children's novel. Told through the eyes of the lesser creatures, the story questions justifying the ends by the means, and whether or not scientific research is abuse of animals. It also provides wonderful characters that exemplify courage and love... even if they are rodents.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Secret of NIMH.
How do you feel about the use of animals for scientific research?
The leader of the rats states, “We can no longer live as rats. We know too much.” What does he mean? Why are knowledge and accountability tied together?