The 1990s were something of a golden age for Disney animation, seeing the release of classics like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Sadly, the same decade was not as fruitful for former Disney animator and director Don Bluth, who released a series of critical and box office failures like Thumbelina and Rock-A-Doodle before disappearing off the radar.
Go back in time a decade, however, and the situation was quite the reverse. Bluth took a team of eleven animators from Disney and started his own rival company, Don Bluth Productions, which produced a series of beautiful and unique children’s animated films that are still very fondly remembered, including An American Tail, All Dogs Go Heaven, The Land Before Time and Bluth’s feature directorial debut, The Secret of NIMH.
Based on Robert C. O’Brien’s book “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH”, The Secret of NIMH got a direct-to-video sequel in 1998 (it wasn’t great) and several years ago Paramount was sniffing around the property with interest, but nothing came of it. It looks like there’s renewed interest, however, as Deadline reports that MGM has optioned a new adaptation of O’Brien’s book and hired Ice Age screenwriter Michael Berg to write the script.
Daniel Bobker and Ehren Kruger are producing the film. However, rather than directly adapting the story from the original book, their plan is to make an origin story with a mouse protagonist (presumably Jonathan Frisby) who “befriends a comical crew of lab rats as they turn hyper-intelligent.” With the protagonist’s help the rats “escape a secret laboratory and become the great minds of vermin civilization, forced to outwit the humans hot on their tails.”
The Rats of NIMH film will be a mix of live-action and CGI and apparently the hope is to create a franchise. If anyone is desperately trying not to think of the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies then don’t worry; you’re not alone.
The prospect of a live-action/CGI franchise-oriented reboot of The Secret of NIMH that might not even feature Mrs. Frisby/Brisby or – worse still – might only include her as a love interest for the main character seems almost tailor-made to provoke a visceral negative reaction in anyone who has a deep-held love for the book and/or Bluth’s film. The phrase “comical crew of lab rats” is kind of horrifying all by itself. The Secret of NIMH had its comic relief (thanks, Dom DeLuise) but the rats of NIMH can’t easily be described as a comical crew.
We’ll try to stick to our general policy of not judging a film until we’ve at least seen a trailer for it. But if this project falls off the tracks just like Paramount’s did, there probably won’t be too many tears shed.