I don't think I'll cause any controversy when I say that "The Secret of NIMH" is an exceptionally eerie children's movie. I remember watching it in my grandparent's house in Cupar, Saskatchewan. I didn't understand a single bloody thing that was happening, but I was entranced nonetheless. Was I just another youth brainwashed by the television? Usually, but this was different. This time, the television was smarter than I was, and I could tell I was not the one in control. I was expected to keep pace with the story, and it was unapologetic to viewers who couldn't. (Hey, I was six at the time.) Was it really that creepy, though? Take a look for yourself.
Gah! For starters, we've got an ugly giant owl and an ugly ancient rat, both with glowing eyes. Powerful and aloof, you can already envision the "NO VISITORS" sign they'd have on their front doors. At the bottom, in a framework of roots and vines, there are two angry-looking mice, one scared child mouse, and an evil-looking cat. Dead center: a gangly raven, a red jewel, and Mrs. Brisby herself, looking for all the world like the weakest and least important character on the poster. You can tell that she's "as timid as a mouse", because she knows that that's the only mice don't get eaten. As for the jewel, it's shining with a light that floods the entire poster. Whatever the jewel is, it's probably the only thing that can save Frisby from those two monsters overhead. But it's also probably something that she really shouldn't be meddling with -- its power will certainly come with a price.
That isn't exactly accurate to the movie, mind you, but that's the impression the poster gives, and that's certainly the impression I got from it when I was six. I haven't seen the movie since, though, but I've seen bits and clips over the years, and while the plot seems a bit less ethereal and the owls and rats a bit less scary, it's still got that same atmosphere. If I'm going to use it as a reference point this November, though, I felt I should do my homework. So, I ordered the DVD, and it arrived in the mail this morning.
Three children are giggling in the open field (no twisty roots), and oh, look at that silly raven. He's playing with a piece of string! Isn't that cute? There are no bad guys visible (nor is there any hint of conflict). All of the characters look happier, cuter, more theme-park-synergistic. As for the timid, vulnerable Mrs. Frisby, she's 2/3 the height of the frame, staring right at the camera, and wearing the red jewel harmlessly around her neck. She is large and in charge. This Mrs. Brisby looks like the type of mouse that could stick her finger into a gun barrel and watch it explode harmlessly in the farmer's face.
I don't even have to go into the issue of whether it's faithful to what the director intended -- this cover is simply a downright lie. Why on earth would MGM do this? My guess is that they simply decided to mire themselves even deeper into that tar pit of "Family-Friendliness" -- the idea that a good children's film should alleviate boredom, and do nothing else. They're ashamed of this movie because it tries to do more.
Or maybe, just maybe, they're deliberately trying to deceive those sorts of parents into buying this film for their children.
I can dream, can't I?