The Secret of NIMH Movie Poster Image

The Secret of NIMH

Fascinating, but very dark with some creepy imagery.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 1982
  • Running Time: 83 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

Purely designed as entertainment, though kids might want to know more about animal testing after the movie.

Positive messages

Includes themes of animal cruelty and animal experimentation, but also teamwork and freedom.

Positive role models

Mrs. Brisby is brave for her family, and several other characters are helpful and kind, even if they seem a little creepy. One villain is power hungry and plots a murder. Characters demonstrate teamwork, perseverance, and courage.

Violence & scariness

Lots of creepy, dark imagery, only occasionally lightened with humor. A scary and dramatic sword fight between rats with a little blood that results in the death of one rat. Two bad rats plot to kill a main character and make it look like an accident; they are successful. Mrs. Brisby's children are in great peril and almost drown in the mud. Rats, as well as dogs, cats, and monkeys, are subjected to scientific experiments including a scene of an injection in a flashback. A big spider crawls toward Mrs. Brisby before it's crushed by a giant owl. Characters eyes glow and might appear scary to some.

Sexy stuff

The crow talkes about "looking for a lady" and "making a love nest." Some flirtation between a male and female crow.


One "damn."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The rats drug the cat on occasion to make it sleep.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this The Secret of NIMH about a group of intelligent rats who escape from an animal laboratory is suspenseful and rather dark. Several scenes include animal children in peril and a sword fight between rats ends in one death with a little blood. The worst part for sensitive viewers: a flashback shows the animated animals being imprisoned and injected with a needle.

What's the story?

In THE SECRET OF NIMH, Mrs. Brisby (Frisby in Robert C. O'Brien's prize-winning book, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H.) is a widowed mouse living on a farm with her four children, including Timmy, who's bedridden with pneumonia. When they're forced to find a new home, the Great Owl advises Mrs. Brisby to seek the help of Nicodemus, the king of the rat colony. Venturing underground, she discovers an entire civilization of rats that tell her that they revere her late husband Jonathan. Nicodemus explains that Jonathan helped them escape from NIMH -- the National Institute of Mental Health -- when he was a fellow prisoner there and where they were experimented on and injected with super-intelligence drugs. Nicodemus agrees to help Mrs. Brisby move Timmy and gives her a magic amulet. She returns to the farm to find that her home is sinking in the mud and hopes the amulet can really save them.

Is it any good?


Conceived as a return to the lush, "old-fashioned" style of such Disney classics as Pinocchio, this animated movie is an impressive example of cartoon art. It features fully animated character motion and a three-dimensional look. The animation is rich and warm, filled with exquisite detail and color, which brings the dazzling, set pieces to life (including a duel during a lightning storm, and the finale involving the magic amulet).

The voice cast is also excellent, boasting such names as the distinguished British actor Derek Jacobi, veteran character actor John Carradine, the reliably comedic Dom DeLuise, and even a young Shannen Doherty as a mouse. However, parents should be strongly cautioned that the story's tone frequently careens from cheerfulness to grimness, which may frighten children. The Secret of NIMH does not shy away from being downright terrifying at times, most notably during a gruesome flashback showing animals being tortured.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about scariness in movies like The Secret of NIMH. Which parts were the scariest? What made these scenes scary? Would the movie have been more or less scary if it weren't animated?

  • Who were the heroes in this movie?

  • Talk about animals in laboratories. Why are they there? How does your family feel about animal testing?

  • How do the characters in The Secret of NIMH demonstrate teamwork, perseverance, and courage? Why are those important character strengths?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:January 1, 1982
DVD/Streaming release date:March 23, 1994
Cast:Derek Jacobi, Dom DeLuise, Elizabeth Hartman
Director:Don Bluth
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Book characters, Holidays
Character strengths:Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
Run time:83 minutes
MPAA rating:G
MPAA explanation:all audiences

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Parent of a 5 and 8 year old Written byVickyN August 5, 2010

Definitely not for under 8

My nearly-8-year-old had starting watching this yesterday while I frantically searched here for clues. I sent my 5-year-old out of the room. The 8-year-old was fine with all the scenes people talk about here, but my hyper-sensitive especially around animals 5 year old would have been freaked by the glowing eyes. I want to clarify a point people have made about the flashback scene in the lab. Unless I missed a scene, the flashback in no way portrays torture; the rats are injected and they make it a little scary but I think kids would just associate it with a shot and think it was a good thing. Then the rats grow exponentially and squirm a bit while they do it. That's it. The problem I have with this movie is more about the violence of the two rats fighting and the graphic quality of the stabbing. The good side is that it's a mother that's the hero(ine),
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great role models
Teen, 17 years old Written byel April 9, 2008


Violent, scary, witch-like. A wonderful children's classic taken to a "dark" level, makes the wise leader Nicodemus a wizard-king. Involves 2 murders, is all DARK. Certainly not for little kids, or for those who've loved Robert C O'briens classic. Puts NIMH in a cruel light, shows animals being "tortured". Absolutely horrid, would NEVER watch again. Had my 11 year old brother almost crying.
Teen, 17 years old Written bynduns November 18, 2008

Okay, can we get some sense of imagination here, people?

In the world of today, kids kinda need to be scared, and I think they like it more than they let on. With all the lies told by parents nowadays, kids need to be exposed to this kinda thing. This is one of the best movie adaptations ever! Perhaps it is too frightening for younger children. I guess maybe it would be a good idea to wait a while. Still, this is Don Bluth's best film and deserves a lot more respect.