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Throughout the 1980's, in an era where even Disney films skewed a little bit darker, Don Bluth was the king of animated epics that gave his former employer a run for their money. The film that started it all, and arguably one of his most successful films period, was the 1982 classic The Secret of NIMH. And now, in line with MGM's recent business strategy of rebooting their most classic franchises, the mouse-driven fantasy epic is about to get an overhaul.
Deadline broke the scoop that MGM had recently re-acquired the rights to the hit, as it was previously set up to be developed at Paramount. This would make the second franchise that MGM has scored away from the studio, the first being the brand new reboot of the Tomb Raider saga. In case you need a little bit of a refresher, you can start with the original 1982 trailer for The Secret Of NIMH, included below.
Based on Robert C. O'Brien's beloved book series, The Secret of NIMH told the story of Mrs. Frisby – a mouse engaged on an epic quest to save her ill son, while at the same time aiding superintellegent laboratory mice in a gigantic escape attempt. The series ran for three books, and basically followed the same family throughout, with Timothy being the focus for the second book. This has obviously factored into MGM's plans, as Deadline has reported that the studio is looking for another possible franchise to spawn out of the original source material.
It's been a good long while since any film has remotely touched the special blend of dark whimsy and thrills that Don Bluth used to bring on a regular basis, especially since Bluth's last film to date was the underrated 2000 sci-fi animated adventure, Titan A.E. To see his first classic being remade is both a blessing and a curse, as Mrs. Frisby And The Rats Of NIMH is a story that could definitely use the attention and approach of a more modern sensibility. In this case, the film will be using a blend of Live Action/CGI to tell the story of the colliding worlds of rats and humans. However, it's this sort of project that does yield some of the most disastrous cases of diminishing returns – see also the 11 sequels The Land Before Time spawned after Bluth had gone on to greener pastures.
Mrs. Frisby And The Rats Of NIMH could turn out to be the start of a Don Bluth-fueled renaissance that somehow recaptures the dark beauty that his films uniquely captured back in the day. Or it could turn out to be another case of the modern studio mentality corrupting a film that has a strong, nostalgic foundation. Only time will tell which side has won the battle, but at the very least this news will get people talking about Bluth's work again. Hopefully enough buzz will spur the long inactive director to work on a new project that will truly bring his storytelling skills back into theaters one more time.