The Secret of NIMH appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. I thought the movie looked decent but rarely much better than that.
Sharpness usually came across as reasonably concise and distinctive. However, a fair number of scenes looked strangely fuzzy and blurry. Those didn’t dominate the movie, but they caused occasional distractions. No signs of jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, and I also saw no problems with edge enhancement. Print flaws created concerns, however. Grain looked moderately heavy at times, and the image displayed a mix of specks, spots, marks, streaks and blotches. These were prominent enough to create some distractions.
For the most part, colors came across as reasonably lively and precise. Most of the hues were acceptably vibrant and dynamic. However, some tones appeared bland and murky, so inconsistency occurred. Black levels were nicely deep and rich, but shadows seemed somewhat muddy and excessively heavy. Much of NIMH offered a reasonably nice image, but enough problems occurred for me to knock my grade down to a “C+”.
The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of The Secret of NIMH seemed similarly mediocre. Despite the extension of the extra channels, the mix largely remained monaural. Music demonstrated the greatest expansion, as the score offered general spread to the sides and the rear. However, stereo imaging seemed somewhat weak and blobby, as the musical delineation lacked definition. The same went for effects. On the occasions when elements popped up outside of the center, they sounded vague and artificial.
Audio quality was acceptable but erratic. Speech appeared acceptably distinct but lacked much warmth, as the dialogue was somewhat thin and brittle. Music was too bright and could sound a bit shrill, though the score demonstrated decent bass response at times. Effects came across as similarly lackluster; they showed passable definition and that was it. The audio seemed decent for its age, but it showed a moderate number of problems that made it less than successful.
Although this “Family Fun” edition of NIMH uses two discs, don’t expect it to come packed with extras. On DVD One, we open with an audio commentary from director/producer Don Bluth and producer/directing animator Gary Goldman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They talk about animation techniques and visual design, cast and performances, story and character issues, and a few other technical topics.
I guess I can’t fault the topics covered in this commentary, but that doesn’t mean I don’t find it to be pretty dry. We get a passable overview of the production that comes without much spark or sense of real insight. Bluth and Goldman occasionally produce some interesting tidbits about the flick as well as interesting stories such as their rescue of an injured owl. However, most of the commentary remains mediocre and it doesn’t often threaten to really involve the listener.
DVD One opens with an ad for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. No trailer for NIMH appears anywhere in the set.
Only a few minor components show up on DVD Two. A featurette called The Secrets Behind The Secret runs 14 minutes, 24 seconds. It presents movie clips, behind the scenes materials and interviews with Bluth and Goldberg.
The program looks at the adaptation of the novel and its path to the screen, getting their animation studio running, and design for NIMH. We also learn about characters and performances, animation techniques, and various challenges that came along the way. This acts as a good complement to the commentary, as it touches on different subjects and fleshes out our knowledge of the flick. It’s too bad it doesn’t include additional participants, but it’s still pretty informative.
Under “Fun & Games”, we find five components. Who’s Footprint? - which would be called “Whose Footprint?” if this disc had better quality control – requires you to match movie characters with five possible trackmarks. It’s pretty dull and not fun at all.
Next comes Fuzzy Focus. It shows seven blurry images which are supposed to resemble the way Nicodemus sees the world due to his failing eyesight. You have to indicate what the frames depict. This becomes more challenging and interesting than “Footprint”, but it remains a minor diversion at best.
We encounter the film’s crow character in Untangle Jeremy. It shows Jeremy all tied up, and you have to figure out the sequence of pulls that will extricate him. It actually provides a decent challenge, but it presents no replay value since the answer always remains the same.
With Origami Mouse, we get an activity instead of a game. It shows kids how to make little paper mice. I didn’t try out the tutorial, but it might provide some fun.
For the final component of DVD Two, we get a Memory Game. It shows a few different movie scenes and asks nit-picky questions about them. This is another game with some challenge to it but not much fun. At least it offers some replay value; it uses the same scenes each time but may present different questions.
The package concludes with a booklet. Instead of the usual production notes, this piece features more games and activities for kids.
Despite an intriguing story, The Secret of NIMH never turns into anything memorable. The movie meanders along and tends to focus on the least interesting characters, much to its detriment. The DVD presents fairly average picture, audio and extras. This is an ordinary release for a forgettable flick.