The Secret of NIMH (1982)

January 31st, 2012 · 6 Comments · Movies


When a mama mouse living in a field must save her family from the plow, including her son who is stricken with pneumonia, she discovers a secret world of super-intelligent rats who have suffered at the hands of vivisectors (at the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH) and are seeking to create a community of their own.

Decades before Hollywood gave the world “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” Don Bluth’s animated movie provoked thought about medical research on animals.

Replete with dark imagery, the story has many scary scenes, as well as depictions of animal cruelty. Families concerned with animal rights may appreciate that the film shines a light on the “secret” of NIMH: the barbaric treatment of animals in laboratories. Be prepared, however, for your kiddos to ask lots of questions. In addition to the animal laboratory scenes, which show animals living in barren cages and researchers administering injections, one scene depicts an owl killing a spider in a tree cavity filled with bones. Predation can be a difficult issue for vegetarian and vegan kids — particularly in movies where the animals have human-like traits.

Rated G, this movie is geared to kids ages 6 to 10, although Common Sense Media recommends it for ages 8 and up.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Homa

    I loved this movie growing up, but it is really scary too. I have no idea when I’d share it with my kids but wanted to comment that predation (new word for me!) is something my daughter asks a lot about. Ex: We watched Monsters, Inc. tbis weekend and the monsters were eating dinner (sushi) and she asked if they were eating children.

  • Jessica

    Oh no, sushi made of children – now there’s a scary thought! Then again, I recently read Hansel & Gretel at kiddo’s school and there’s the child-eating witch, the stepmother who wants to abandon the children in the forest, the father who won’t protect his children — terrible stuff, and yet, we all grew up with it, as did our parents and their parents.

  • Homa

    Hansel and Gretel is certainly one I don’t see Disney doing anytime soon. Then again, I thought the same about Rapunzel!

  • Seana

    This movie/book, and Charlotte’s web were the main influences in my becoming an AR activist as a child. I named the mice in my home after the characters, and tracked down and sabotaged all the traps set for them by my parents! I don’t think predation is too difficult a topic to address with little ones– We talk about animals that are vegan, and animals that are not, and how we care about ALL animals, because eating meat is not a choice for animals, but it is a choice for us. (And that in earlier Western cultures, and some contemporary ones, people did not have enough plants to eat, but we do).

  • Jessica

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Seana. It’s great that this movie inspired you to become an activist for animals! How old were you when you saw it?

    And yes, I agree with your explanation about predation — that’s how I explain it to my daughter too. It’s just that when movies have animals speak in English and engage in human-like behaviors, it can be disturbing for vegan kids to see even animals they know are carnivores killing or eating animals. For my part, I don’t want to discourage my kiddo from feeling empathy for the animals who are their prey, even though the reality is that predators don’t have a choice like we do.

  • peacegal

    “The Secret of NIMH” was truly “my era.” I found the movie enchanting, compelling, and scary–yet I loved it. Like the above poster, it is easy to see how this film, as well as others, set me on the path to being an animal advocate.

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