The Secret of NIMH & All Dogs Go to Heaven
by Jef Burnham
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Animation director Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH and All Dogs Go to Heaven are now available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment. Although each film has rightly been given its own release, the coinciding release of these two Bluth pictures compels me to review them both herein.
So let’s start with the weaker of the two films: 1989’s All Dogs Go to Heaven. All Dogs tells the story of Charlie, a dog who is killed by his business partner, Carface, only to escape from heaven and start a rival business with the help of a little girl who can talk to animals. Honestly, the film is every bit as awkward as I’ve made it sound. Viewing it for the first time since I was a kid, I was astonished by the hokiness of the piece, owing to the fact that we know almost nothing of the main characters’ motivations. As such, we are disinclined to care and, more importantly, the premise of the film falls flat as a result. It’s unclear to us exactly why Charlie wants to leave Heaven at all, for why would he? He simply decides after about 30 seconds that Heaven’s too boring and takes off.
As for the transfer of this particular release, I was quite disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the animation isn’t hurt by the HD transfer, but it certainly doesn’t do it any favors either. The crispness of the image is inconsistent from one shot to the next, clearly and beautifully rendered in one shot, only to be exceedingly soft after the cut. When it is sharp, however, it does look fantastic— despite the fair amount of damage and debris that characterizes the print. The audio too is plagued by inconsistencies. Some characters come through loud and clear throughout, while others, often in the same conversation, are virtually inaudible. What’s worse is that, in the mix of the musical numbers, the music is far too low to support the already stilted vocal stylings of the likes of Burt Reynolds. The only special feature included is the theatrical trailer.
Now to the superior of the two releases: 1982’s The Secret of NIMH. Based on the wonderful children’s book by Robert C. O’Brien, The Secret of NIMH follows the heroic Mrs. Brisby, a mouse trying to save her son from death by pneumonia. Along the way, she enlists the aid of the Great Owl and the rats of NIMH, a highly intellectually advanced tribe of rats with a dark past. Aside from the compulsory Dom Deluise-voiced comic relief character and a slow opening (thanks in part to the aforementioned comic relief), The Secret of NIMH embodies the best of Bluth’s techniques with beautiful animation and solid storytelling throughout.
Despite having been released seven years prior to All Dogs, the transfer of NIMH is far more consistently sharp, with typically rich, solid colors and a wonderful film grain. The only qualms I have with the release are that the print does show a fair amount of damage and debris, and there is an occasional image peculiarity characterized by a slight shake. The audio too is a sight better than the All Dogs release, and is at least consistent if not particularly impressive. Special features on this disc are more extensive, including the audio commentary with Don Bluth and producer Gary Goldman and the “Secrets Behind the Secret” making-of featurette previously available on the 2-Disc Family Fun Edition DVD, as well as the original theatrical trailer.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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