Curse of NIMH’

Kyle Smith

Last Thursday, some hard-drinking friends of mine and I sat down to watch The Secret of NIMH. Don Bluth, a Disney animation refugee, made the out-and-out disturbing NIMH in 1982; I assume Bluth dances with the devil because the film – about a thorn bush utopian society of fucked-up lab rats and a goateed widow named Mrs. Brisby (changed from “Frisby”) trying to find an antidote for her dying son Timmy – is absolutely terrifying. Forget this Saw II business; The Secret of NIMH maps out the unconscious of an unassuming 5-year-old and haunts him for eternity. There’s nothing in this movie that didn’t make me want to run out of the room screaming, from the cobwebbed Great Owl to the snarling cat; even the good guys are grotesque visions of alarming perversity – namely the head rat, Nicodemus, who is murdered in cold blood by a sword-wielding powermonger named Jenner.

Anyway.

Animated movies have a way of making kids out of us all, which is why I gleefully report that Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit is one of the best films of the year. Though not animated, Wallace and Gromit is painstakingly claymated, creating an interesting visual paradox: Every scene’s technical wizardry and impossible attention to detail is breathtaking, but you can also see the smudges and lines on the clay characters. The programming and rendering of CGI films suddenly feels trivial.

Even this fall’s other stop-motion animated film, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, feels sleek and manufactured next to Gromit. Heavy on computer support and stylized to a fault, Corpse Bride is nevertheless an unspeakably gorgeous film offset by disappointing songs – but the only thing it does better than Wallace and Gromit is make Helena Bonham Carter less of a bizarre caricature of her real self. In fact, I thought the Corpse Bride was kinda hot.

As people complain that action sequences in big-budget films are becoming dull and predictable (except for the first-person scene in Doom, huzzah!), it’s obvious that animated films have the magic. I think it started with the scene in Shrek where Shrek and Donkey fight the dragon in the castle – a beautifully edited and surprisingly suspenseful sequence that utilized slow-motion and camera movement to create something awesome. The Wallace and Gromit series is known for its light (British) sense of humor and accomplished gadgetry, but the chase scenes in the feature-length film are intense – and not for the “How’d they do that?” reasons, but for edge-of-your-seat suspense and perfectly honed, edited rhythms.

But enough of this crap. The real reason I loved Wallace and Gromit was that it made me stupid for movies again, what with Rube Goldberg machines, mysterious were-rabbits, huge vegetables, and the eponymous man and his dog who work as humane exterminators who take care of the town’s pest problems. Is the film’s excessive anti-rabbit sentiment some knee-jerk reaction to Bugs Bunny’s American popularity? Maybe, because these Aardman Animations guys do Looney Tunes better than anybody else these days.

It’s probably pretty obvious to anyone paying a modicum of attention that Wallace is the were-rabbit (sorry). But the film put me in such a state of wonder and joy that the big reveal was astonishing. I always hate people who say, “Oh, it was so obvious who the killer was five minutes into the movie.” What the hell is the matter with you? There’s no fun there, just self-fulfilling disappointment. Next time somebody says that to you, give them a Blow Pop. They need it.

On some level, I think I knew that Wallace would be the were-rabbit – indeed, it was inevitable, like everything about Rosie O’Donnell – but the movie made me, essentially, a vegetable. I was speechless, like Gromit. By the way, Gromit’s inability to talk is one of the great injustices in cinema.

Watching The Secret of NIMH again, I was surprised at how many of the images I recalled from the film – but how little I remembered about the story. It was like being a kid again, only now I was anxious about the unsettling images of bloody rats and psychedelic torture scenes. The night after we watched NIMH, those same friends and I engaged in some friendly sparring that escalated to an all-out steel cage Wrestlemania freak-out, which resulted in me possibly breaking one of my ribs.

So every time I laughed during Wallace and Gromit, it was tightening the noose on my personal well being. No matter. I could watch The Curse of the Were-Rabbit twenty years from now and still be tickled by its charm and humor. Let’s just hope that my ribs have healed, or that I’m not a patient of NIMH.4

Communication senior Kyle Smith is the PLAY film columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]