The Secret of N.I.M.H.
: (Jerry Goldsmith) Animated films
were undergoing a significant change in the 1980's, one which would eventually
lead to the vast business of made-for-video animated pictures for small children.
For a long time, Disney held a grip on the large-scale, animated film industry,
but by the time The Little Mermaid
revived their dominance in 1989 after a
long string of underachieving entries, several offshoots of that industry were
thriving. One such offshoot was director and producer Don Bluth, who had been a
Disney animator until 1979, when he started his own animation business.
Eventually, he would be best known for bringing to life the highly acclaimed
An American Tail
and The Land Before Time
series. One of his early
efforts was the animated, non-musical adaptation of Robert C. O'Brien's "Mrs.
Frisby and the Rats N.I.M.H.," the tale of rats made intelligent in human
laboratories that escape to try to form a community for themselves in the wild.
Bluth certainly succeeded in stealing some attention from Disney, with The
Secret of N.I.M.H.
meeting with critical and popular success and remaining a
sentimental favorite for many viewers decades later. One of the reasons for this
positive response was the traditional score by Jerry Goldsmith. The early to
mid-1980's were a remarkable time in Goldsmith's career (and some will argue with
good reason that it was the best), and The Secret of N.I.M.H.
was an entry
during this period that represented a departure for the veteran composer. He had
never scored an animated picture; in fact, his body of work was limited on the
children's front, with the majority of attention paid to him for his horror,
science fiction, and war drama scores at the time. Goldsmith admits that he at
first did not know how to go about scoring the film, remarking that animated
films require a different role for the music than their live action counterparts.
His solution was to treat The Secret of N.I.M.H.
as though it were one of
his regular projects, allowing the music to maintain a sense of consistency that
would assist the story reach organic appeal. The composer also noted that
animated films need great continuity in their music to help ease the frequent
transitions between quick scene and angle changes in the narrative. Thus, the end
result of his work for The Secret of N.I.M.H.
is a score that does not
play like a post-2000 animated film score. There are no jumpy phrases, sudden
parody blasts, or joke-line crescendos. Sparingly mixed into the orchestral
performances by the National Philharmonic Orchestra are The Ambrosian Singers, a
usual group of collaborators with the composer at the time.
Instead, Goldsmith tackles the score with the same lengthy cue
structure as Poltergeist
or Star Trek: The Motion Picture
, with the
music taking its good time building up momentum to its action sequences and then
letting off its steam slowly. The choral application is expected and not of
particular note, mostly because the composer treats the singers as though they
are just another element of the symphonic ensemble. Thus, they perform lines that
typically compliment or replace the strings and therefore aren't meant as overtly
majestic accents. The orchestra's recording is crisp and surprisingly clear in
the upper brass regions during cues of elevated action. There is some archival
harshness to the brass that often resulted from the mixes of scores from this
era, though this distinction adds an appropriate amount of minimal menace when
needed in the tone of the music. A strong and fluid sense of consistency both
aids and hinders the score, not allowing Goldsmith to pull out all the plugs in
singular moments as he would for Legend
. Also of note is the fact that
Goldsmith completely abandons his synthetic elements in this recording, a rarity
for the composer at the time. This yields moments of soaring symphonic grace such
as "Flying High/End Title," which offer victorious renditions of the primary
themes in a conservatively pretty environment. For many listeners, the most
memorable aspect of The Secret of N.I.M.H.
is the "Flying Dreams" song and
its associated thematic integration into the score. Written by Goldsmith, the
song is performed by Paul Williams, whose stylistically lazy vocal slurring
perfectly fits the fantasy genre. The melody from this song is adapted throughout
the score, with additional vocal performances and several dynamic orchestral
statements. Its integration into the aforementioned concluding cue is reminiscent
of the gentle and lyrical treatment of theme that existed at the end of
, but without the choir (and horror undertones, of course). On
album, the score was released on identical LP and CD formats in the 1980's,
existing as one of the very early Japanese-pressed Varèse Sarabande CDs
(complete with a piece of foam over the center of the CD in its packaging).
Eventually, in 1994, Varèse re-pressed the album with different artwork
and notes, taking the opportunity to reorder the tracks into their natural
progression. The original CD is long out of print and difficult to find, but the
1994 release has identical contents overall and decent sound quality. Goldsmith
fans may be disappointed by the lack of a true dynamic spirit to many parts of
this score, but you cannot discount the number of people who fondly recall the
effect that The Secret of N.I.M.H.
had on them or their children. It's a
solid entry all around that only its archival sound quality restrains. Outside of
the primary theme, however, it's not quite as memorable as James Horner's
subsequent scores for Bluth's ventures. **** Amazon.com Price Hunt: CD or Download
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The sparse 1986 album's insert contains a rare note from Goldsmith about
the score. That product came with a foam ring to hold the CD in place (a definite
sign of a very early CD product). The 1994 album's insert features a note about
Goldsmith's career up to the date of pressing.