Since I didn't talk much about the film in my review of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and my post about The Secret of NIMH focused primarily on my reactions to the film after so many years, I thought I would take the time to talk about the differences between the two and my hopes for the new film (or film series).
There are three major differences right off the bat. The first change is this: the title has been changed from the book to a more generic (and boy-friendly?) one for the film. This might have been due in part to the second major change: Mrs. Frisby is now Mrs. Brisby. I understand that the name change was prompted by copyright concerns with Frisbee, but honestly it caused my younger self a great deal of confusion as I wasn't always certain whether the characters in the film were saying Brisby or Frisby. When I found the book, I still wasn't sure which was correct. In any event, I hope the new film (or series of films) keeps the original title -- or at the very least doesn't call itself The Secret of NIMH. This remake/reboot needs to stand on its own as an adaptation.
The third major change from the book to the film is the pervasive and somewhat confusing inclusion of magic and the supernatural in what is ostensibly a science fiction story. Yes, Arthur C. Clarke said the two are indistinguishable if the technology is advanced enough. But this isn't that kind of technology. In the book, as in the film, the rats are still using human inventions. Yet Nicodemus is shown to have telekinetic powers, a magic mirror of sorts, magic ink that writes what he says in a record book, and the MacGuffin of the film -- the red stone.
While I enjoyed the film for what it is -- a fantasy film -- I missed seeing the extensive analysis of the rats' intelligence and their moral and ethical concerns. The film barely touches on these, choosing to focus on (sometimes invented) sequences of danger and risk. NIMH in the book is a clean, (fairly) ethical laboratory where the mice and rats are cared for as well as test subjects can be. The scientists are not the dirty maniacs of the film's disturbing change sequence, but responsible, thoughtful inquirers. I hope the new film will return to the book's portrayal so as to make NIMH -- not less threatening, but less evil. I also hope we will see more of the rats during their time at NIMH. The animated film brushes over this time very quickly, despite it taking up almost one third of the book.
Most of the other changes to the story were minor, like the shrew being present in more scenes and being the one to suggest visiting the owl. These things don't detract from the story, but they do change it. Jeremy is a much more serious and capable character in the book, though he still has a fondness for string and shiny things like many crows. In the film, Dragon is given a more frightening appearance, while Mr. Ages is more secretive and cantankerous. In the book, Nicodemus, rather than being old and decrepit, is a mature rat who is a capable leader. (Also, in the book he has a scar and eye patch and if they don't utilize this in his character design in the new film, they are missing a golden opportunity for the Nick Fury of rats.)
One change in The Secret of NIMH that I actually preferred was that Mrs. Brisby escaped the cage on her own. In the book, she is rescued by Justin, who returned for her as soon as the humans were asleep. I like seeing Mrs. B as a more capable and intelligent character in the film, and I hope the new film will keep this characterization. She may be out of her depth in the world of the rats of NIMH, but she isn't purely a damsel in distress.
Despite its many changes, The Secret of NIMH managed to keep many lines of dialogue, scenes, and bits of story from the book. Mr. Ages mentions Timothy's spider bite -- something we are told of in the book via a flashback. Jeremy and Mrs. B's rescue of each other from Dragon is very similar to the book, though drawn out for thrills in the film. I hope these small touches are carried over into the new film.
My only other major hope for the new film is to see Jonathan as a full character, and not just a silent figure in a flashback narrated by Nicodemus. One of the articles I found on the movie mentioned the idea of the film being an origin story. This makes me think the first film might be primarily about Nicodemus' story from youth to capture to NIMH to the farm. If this is the case, then we will get to know Jonathan much better than even the book allows us to, setting up his death just before the story of Mrs. Frisby as a much more sorrowful event. While this route might remove much of the mystery of Mrs. Frisby, it will also mean that the audience will be rooting for Jonathan's widow and children from the opening of a film that will follow their story. We will want her to know the truth Jonathan was never able to tell her. We will cheer as she strives to fill a gap in her family she never anticipated would appear.
What do you hope to see in the new NIMH movie? Do you think we'll see something more akin to the book or will MGM take the movie into its own realm like the Don Bluth film before it?