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Artwork copyright (c) 1982 Aurora Productions; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall


Epic, brilliant animation scoring

Jerry Goldsmith was going through a purple patch when he scored The Secret of NIMH in 1982 - in the year before and after it, he scored (among others) Outland, Masada, The Final Conflict, Inchon, First Blood, Poltergeist, Night Crossing, Twilight Zone: The Movie and Under Fire - an unbelievable roster of classic scores, surely the most impressive three years of any film composer's career, ever.

The Secret of NIMH was a first - a Goldsmith score for animation.  The fortunes of Disney were still in the doldrums at the time, and former Disney animator Don Bluth decided to go independent - and this was the first film that he made by himself.  Based on "Mrs Brisby and the Rats of NIMH" (or, amusingly, "Mrs Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH" if you believe the packaging) by Robert C. O'Brien, the film tells of a family of mice who are threatened by spring ploughing where they live.

Animation has typically proved one of the most difficult areas for the film composer, but also produced some fine results; Goldsmith was a trailblazer in just about everything to do with film music as we know it today, but one of the most important things he did was that he was the first composer to score an animation as if it were a live action film, that is to say, to eschew the Mickey Mousing that had traditionally accompanied these things and rely instead on giving the picture a real dramatic core.  The approach was, of course, brilliant, and that's the way that most animated films are being scored to this day.

This is one huge, epic score - hardly surprising when you look at the list of scores that surrounded it - each of them brilliant.  In the 1960s, 70s, late 80s and beyond, Goldsmith used generally pretty sparse, tight orchestration, but he went through a phase during the early 1980s of really embellishing his music with the rich sound of the full orchestra.  The Secret of NIMH is a prime example, joined as well by a large choir for some huge set-piece cues.  The opening, memorable theme is a lovely lullaby, highly attractive, later given lyrics by Paul Williams and heard in two vocal versions, one performed by Williams himself, the other by Sally Stevens.  In neither case does the vocalist really do the beautiful song justice.

There are some tracks of really thrilling action, none finer than "Allergic Reaction / Athletic Type", the second cue, a really thrilling piece.  The first half of the album generally alternates between action music like that, or variations on the two main themes, the lullaby and a slightly comic piece for oboe.  After Williams's version of the song, the score moves into slightly darker territory, with some choral writing not too far from Poltergeist for the scarier sections of the movie, along with a couple of soaring, jubliant versions of the main theme, in "No Thanks" and "Flying High".

The Secret of NIMH is a score of amazing detail and such rich melody, it is no exaggeration to count it among Goldsmith's finest.  Certainly the best score written for an animation at the time - and probably only the same composer's Mulan would threaten to dislodge it from that throne.  The score's been released twice, on Varese Sarabande and TER Records, with identical content.  Whichever version you find, you will have an album to cherish. 

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  1. Main Title (3:13)
  2. Allergic Reaction / Athletic Type (2:40)
  3. Flying Dreams Sally Stevens (3:15)
  4. The Tractor (2:58)
  5. The Sentry Reel / The Story of NIMH (6:03)
  6. Escape from NIMH / In Disguise (4:58)
  7. Flying Dreams Paul Williams (3:21)
  8. Step Inside My House (4:40)
  9. No Thanks (2:01)
  10. Moving Day (7:57)
  11. The House Raising (4:33)
  12. Flying High (2:38)