Wow, a throwback publicity still, with Don and child-actress, Shannen Doherty, taken a couple of months before the release of The Secret of N.I.M.H. in July of 1982. That would make this month the 34th anniversary of NIMH’s debut in theaters. Seems like forever, and at the same time, seems like yesterday. Shannen had just turned 11 before this photo. She had already received TV screen credits as a child actor, but NIMH would be her first feature film screen credit and maybe her only animated film credit. She was a trooper, delivering her lines easily and without multiple ’takes’. All the child-actors did great. We had a 30 month schedule and a release date for late July, early August and a tight budget of just over six million dollars. It was a labor of love with a great, small crew. There was a total of 100 in-house background artists, animators, character and effects animation assistants and inbetweeners, character key cleanup artists, cleanup breakdown and in-between artists, animation checkers, camera operators, Color model artists, Inkers, a single paint lab technician, Xerox camera operators, production assistants, plus 45 cel painters picking up prepared cels, with Xeroxed images of the line art. Plus, some inking for color detail of the iris of the eyes and registration to props and areas of the backgrounds & overlays for each scene with a corresponding palette of paints to accommodate the cel painting task.
As you may or may not know the film was based on a 1972 Newbery award winning book entitled Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. There was no script yet. Starting in mid-January, Don wrote an outline for the story and would then write 2 pages of script every night and bring the pages in for Gary and John to critique and add or make changes. Eventually Will Finn, a fledgeling animation inbetweener, showed a skill for writing, and asked if he could take a stab at writing a sequence of dialogue for Dom DeLuis’s character Jeremy the Crow, specifically where Mrs. Brisby meets Jeremy for the first time. When we read it, all agreed that Will should write all of the sequences with Jeremy. Will had shown us his keen sense of humor and more. When you read his dialogue, it felt like Dom’s dialogue. Oh! You may have noticed the mention of “Mrs. Brisby”. It was something our executive producers at Aurora felt could be an major issue with the Wham-o company and their Trade Marked “Frisbee” (the flying disk we play with). The executives explained that it could be a problem. We asked why. They explained the protection of a Trade Mark prevented other companies from using the same name or similar sounding name. We argued that the name, Frisby, in and on the front page title of the book. Plus it was spelled different and Wham-o didn’t go after the author or the publisher when the book came out in 1971. But they sent a letter to Wham-o anyway, asking for permission to use the name in the movie. They were declined!! So they insisted that we change her name. We had already recorded John Carradine and Dom DeLuis who’s dialogue included Mrs. Frisby’s name, and to record them again would affect the recording budget. The sound designer, David Horton, suggested changing the name to Brisby, close to Frisby in sound, and that he could change it by copying a “B” sound off any words starting with “B” from the other actors dialogue and replacing the “F” of Frisby with the “B” sound…and it worked. Yeah! However, being made to change it at all was embarrassing, and frustrating, because in the end it wasn’t necessary. Oh well, it’s been that way for the past 34 years. It time to forgive and forget. Happy 34th Anniversary to The Secret of NIMH.