Start with a wonderful adaptation of a Newbery Award-winning book, ''Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,'' by Robert C. O'Brien. Then line up some of the best animators in the business, led by Don Bluth, formerly of the Disney Studios. Next, give the characters distinctive voices, including those of Dom DeLuise, Derek Jacobi, and John Carradine. Add evocative music by Oscar-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith, lyricist and singer Paul Williams (''Evergreen''), and the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London. The result is the secret of NIMH's success.
This captivating and uplifting story, released on video in 1983 and recently remastered, centers on the suspenseful odyssey of Mrs. Brisby, a widowed mouse who is the mother of four. Timid and unsure of herself, she pursues a safe haven for her children, encountering several memorable characters, including a fearsome owl, a clumsy, cocky crow, and a crochety but good-hearted shrew. Eventually she enlists the help of a clan of intelligent rats (escapees from an experiment at NIMH, the National Institute of Mental Health) that live in a phantasmagorical cavern. Together they battle to save themselves from hostile forces, including a farmer who wants to plow the field where Mrs. Brisby's hiding her sick babies.
Bluth and his animators, bless them, chose to revive an endangered art form -- classically detailed animation. They drew their characters exquisitely and gave them individual personalities. The entire ensemble -- artists, actors, animals, and musicians -- created something unique: the world's first enjoyable rat race.