The Rats of NIMH Are Coming to Horrify a New Generation of Children

Fox wants to turn Robert O’Brien’s original NIMH book trilogy into an animated TV event.

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A still from the animated Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH featuring Mrs. Frisby in her red cloak standing in front of the bearded Nicodemus with his eyes glowing.
Mrs. Frisby and a rat of NIMH.
Screenshot: MGM

If you’re of a certain age, just the name of the 1982 animated film The Secret of NIMH is enough to fill you with a certain amount of dread, even if you can’t remember exactly why. Luckily for you—and those younger generations who haven’t been scarred by the tale of a mouse widow who must protect her young family from cats, horrific threshing machines due to wreck their home, and the colony of rats given super-intelligence by cruel scientific experiments—you can learn the true secrets of NIMH as Fox has ordered an adaptation to bolster its adult animation fare.

NIMH, which seems to be its working title, will be based on Robert O’Brien’s 1971 book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and possibly its two sequels Rasco and the Rats of NIMH and R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH, written by O’Brien’s daughter Jane Leslie Conly after his death. According to Deadline, Fox—already home to animated series Bob’s Burgers, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and more—has already issued a script commitment for the series, but has yet to hire a writer. What’s weird here is that this “event series” is about Fox’s adult animation goals. Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn said, “We love our family shows, they’re iconic, but we’re looking to go beyond family and start to explore things that are more dramatic.”

But the Rats of NIMH books are very, very much intended for young adult audiences. In fact, Mrs. Frisby was arguably tamer than Don Bluth’s 1982 movie, which really played up the horror of the experiments being conducted on the rats by the titular National Institute of Mental Health. Any “adult” version feels like it would have to play that up even more, although to be fair there’s plenty more to explore, especially given that it’s based on the very real, very distressing experimentation on “mouse and rat population dynamics” by John B. Calhoun at the real-life NIMH.

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In 2019, the Russo brothers of MCU fame were reportedly going to executive-produce a live-action remake of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH for MGM, which the studio had announced back in 2015. There’s no word on how this new adaptation may affect the former, but there’s also no guarantee Fox’s version will ever get made, either. We shall see.

Correction 9/9/2021, 2:58 p.m. ET: A previous version of the article misnamed the NIMH researcher as John C. Calhoun.

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