Saturday, August 1, 2009

Artifacts of our Childhood #1: The Secret of NIMH

In recent years, it has been my goal to restore as many of my memories from my early childhood to my early teens (or, from kindergarten to middle school). What this primarily means is that there were a LOT of cartoons I saw on television, on home video tapes, and occasionally in theaters- as well as a good deal of comic books, children's books, food, and various locations I would often visit.

Why is this? Well, like anyone who's had more than small talk with me would know, my two seemingly eternal years in middle school were a hellhouse of terrors. I'm sure many of you fellow nerds can relate. I was lucky to escape into Christian homeschool for the third year of middle school and the entirety of high school, and my life has been improving ever since. Nevertheless, those miserable days in middle school had a lasting effect on the both of us- besides the emotional and psychological scarring, I mean. In particular for me, the one known as Typhlosion or Fatal hilarity, all that desperation and gloom and bitterness and most of all my focus on surviving made me forget a lot of things.

What I mainly forgot was the things I liked as a kid- what I watched on TV mostly. I realized what a shame this was soon after graduating high school, because not only did these things make me happy as a kid, they shaped my imagination and therefore my artistic development, and even shaped my worldview and philosophy. It was no accident that my mom had me watch Leave it to Beaver. My memories of these things had become fuzzy, and so I had inadvertently detached myself from what influenced, informed, and practically created my art style. So I'm now determined to restore my memories by seeing these things once more by buying DVDs, whether they were official or not, and watching online videos of them. Luckily most of what I read has remained in our home.

Oddly enough, most of my art from before high school was centered around our obsessions at the time, such as Calvin & Hobbes, Pokémon, and Harry Potter. Most of the time these cartoons and movies didn't directly inspire my art until recently, and it's difficult to infer such things in our early work. Sometimes a cartoon wouldn't influence me at all, and only now do you see it effect my art in any way! Still, what went on in my head was closely tied to it all.

Other memories involved experiences rather than popular media, like restaurants. In fact, most of my happy memories that didn't involve television involved food instead. For instance, out of sheer coincidence, my brother and I just bought some ice cream from an actual slow-moving ice cream truck. I didn't get one of those bubblegum-eyed franchise character bars, but it was still something I don't think I've done since public school.

Now that I've blathered on about what motivates these articles, and I've said pretty much the same thing to many people several times now, I suppose I really should get on with it now. Shall we actually discuss the title subject? What say you?

[caption id="attachment_74" align="alignnone" width="424" caption="The NIMH fansite Thorn Valley says I can do whatever I want with these..."]The NIMH fansite Thorn Valley says I can do whatever I want with these...[/caption]

Ah, The Secret of NIMH. How you disturbed me. And yet I was fascinated by you enough to let you warp my mind and give me a twisted imagination.

I couldn't have been much older than seven or eight when I first watched this on VHS at my dad's house. And yet it had everything you normally don't let kids see: blood, violence, murder, sharp pointy objects, nudity, cruel animal mistreatment, and even a swear word! Some of my favorite moments are when a bunch of rats are squirming in agony against a nightmarish psychedelic background with heart-pounding music, and when one of the characters gets stabbed in the stomach with a dagger. There's blood, of course.

I guess you could say it served the same role as Grimm's Fairy Tales did for previous generations.

Mrs. Brisby, quite possibly my first cartoon crush, was the center of it all. She was smaller and far more vulnerable than most of the other characters, and her warbling voice made it sound like she was nervous or scared most of the time. And who wouldn't be, when you're surrounded by darkness, strange glowing lights and cobwebs all around, with seemingly sentient skulls and flowers and intimidating larger predators? There's almost a steampunk feel to the makeshift technology cluttering the rosebush where the rats live.

Childish fear of the dark and the unexplainable? Check.

Scary, scruffy, sharp-toothed, monster-like critters? Check.

Classical horror atmosphere? Check.

Mrs. Brisby plays another role, since I always found her kind of pretty in a strange way. This is epitomized when she's trapped in a cage in one scene without any clothes on (although admittedly she only wore a red cape), and at one point scraped her arm/foreleg, making it bleed. The moment when the Stone's burning, fiery power surges through her, causing her momentary pain, blew my mind completely.

Cute, cuddly talking animals, with which I associate aesthetic beauty? Check.

Strange obsession with bleeding? Check.

Intense, passionate emotion and feelings? Check.

So what have we learned today, children?

At the very core of my art style dwells the looming presence of talking animals, beauty, old-school horror, psychedelic dreamscapes, pathos, traditional animation, and the darker side to just about everything. There's one more huge chunk that this film doesn't cover, though: Music. I owe that to The Beatles.

But that's for another time.

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