Friday, October 15, 2021

Green Phoenix - Random Fanfiction Idea: The Secret of NIMH/Planet of the Apes

Before we begin the article, I have an announcement to make regarding the release of these articles. Starting next week and occurring roughly every 8 weeks or so (not including my month long vacations), I will be taking a week long mental health break from article writing.

The last two years have shown that my consistent article writing has been taking a severe toll on my mental health and affecting the quality of the articles that I bring to you all. With that in mind, it is my hope that these break weeks can be used to recuperate and use any build up of articles, building up articles without the fear of releasing one that week, and focusing on other projects and personal obligations without worrying about disappointing my readers.

Again, these will occur roughly every eight weeks or so starting next week, though that is not inherently a given as my break weeks will have to fit around my vacations as well. It is my genuine hope that these breaks will ensure a continued quality of articles and minimize the possibility of burnout.

Now with news out of the way, let's move on to the weirdest article topic that I've probably ever written.


Now, I know what you're thinking when you read that title. This is absolutely the weirdest title for an article this dude has ever written. And the fact of the matter is is that you're not entirely wrong. I began my writing and review career by looking at either movies through my Phoenix 8 Productions work or fanfiction through my The Brony Critic channel. As a result, I have developed a deep respect and love for the artistry of fanfiction writing.

Fanfiction occupies a controversial sphere in our modern media. Utilizing already established intellectual properties to create unofficial content of unregulated quality might at first seem deeply troubling and rife with low quality trash, an assumption that at first glance might not be entirely inaccurate.

However, I also hold that fanfiction represents a unique field for practice and creative exploration for writers, allowing writers to skip some of the more difficult and laborious aspects of world-building in favor of focusing more directly on capturing the feel of a character or exposing the narrative strengths of a particular concept. Or simply using a existing property as a framework to enhance the world-building to a much higher degree.

Through this mindset, I have also begun working on various fanfiction ideas from time to time. In fact, I oftentimes have far too many to ever reasonably be able to work on them in any great capacity. But I still want others to hear about my story concepts, even if I never write it myself. So to that end, I decided to create a subset of my editorial segments as sort of a cross between the Building Better Backstories series and the free-form nature of the Let's Talk... articles; thus the creation of the Random Fanfiction Idea, or RFI.

For our first outing of RFI, I decided that we should discuss an idea that I got while watching Don Bluth's 1982 animated classic The Secret of NIMH.  The idea is fairly simple but possesses a fantastic narrative and thematic connection that could lead to a bunch of drama.

What if you wrote a fanfiction sequel to The Secret of NIMH inspired by the modern Planet of the Apes franchise? That is, what if you wrote a series of fanfiction's showing how the evolution of mouse and rat society eventually supplants human culture as a result of our own societal defects and systemic issues?

Based on the 1971 children's novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien, Don Bluth's 1982 classic The Secret of NIMH has garnered a reputation as one of the greatest animated films of all time, easily ranking near the top of many people's personal favorites. And for a very good reason.
The story of Mrs. Brisby and her quest to save her family and home with the help of a society of super-intelligent rats is filled with moments of incredible animation and deeply compelling storytelling. With themes regarding the nature of intelligence, the cross between nature, science, and mythology, the power of love and the dangers of science; alongside a subtext regarding the cruelties of animal testing, The Secret of NIMH helped to put Bluth's name on the map as one of the premiere animators of the 20th century.

It was then followed up by the 1998 direct-to-VHS sequel The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue which was just...disgustingly awful. Like seriously. The sequel to Don Bluth's magnum opus nearly destroyed everything that made that first film so amazing, in favor of stupid jokes and bad musical numbers; as well as a thoroughly unlikable protagonist that makes Taran from The Black Cauldron look like a character out of the Godfather. This utter disappointment from the sequel has always made me think about where exactly the narrative presented in The Secret of NIMH could've gone had I been responsible for the future of the franchise.
Thinking on this topic, my mind turned to the world of fanfiction for answers and I realized that the answer in my mind could be found in the narrative and thematic similarities with another franchise that I have also grown to absolutely adore. The rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, in my mind, presents a fascinating exploration for where to explore the rats of NIMH and their society's evolution in the face of humanity. Thus the impetus for this article.

The poster says the title of the film on a black background with one of the apes' faces filling the letters. This also includes release information and credits.
The rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise presents the viewer with a world where humanity's place as the dominant species on the planet has been supplanted by the rise of intelligent primates and the systemic societal flaws created by humanity's own hubris and the overreach of science when coupled with human greed and ambition.
The tale of Caesar and his development in the face of humanity's inhumanity is a deeply compelling tale that manages to also present the fall of humanity as a tragedy, even as our primate protagonists are on the rise. It has quickly become a cornerstone of American science fiction and apocalyptic fiction alongside the original franchise and would seem to be completely isolated from the tale of fantasy and magical whimsy that is presented by The Secret of NIMH. And yet, I would state that at the heart of each franchise lies the nugget of the same central thematic tenet that enables a mixed story to become incredibly fun to write.

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar's intelligence is the result of genetic experimentation by humans in order to uncover a cure of Alzheimer's. However the experiments are rushed and side-effects are not considered in the name of greed and the film's protagonists need to cure his ailing father, and this results in the proliferation of a deadly plague which not only wipes out most of humanity but also increases the intelligence in primates, which we see become more prominent as the series goes forward.

Likewise, the rats of NIMH are the byproduct of animal testing conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, a very real organization that inspired author Robert C. O'Brien with an actual group rat population dynamic experiments. The experiments in the book and film grant the rats incredible intellectual capacities, being able to read and build technological marvels, and even being able to perform abilities that seem almost like magic. In my mind, it would only take a single leap to continue this line of thinking into a sequel born in the spirit of Planet of the Apes.

At the end of The Secret of NIMH, the rats flee the farmer's rosebush for a new society isolated from humanity called Thorn Valley. In The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue, we see this new society but the film never really capitalizes on it and thus the entire enterprise feels incredibly underwhelming. The sequel manages to squander any goodwill the original film created by destroying the legacy of the original creation. It also makes the character of Timmy, who should be something of a compelling character on the simple basis that he was the motivating factor for the entire first film and directly lead to the founding of Thorn Valley, into a generic and unlikable messianic character of prophecy.
So I would love to see a storyline perhaps seeing how the rats deal with their society evolving, perhaps coming into conflict with various human groups. Some humans could even be allies, playing into the theme of not all humans being bad and working with the more mystical and fantastical elements from the NIMH universe, since Nicodemus was very clearly capable of performing magic at various points in the film. Have the rats communicating with these humans for support and aid, only to have more corrupt and antagonistic humans forcing war upon the rats. Maybe the process which created the intelligent mice and rats begins expanding into other animals as well and humans are taking notice and reacting to what they perceive as simple pests. If we wanted to take a queue from War for the Planet of the Apes, perhaps the process that caused the rat's intelligence could also lead to a global plague in humans. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that rats were at the center of a massive plague.
Maybe a series of fanfiction stories can develop, eventually leading to more and more complex technologies for the rodents to use, shifting the story farther and farther into science fiction. I can honestly imagine the rats redesigning remote control airplanes to do dogfights with human soldiers. Yes, silly but also kind of awesome in an underdog sort of way. Or allying with other newly intelligent animals like dogs and maybe even the rats most ancient enemy, cats, to fight back against humans that would wipe them all out.

And after the humans fall, the various animals of the world, now intelligent, being warring with one another. A war between cats and rodents, dogs roaming the wastes of human civilization as allies to the mice. It's all ridiculous but if the concept is played straight and given the right emotional tones, it could be a lot of fun.

All of this because I notice a lot of underlying similarities in the general narrative structure that could lead to a potentially silly, but also interesting "crossover" fanfiction idea. Keeping the world of NIMH intact, but exploring it through the lens of the Planet of the Apes franchise gives a unique opportunity to further flesh out the world of Mrs. Brisby and the Rats of NIMH, tell a potentially compelling story of animal cruelty and the failings of humanity, and show the audience a fun world-building exercise to see how a society of small rodents would have to function in order to survive.

Once again, this is really just a general idea that I had roaming through my head. Whether it gets explored on my end is really uncertain, perhaps if I ever feel like fleshing it out further. I just wanted to talk about an idea rolling around in my head for a fun fanfiction idea and felt like sharing it. Maybe someone else can do something with this idea that I can get behind.

If you do create something from this idea, feel free to send me a link to look at it further. I love fanfiction and enjoy giving my perspective to others on a subject that frankly deserves a lot more respect that it receives.

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