Don Bluth (born 1937) is a former Disney animator to whom many a 1980s (and to a lesser extent 1990s) child owes much of their childhood.
Much as current CG animated movies tend to exist in the public mind as "either Pixar or Dreamworks Animation", his works were considered one of the two the main forces in animation alongside Disney Animated Canon. Bluth films are well-known for gorgeous character and effects animation and for a strong sense of fairy tale storytelling—and all that entails. His films tend to be darker (thematically and literally) than the standard Disney fare. They also overall tend to be much, much stranger. Even his not-so-good movies have a cult audience, thanks to their crazy fever-dream logic and the fact that the animation is still really pretty.
Before he started directing, his first animation contribution was as an assistant on Sleeping Beauty. He would also assist on The Sword in the Stone, and would take a brief foray into TV projects (on such fare as Filmation's Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down? and Sabrina and The Groovie Goolies (!)) before returning to Disney for Robin Hood in 1973. He also animated sequences in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (most notably, the scene where Rabbit is lost in the woods). But after working on things like Pete's Dragon, he became disillusioned with the direction in which Disney seemed to be going without Walt. He and a few animator friends struck out on their own to form their own independent studio.
Their goal was to remind Disney, and people in general, what painstakingly attentive hand-drawn animation could do. For a considerable amount of time, film-goers liked his films better than the movies Disney was putting out in the '80s. Miffed by the competition, Disney started treating their own animated films more seriously. In other words, Bluth himself is largely responsible for the Western Animation Renaissance!
Though, sadly, he couldn't really enjoy it. His films couldn't compete with Disney's juggernaut hits, and were lost in the overcrowded "all the animation that isn't by Disney" market. For a while in the '90s, it looked like he was ready for a comeback—and then a little studio in Emeryville, California, soon to also be known for gorgeous animation and offbeat but heartwarming stories, came along and changed the playing field forever...
Bluth's various productions include, in approximate chronological order
- The Rescuers: His first animation directing credit for Disney.
- Pete's Dragon: Lead animator on Elliot. This is said to be the movie that made him disillusioned with Disney and he quit soon after.
- The Small One: His last official project with Disney.
- Banjo the Woodpile Cat: Started as a Christmas Special and was made sort of to prove Bluth's crew could create an animated film on their own.
- The animated musical number in Xanadu.
- The Secret of NIMH: His first push for a return to the rich, classical style of the older Disney films, and his Breakthrough Hit. Many fans and critics still consider this his best film.
- The Dragon's Lair game series, largely kicking off the Interactive Movie genre.
- Space Ace, another Interactive Movie, being Dragon's Lair IN SPACE!
- An American Tail: The first film he did alongside Steven Spielberg, and it was a huge financial success.
- The Land Before Time: Also produced alongside Spielberg and George Lucas, making even more money than their previous collaboration.
- All Dogs Go to Heaven: Still highly regarded for the most part, but didn't do too well at the box office. To be fair, the other animated film released that day was The Little Mermaid...
- Rock-a-Doodle: Considered a Jump the Shark film by most fans.
- Thumbelina: It is Bluth's most stereotypically-Disney-like film prior to Anastasia.
- A Troll in Central Park: A film which sadly alienated fans and non-fans alike due to it tasting like diabetes.
- The Pebble and the Penguin: A film that was disowned by Bluth himself, because it suffered from abysmal animation and lots of Executive Meddling during production.
- Anastasia: Intended to be his big comeback and was marketed as such. To date, his last big hit.
- Bartok the Magnificent: Direct-to-DVD, continuity-free sequel to the above and—this is important—the only sequel to one of his films he was ever actually involved with.
- Titan A.E.: Failed at the box office but has since become a cult favorite.
- An animated music video loosely retelling the story of Rapunzel, set to "Mary" by the Scissor Sisters.
- And he seems to have vanished off the face of the Earth.
- As of 2009, his name was attached to a short animated film titled Gift of the Hoopoe (there isn't much information about this short available online, but you can view the storyboards here). It turns out Bluth drew those boards and was asked to direct the film but declined. The production has him still credited as director anyway, much to Bluth's consternation.
- He also has intentions to start up a Dragon's Lair prequel detailing the backstories of the main cast. So there is some hope.
He is rumored to have a film tentatively planned (between 2010 to 2015) that will be an adaptation of the Dragon's Lair video games produced by Bluth in 1983, though sadly this is stuck in Development Hell. It's extremely sad to think that the reason he can't get it off the ground is because Hollywood doesn't see a traditional hand-drawn animated film as marketable.
Currently Bluth has taken to teaching animation. His website can be seen here, which includes tutorials and a forum in which you might even be able to talk to the man himself.
Tropes associated with Don Bluth Productions Include
- All Animation Is Disney: The most prominent victim of this trope. He started with Disney before going independent, so it's only natural. And of course, it didn't help that he attempted a Disney-esque flavor with later films such as Thumbelina and Anastasia. But his films became Disney clones because that's what studio heads wanted. That happens when you aren't in creative control of your own movies, unfortunately.
- Award Bait Song
- Black and White Morality: Except in All Dogs Go To Heaven (which is Black and Gray Morality).
- Blue Eyes: Any of the protagonists have that color of eyes, most notably, Fievel.
- Break the Cutie: Anytime there's a cute, young protagonist, expect terrible things to happen to them before the end in most of Bluth's movies.
- Carnivore Confusion
- Cats Are Mean: Written in giant, neon letters. There are but three notable exceptions: Banjo the Woodpile Cat, of course, and the nice cat characters in both An American Tail and Rock-a-Doodle.
- On the other hand, dogs don't come off well in Bluth's work eithier (see Charlie and Carface - especially Carface - in All Dogs Go To Heaven and the vicious dogs who briefly chase the protagonists in Banjo The Woodpile Cat and A Troll In Central Park).
- Cherubic Choir: Used in nearly every one of his films.
- Covers Always Lie: The DVD covers to his films always use sub-par stock art and make the movie look far more cutesy than it really is. One of the worst victims, aside from the aforementioned "Family Fun Edition" of NIMH (perhaps better known for this because it has a more vocal fanbase), would have to be the cover of An American Tail, which shows Tanya as she appears in Fievel Goes West, a movie Bluth didn't even direct. And depending on which edition of the DVD it is, a lot of very minor background characters made it onto the cover, for whatever reason. Because the original VHS cover done by Drew Struzan apparently wasn't good enough anymore.
- Creator Breakdown: Heavy Executive Meddling attributed to the failures of Thumbelina, The Pebble and the Penguin, and A Troll in Central Park. It has been said that the overall crappiness of these films is due to their being the result of the studio heads asking Bluth to tone down his trademark weirdness.
- Cute Little Fangs
- Darker and Edgier: His darker works from The Eighties compared to Disney at the time.
- Anastasia is his only dark movie of The Nineties, from what you can tell where one scene has a man turning into a skeleton after being skinned alive by Rasputin's magic.
- Titan A.E., which actually got a PG-rating, while all of the previous ones got a G.
- Development Hell: As mentioned above, the Dragon's Lair film is in this. But according to this user who spoke with Gary Goldman. Gary has stated that one studio was very favorable, while the other studio was looking for something younger audience. The studio that was interested in distributing in the film if the film got made.
- Disney Acid Sequence
- Disney Death
- Disney School of Acting and Mime
- Disney Villain Death
- Doing It for the Art: Bluth basically lives by this trope, though sometimes to the point where quality animation takes priority over plot (true of Banjo the Woodpile Cat and his 90's films). Also true of Banjo is that he never really expected to make money off it, it was a side project created out of his garage during his time off while he still had a day job at Disney.
- Down on the Farm: In Banjo the Woodpile Cat, The Secret of NIMH and Rock-a-Doodle. Possibly a case of Write What You Know because Bluth grew up on a farm; this is definitely the case with Banjo, which was based on a childhood pet who got lost and later found his way back.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: In a lot of his films, this is probably the only thing that keeps his audiences from walking away severely depressed.
- Evil Is Hammy: The Grand Duke from Rock-A-Doodle and the beetles from Thumbelina. All Bluth films listed above from A Troll In Central Park to Bartok the Magnificent use this trope too.
- Evil Sorcerer: Mordroc from Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp, The Grand Duke from Rock-A-Doodle, Gnorga from A Troll In Central Park, and Rasputin from Anastasia
- Fan Service: In pretty much all of his works that have a female love interest, whether human or animal, she's never anything less than above average in the hotness department.
- In the Rapunzel animation he made for Scizzor Sisters, which has a scene that features the Prince in nothing but his underwear.
- Follow the Leader: Thumbelina and Anastasia were pretty blatant attempts to copy the Disney formula.
- Furries Are Easier to Draw: But then again, Titan A.E. and Anastasia both had very well-animated humans as main characters (humans were usually simply rotoscoped in his earlier films).
- Titan A.E. also used a significant amount of rotoscoping.
- Furry Fandom: "Everyone is Furry for Justin."
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: If a character smokes in one of his movies, expect them to be a villain.
- Gray Rain of Depression: First appears in Banjo the Woodpile Cat, and the scene of a little lost animal crying in the rain is replicated almost identically in An American Tail.
- Happily Ever After
- Humans Are Bastards: The scientists at the eponymous institute in The Secret of NIMH. It doesn't really crop up much elsewhere, most humans are usually just ignorant in his other movies with animal protagonists.
- Instant Index, Just Add Water: Water and related tropes are featured extremely prominently in his five first movies; in each of these there is at least one rain sequence, one under water sequence (there is even a specific under water musical theme in The Land Before Time), scenery where water is featured profusely (a watermill, a rusting cargo, sewers, docks…), several dramatic sequences and/or a climax involving water more or less directly…
- Lighter and Softer: "Rock-a-Doodle", "Thumbelina", "A Troll In Central Park", and "The Pebble and the Penguin" compared to the last 4 movies before them.
- Nice Mice: Probably the only exception in any of his movies would be Ms. Field Mouse from Thumbelina. Plenty of villainous rats in his work though.
- Only Six Faces: While his films aren't too bad about this, if you really pay attention a lot of his characters have similar facial features, body types and mannerisms. For example, compare Fievel to Edmond, Banjo the Woodpile Cat to Martin Brisby, Jacquimo to Henri, [[[Western Animation]]/[[[The Secret of NIMH]] The Great Owl]] to The Grand Duke of Owls, one of the Duke's owl henchmen in the chorus (the one with the green cape, NOT Hunch!) to Rocko and Warren T. Rat to Carface or Ms. Shrew.
- Parental Abandonment: Littlefoot's mother was slaughtered by Sharptooth, Anne-Marie is an orphan, and Anastasia got separated, getting amnesia in the process, and ended up in an orphanage for 10 years of her life. With Banjo the Woodpile Cat and Fievel it was mostly their own fault they were abandoned.
- Production Posse: Don Bluth was always followed by Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy, and the three had left Disney at the same time to start Bluth's independent animation studio. Among the actors normally cast, Dom De Luise was a regular.
- Punch Clock Villain: Three of his movies have these. And they're all voiced by Charles Nelson Reilly.
- Reclusive Artist: It would seem that he's become this since after Titan A.E., aside from giving tutorials on his site that is.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Nearly all the animal character designs.
- Rotoscoping: Bluth likes to do this a lot, but he usually sticks with using it to animate difficult vehicles and such. The effect is very appropriate, as the giant rotoscoped machines in NIMH and American Tail look terrifying. In more recent movies, this effect was largely replaced by Conspicuous CGI and the impact is... less good. Human background characters in The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail were also rotoscoped, though non-rotoscoped humans appear in later movies.
- Rule of Symbolism: Another common motif is characters unwillingly sliding, tumbling down or being washed away by water or wind. This is never played for the comedic effect; these sequences are always dramatic, as they emphasize the loss of control of the characters.
- Scenery Porn: Often inverted—Bluth's backgrounds can seem watery and washed-out to non-fans.
- Shown Their Work: The youtube user OriginalGagBonkerss made a video that talks about the works of Bluth.
- Small Annoying Creature: A stock character that shows up in his works to lighten the mood. Examples include Digit in An American Tail, Petrie in The Land Before Time, Hunch from Rock-a-Doodle and Bartok from Anastasia.
- Start My Own: Bluth's animation studios after he left Disney but before he joined Fox Animation.
- What Could Have Been:
- In the late Eighties, Bluth was working on a project which, from surviving stills, would have been heavily influenced by Jean Cocteau's 1946 La belle et la bête—an Animated Adaptation of Beauty and The Beast. When he learned that the Disney version was already being produced, he abandoned the project, wishing to avoid Dueling Movies.
- When 20th Century Fox hired Don Bluth to direct an animated movie for them, they gave him a choice between an Animated Adaptation of My Fair Lady, or Marcelle Maurette's Anastasia. Bluth picked the latter.
- After the success of The Secret of NIMH, Bluth's second film was originally supposed to have been an adaptation of the fairy tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", but it never came to fruition because financial resources were drawn back. After teaming up with Steven Spielberg, Bluth's second film instead turned out to be An American Tail.
- Bluth was going to work on Fievel Goes West, but Creative Differences made him walk out on making it.
- ↑ Depends on how one defines "heavily influenced" the very few story and character tidbits Bluth revealed about this treatment included a clairvoyant dog, a bird detective, an escape-artist lizard, the "King of the Bats", the "wee beasties", and "Queen Livia, herself"...most elements seem to have been of his own invention.