Don Bluth (1937-) is an animator and film director.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 main forces in animation alongside Disney. 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, but the competition with Pixar movies deemed to be a little too much.You can read his full biography (up to the early '90s) here. Reviews of his movies in chronological order can be read here.Bluth's various productions include, in approximate chronological order:
The Rescuers: His first animation directing credit for Disney.
Petes Dragon: Lead animator on Elliot. This is said to be the movie that made him disillusioned with Disney and he quit soon after.
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.
He is credited as the director of a short animated film titled Gift of the Hoopoe, but in fact, he was only marginally involved with the film. He drew some of the storyboards for the film and was asked to direct, but turned down the request; the filmmakers credited him anyway, much to his annoyance.
He was in charge of the artistic design of the iPhone game Tapper World Tour.
In recent years, Bluth has slowed down quite a bit, though it may be premature to call him retired. He now resides in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he directs plays in his own theater, the Don Bluth Front Row Theater, and where he teaches animation classes from time to time. His website can be seen here, which includes animation tutorials and a forum in which you might even be able to talk to the man himself.Although he's not as involved in the movie business as he once was, he is in the early stages of planning a film adaptation of Dragon's Lair- though the project is stuck in Development Hell. According to him, the film isn't getting off the ground because Hollywood doesn't see a traditional hand-drawn animated film as marketable.
Tropes associated with Don Bluth Productions Include:
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).
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.
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.
Earn Your Happy Ending: And then some. 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
Fanservice: 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 Scissor Sisters, which has a scene that features the Prince in nothing but his underwear.
In the Dragon's Lair games, Princess Daphne is this, but for a very interesting reason: Bluth apparently had to use poses found in Playboy magazines to use as a model for her animation. This would explain why a lot of her posing is rather... flirtatious for someone being held by a fire-breathing dragon.
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. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are considered his biggest flops.
Parental Abandonment: Littlefoot's mother was slaughtered by Sharptooth, Anne-Marie is an orphan, and Anastasia's whole family was murdered, except for her Grandma who she got separated from, getting amnesia in the process, and ended up in an orphanage for 10 years of her life.
With Banjo the Woodpile Cat and Fievel, these abandonments were self-inflicted. Banjo ran away from home after being sick of constant punishment for getting into trouble, and Fievel was just too curious about the fish that washed up on the boat.
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.
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.
Most of Bluth's films involve a metaphorical or literal journey down to hell. Keep in mind that Bluth is a life-long Mormon, and it's far easier to read Christian themes into his films than it is with comparable Disney films.note Mormon theology doesn't have a comparable hell concept, so this theme may be more to add to the fairy tale atmosphere of some of his older movies
Scenery Porn: Often inverted — Bluth's backgrounds can seem watery and washed-out to non-fans.
For its time (hard emphasis on the "for its time" part), The Land Before Time was one of the most accurate dinosaur movies, at least in the sense that the dinosaurs in question were treated more or less like ordinary animals rather than sci-fi monsters.
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 bęte — 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. note 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.
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.
Of course My Fair Lady-like elements popped up in Anastasia. Witness the "If I can learn to do it" sequence.