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Creator: Don Bluth

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:

  • Robin Hood: His first animation credit.
  • Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too: Animated the scene where Rabbit gets lost in the woods.
  • 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. Mostly animated in Bluth's garage while he and his team were still at Disney, working on it on nights and weekends.
  • 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 Dragons 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. It is considered Don Bluth's worst film by fans (Though it still sports a higher rating on Rotten Totatoes than his following film).
  • The Pebble and the Penguin: A film that was disowned by Bluth himself, because it suffered from abysmal animation, songs that do not advance the plot, lack of originality and lots of Executive Meddling during production. Also notably Don Bluth's lowest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • 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.
  • 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:

  • Auteur License: Went indépendant in an effort to gain one. Sadly, it was not to be.
  • Award Bait Song: Occurs in almost all of his own animated features, and in fact Bluth codified it with "Somewhere Out There" in An American Tail.
  • Black and White Morality: Except in All Dogs Go To Heaven (which is Black and Gray Morality), The Land Before Time (where the antagonist is only acting out of predatory nature), and Titan A.E. (in which the Drej are acting in premptive self-defense, while Corso is a very sympathetic Anti-Villain).
  • 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.
  • Creepy Shadowed Undereyes: Used on almost every villain in his movies.
  • Cute Little Fangs
  • Darker and Edgier: His darker works from The Eighties compared to Disney at the time.
    • Which is saying something, when you consider the movies Disney put out in the 80's (The Little Mermaid excluded).
    • Anastasia is his only dark movie of The Nineties, from what you can tell where one scene has Big Bad Rasputin selling his soul and turning into a skeleton for a brief moment.
    • Titan A.E., which actually got a PG-rating, while all of the previous ones got a G.
    • His own storytelling philosophy is that it doesn't matter how dark a story is; if it has a happy ending, kids will be able to take it.
  • Disney Acid Sequence
  • Disney Death
  • Disney School of Acting and Mime
  • Disney Villain Death
  • 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: 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.
    • A Ho Yay example in the Rapunzel animation he made for Scissor Sisters would be 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.
    • Masterfully averted with The Secret Of NIMH, where none of the characters, especially the lead female one, are deliberately sexualized in any way as a means of keeping complete focus on the drama. Though Justin appearently was designed to be somewhat handsome, according to production notes.
  • 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. Perhaps not coincidentally, these are considered his biggest flops.
  • Love at First Sight: A trait of some of Bluth's projects. In The Secret Of NIMH, there is an implied attraction between Mrs. Brisby and Justin, but it doesn't go much further than that. Played more straight with Tony Toponi and Bridget in An American Tail, Goldie and Chanticleer in Rock-A-Doodle, Thumbelina and Prince Cornelius, as well as Hubie and Marina in The Pebble and the Penguin.
    • Two exceptions are Anya and Dmitri in Anastasia and the leads in Titan A.E., who both detest each other at the start.
  • Nice Mice: Probably the only exception in any of his movies would be Ms. Field Mouse from Thumbelina, and even then she's just a bit of a Jerk Ass. Plenty of villainous rats in his work though
  • Obviously Evil: Most of his villains.
  • 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, 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, Warren T. Rat to Carface or Ms. Shrew, Carface to Gnorga,and Jenner to Drake.
  • 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.
    • And then there's Titan A.E., where the entire planet Earth is blown up within the first fifteen minutes, leading some fans to call it the "ultimate Don Bluth parental abandonment movie".
  • Punch Clock Villain: Killer in All Dogs Go to Heaven, Hunch in Rock-A-Doodle, and Llort in A Troll in Central Park. And they're all voiced by Charles Nelson Reilly.
  • 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.
    • 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 
  • Scenery Porn: Often inverted — Bluth's backgrounds can seem watery and washed-out to non-fans.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Hugely averted in a vast majority of his works, even A Troll in Central Park. For instance, look at the demon cat Dragon compared to the size of Brisby in The Secret Of NIMH.
  • Shown Their Work: The YouTube user OriginalGagBonkerss made a video that talks about the works of Bluth.
    • 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.
  • 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. The fact that one gets blown to pieces on-screen in his final film shows that even he started to get sick of them after a while.
  • Start My Own: Bluth's animation studios after he left Disney but before he joined Fox Animation.