Banjo the Woodpile Cat
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|Banjo the Woodpile Cat|
DVD Film poster
|Directed by||Don Bluth|
|Produced by||Don Bluth
|Written by||Don Bluth (uncredited)
Toby Bluth (uncredited)
|Music by||Robert F. Brunner|
|Edited by||Sam Horta|
|November 16, 1979|
Banjo the Woodpile Cat is a 1979 animated television film directed by Don Bluth. It follows the story of Banjo, an overly curious and rebellious kitten who, after getting into trouble for falling from a house to see if he could land on his feet, runs away from his woodpile home in his owners' farm in Payson, Utah by catching a truck to Salt Lake City. The film took four years to make and it was the first production of Don Bluth Productions, later Sullivan Bluth Studios. It had a short theatrical run in December 1979 (being shown in a few theaters in the Los Angeles area), but did not appear on network television until 1982.
In a woodpile in Payson, Utah, a kitten named Banjo (voiced by Sparky Marcus) decides to chase chickens around. His sisters, Emily and Jean, tell their parents and Banjo's father (voiced by veteran voice actor, Ken Sansom) soon stops him and makes him promise not to do it again. But Banjo continues to be mischievous in many ways. After getting in trouble for jumping off the roof of a chicken coop, Banjo decides to run away from home and hitches a ride on a feed truck to Salt Lake City.
In the city, Banjo finds plenty of excitement, followed by a series of danger. When it begins to rain, he finds shelter in a small can in an alley while thinking about his family and how he misses them. Later, a cat named Crazy Legs (voiced by Scatman Crothers) discovers the lost kitten in the can. They strike up a friendship when Crazy Legs tells Banjo that he can go back the same way he got here. During their search, Crazy Legs and Banjo come to a night club that Crazy Legs is familiar with. Inside, the leader of a singing cat trio, Zazu (voiced by Beah Richards) comes over to Crazy Legs and meets Banjo. When asked if he misses his family, the kitten becomes depressed again. To cheer him up, Crazy Legs and the girls break into a musical number and Banjo joins in. Afterwards, Crazy Legs asks all the cats to look for the truck. Later that night, while searching for the truck, Banjo and Crazy Legs run into a group of dogs who end up chasing them. After a lengthy chase, the pair escape and drive the dogs away by climbing up a series of boxes. The pair arrives at the singing cats' home and get some rest.
The next morning, Banjo wakes up and hears the driver of the truck out in the street. After some rejoice and many goodbyes, Banjo is sad to leave his new found friends. However, Crazy Legs manages to get Banjo on board, before it leaves without him and he gives his final farewell. When the truck arrives home, Banjo leaps off it and reunites with his family.
This film was started as a side project, while Don Bluth was still working at Disney. He invited several other young animators to his house on nights and weekends to discover secrets of animation that he felt had been lost at Disney. Bluth, and animators such as Gary Goldman, felt that Disney were only attempting to reduce the cost of films without paying attention to any artistic values. Eventually he resigned from Disney, along with 17 other animators, to finish this film and begin The Secret of NIMH. That bold walk-out caused a delay in the release of Disney's The Fox and the Hound that was in mid-production at the time. The story is partially based on one of Don Bluth's real-life experiences: Whilst living on a farm, his family's cat, who lived in a woodpile nearby, disappeared, only to return to the farm several weeks later.
During the filming stage, it was considered to become a feature-length film. It included a fleshed-out villain: a scarred, cigar-smoking cat named Rocko, who bears similarities to Warren T. Rat (from An American Tail) and Carface (from All Dogs Go to Heaven). A termite that saves Banjo from a group of young children in Salt Lake City later became Digit in An American Tail. The tone of the film was darker and more akin to All Dogs Go to Heaven, and the climatic battle between Crazy Legs and Rocko was inspired by Disney's The Jungle Book. However, it was found that padding the film and adding darker elements didn't strengthen the storyline, so the filmmakers kept the film as a short.
It was considered to be a Christmas special and would've featured live-action scenes of Sparky Marcus talking to Santa Claus, and the animation had more of a Christmas theme. Don Bluth recalled, "We forced Christmas into it, and it didn't work." However, Crazy Legs briefly wearing the Santa Claus suit, the wintry landscapes, and decorations, are still evident in the final film.
Don Bluth pitched this film, during pre-production, to then-studio head Ron W. Miller, as a future property for Disney. Seeing no value in it, Miller turned it down.
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