||The lead section of this article may need to be rewritten. (March 2013)|
Don Bluth, 2006
|Born||Donald Virgil Bluth
September 13, 1937
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
|Occupation||Film Director, producer
Co-founder of Sullivan Bluth Studios and Fox Animation Studios
|Known for||Various animation work with Walt Disney Animation Studios and other companies.|
|Religion||The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints|
Donald Virgil "Don" Bluth (born September 13, 1937) is an American animator, film director, producer, writer, production designer, video game designer and independent studio owner who is known for his departure from The Walt Disney Company in 1979 and his subsequent directing of animated films such as The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), and Anastasia (1997), and his involvement in the laserdisc game Dragon's Lair. He is also known for competing with Disney during the years leading up to the films that would make up the Disney Renaissance. His movies tend toward rougher and more energetic portrayals than that of Disney films. Often, his films include a mystical element with mysterious, unexplainable forces at work throughout.
- 1 Early life and the Disney years
- 2 Independent years
- 3 Recent work
- 4 As a theatre director
- 5 Filmography
- 6 Frequent collaborations
- 7 Further reading
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Early life and the Disney years
Bluth was born in El Paso, Texas, the son of Emaline (née Pratt) and Virgil Ronceal Bluth. His great-grandfather was Helaman Pratt, an early leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a distant relative. He is of English, Scottish and German descent.
As a child in El Paso he rode his horse to the town movie theater to watch Disney films; Bluth said later, "then I'd go home and copy every Disney comic book I could find". At the age of six his family moved to Payson, Utah where he lived on a family farm. In 1954 at the age of 17 his family moved to Santa Monica, California, where he attended his final year of high school. Bluth attended Brigham Young University in Utah for one year and after got a job at The Walt Disney Company. He started in 1955 as an assistant to John Lounsbery for Sleeping Beauty. In 1957 Bluth left Disney only two years after being hired. Afterwards Bluth spent two and a half years in Argentina on a mission for the LDS Church. He returned to the United States where he opened the Bluth Brothers Theater with his younger brother Fred, though he occasionally worked for Disney.
Bluth returned to college and got a degree in English Literature from Brigham Young. Bluth returned to the animation business and joined Filmation in 1967 working on layouts for The Archies and other projects. He returned full-time to Disney in 1971 where he worked on Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, The Rescuers and directing animation on Pete's Dragon. His last involvement with Disney was the 1978 short The Small One. Then he made and produced his first short, Banjo the Woodpile Cat (1979), which takes place in his hometown Payson, Utah during the 1940s as Banjo travels to Salt Lake City to find the urban world.
Early critical success
On his 42nd birthday in 1979, Bluth, with Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy, and a cadre of 16 fellow Disney animators, set out to start his own animation studio, Don Bluth Productions. He drew a few (uncredited) scenes for The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron but left early in production. Bluth was disheartened with the way the Disney company was run. He wanted to revive the classical animation style of the studio's early classics. To this end, his studio, Don Bluth Productions, demonstrated its ability in its first production, a short film titled Banjo the Woodpile Cat, and this led to work on an animated segment of the live-action film Xanadu (1980).
The studio's first feature-length film was The Secret of NIMH (1982), an adaptation of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, the 1972 Newbery Medal winner. Bluth employed 160 animators during the production and agreed to the first profit sharing contract in the animation industry. Though a moderate success in the box office, the movie received critical acclaim. Later, with the home video release and cable showings, it became a cult classic. Nevertheless, due to its modest result in the box office, and an industry wide animation strike, the Don Bluth Productions filed for bankruptcy.
In 1983 teaming with Rick Dyer, from Advanced Microcomputer Systems, Bluth, Goldman and Pomeroy started the Bluth Group and created the groundbreaking arcade game Dragon's Lair, which let the player control a cartoon-animated character on screen (whose adventures were played off a laserdisc). This was followed in 1984 by Space Ace, a science-fiction game based on the same technology, but which gave the player a choice of different routes to take through the story. Bluth not only created the animation for Space Ace, but he also supplied the voice of the villain, Borf. Work on a Dragon's Lair sequel was underway when the video arcade business crashed. Bluth's studio was left without a source of income and the Bluth Group filed for bankruptcy on March 1, 1985. However, a sequel called Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp was made in 1991 but was rarely seen in arcades.
In 1985 Bluth, Pomeroy and Goldman established, with businessman Morris Sullivan, the Sullivan Bluth Studios. It initially operated from an animation facility in Van Nuys, California, but later moved to Dublin, Ireland to take advantage of government investment and incentives. Bluth and his colleagues taught an animation course at Ballyfermot Senior College.
Affiliation with Steven Spielberg
Teaming up with producer Steven Spielberg, Bluth's next project was An American Tail (1986), which at the time of its release became the highest grossing non-Disney animated film of all time, grossing $45 million in the United States and over $84 million worldwide. The second Spielberg-Bluth collaboration The Land Before Time (1988) did even better in theaters and both found a successful life in home video. The main character in An American Tail (Fievel Mouskewitz) became the mascot for Amblimation while The Land Before Time was followed by twelve direct-to-video sequels.
Bluth broke with Spielberg before his next film, All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). (Bluth was not involved with the Spielberg-produced An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, released in 1991.) Although All Dogs Go To Heaven had moderate theatrical success, and was highly successful in its release to home video, becoming a cult classic.  Like The Land Before Time, The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail, All Dogs Go to Heaven was followed by a theatrical sequel, a television series, and a Christmas Carol adaptation, none of which Bluth and his studio had involvement with. Through the 1990s, Bluth films such as Rock-a-Doodle (1992), Thumbelina (1994), A Troll in Central Park (1994), and The Pebble and the Penguin (1995) were critical and box office failures.
Work at Fox Animation Studios
Bluth scored a hit with Anastasia (1997), which grossed nearly US $140 million worldwide and gained favorable critical reviews. It employed well-known Hollywood stars as voice talent and used then-common animated film tropes: a sassy and resourceful princess driven to become more than she is, a cruel and conniving villain who uses dark magic, a handsome and endearing love interest, and a comic-relief sidekick. Anastasia was produced at Fox Animation Studios in Phoenix, Arizona and its success established 20th Century Fox as a Disney competitor.
Still, Bluth's troubles continued when he directed the futuristic space adventure Titan A.E. (2000). The movie made less than $37 million worldwide despite an estimated $75 million budget and was the last traditionally animated film released by 20th Century Fox in theaters until the release of 2007's The Simpsons Movie. In 2000, after the studio's last film, Titan A.E., 20th Century Fox Studios shut down the Fox Animation Studio facility in Phoenix. However, the film did better with the audience, and developed a cult following.
An attempt to capitalize on Dragon's Lair nostalgia by releasing the video game Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair (2002) yielded mixed results, with critics both praising and panning the controls and storyline. However, the visuals were widely enjoyed, using groundbreaking cel-shading techniques that lent the game a hand-animated feel. As of 2012, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman are seeking funding for a film version of Dragon's Lair.
In 2009, Bluth was asked to produce storyboards for, and to direct, the 30-minute Saudi Arabian festival film Gift of the Hoopoe. He ultimately had little say in the animation and content of the film, and asked that he not be credited as the director or producer. Nonetheless, he was credited as the director, possibly to improve the film's sales by attaching his name.
On February 3, 2011, it was announced that Bluth and his game development company Square One Studios were working with Warner Bros. Digital Distribution to develop a modern reinterpretation of the 1983 arcade classic Tapper, titled Tapper World Tour. On March 22, 2011, Anastasia was released to Blu-ray Disc. The high-charting release and an increase in sales for other Bluth-directed titles, has sparked interest for a return to his as-yet unconfirmed 12th directorial feature.
Bluth has authored a series of books for students of animation: 2004's The Art of Storyboard, and 2005's The Art of Animation Drawing. Additional books are planned.
As an educator
In early 2009, Bluth launched his website, DonBluthAnimation.com, in which he focuses on animation education through video tutorials, short films and live video seminars.
As a theatre director
Bluth currently runs an Adult and Youth Theatre in Arizona, called Don Bluth Front Row Theatre.
- The Small One (1978, short film)
- Banjo the Woodpile Cat (1979, short film)
- The Secret of NIMH (1982)
- Dragon's Lair (1983, video game)
- Space Ace (1984, video game)
- An American Tail (1986)
- The Land Before Time (1988, also co-storyboard and production designer)
- All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
- Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp (1991, video game)
- Rock-a-Doodle (1992)
- Thumbelina (1994)
- A Troll in Central Park (1994)
- The Pebble and the Penguin (1995)
- Anastasia (1997)
- Bartok the Magnificent (1999)
- Titan A.E. (2000)
- Sleeping Beauty (1959, assistant animator, uncredited)
- Popeye the Sailor (1960-1962, animation director (Jack Kinney Productions), cameo)
- The Sword in the Stone (1963, assistant director, uncredited)
- Fantastic Voyage (1968, TV series, layout artist)
- Archies and His New Pals (1969, TV special, layout artist)
- Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down (1970, TV series, layout artist)
- Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies (1970, TV series, layout artist)
- Robin Hood (1973, character animator)
- Journey Back to Oz (1974, layout artist)
- Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974, short film)
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977, directing and character animator)
- The Rescuers (1977, directing animator)
- Pete's Dragon (1977, animation director)
- Xanadu (1980, animated sequence unit, animator)
- The Fox and the Hound (1981, animator, uncredited)
- Dragon's Lair (1983, TV series, based on characters by)
- Space Ace (1984, TV series)
- The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera (1990, ride)
- "Mary" by the Scissor Sisters (2004, animated segments of music video)
- Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair (2002, video game)
- Tapper World Tour (2010, video game)
There have been multiple voice actors who have appeared in more than one of the films directed by Bluth.
- John Cawley, The Animated Films of Don Bluth, 1991, Image Publishing, ISBN 0-685-50334-8
- John Grant, Masters of Animation, 2001, Watson-Guptill Publications, ISBN 0-8230-3041-5
- "Don Bluth". Mormons in Business. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- William Addams Reitwiesner. "The Ancestors of Mitt Romney". Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- Cardwell, Lynda (1984-02-18). "Laser disc arcade games could become wave of the future". The Gadsden Times. pp. A8. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
- "About Don". Don Bluth Animation. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- Heintjes, Tom (May 1985). "Newswatch: Bluth animation firm goes bankrupt". The Comics Journal No. 98. p. 19. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
- Cawley, John. "Don Bluth Biography". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Cataroo.com. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- Cawley, John. "The Secret of N.I.M.H.". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Cataroo.com. Retrieved 2012-07-30. "The film developed a cult following which only increased with easy access via video and cable showings."
- Beck, Jerry (June 1996). "Don Bluth Goes Independent". Animation World Magazine. Retrieved 10 August 2012. "That failure [of Secret of NIMH] caused Aurora to back out of producing Bluth's next film, East of the Sun, West of the Moon."
- Cawley, John. "Space Ace". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Cataroo.com. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- "Dragon's Lair II". The International Arcade Museum. Retrieved 10 August 2012. "This game ranks a 24 on a scale out of 100 (100 = most often seen, 1=least common) in popularity based on census ownership records."
- Melena Ryzik (2010-03-03). "An Animated Irish Invasion". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
- Cawley, John. "An American Tail". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Cataroo.com. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
- Cawley, John. "The Land Before Time". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Cataroo.com. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
- Cawley, John. "All Dogs Go To Heaven". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Cataroo.com. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
- "All Dogs Go To Heaven Fan Club". Fanpop. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
- "Anastasia (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
- Ebert, Roger (November 21, 1997). "Anastasia". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
- "Titan A.E. (2000)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
- "20th Century Fox Feature Films (Fox Animation Studios) Animated Theatrical Cartoons (1977-)". The Big Cartoon Database. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
- "Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair". Metacritic. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- Arrant, Chris (2012-04-05). "EXCLUSIVE: Don Bluth Talks About His Return To "Dragon’s Lair"". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- Kelly, Kevin (2007-05-01). "Don Bluth trying to make Dragon's Lair movie". Joystiq. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- Weinberg, Scott (2007-04-29). "Don Bluth Still Wants to Make a 'Dragon's Lair' Movie". Moviefone. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- "Don Bluth animates Scissor Sisters video". Animated Views. 2004-10-22. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- "Gift of the Hoopoe -Recent film of Don Bluth?". Retrieved 2012-07-25.
- Official site
- Don Bluth's channel on YouTube
- Don Bluth at the Internet Movie Database
- The Dot Eaters entry on Bluth and the development of Dragon's Lair
- Remembering NIMH An interview with Don Bluth Studios about the making of The Secret of NIMH
- Don Bluth & Gary Goldman: Long-running Fun An interview with Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
- Don Bluth Interview Part 1 and Part 2 about his influences and the making of Dragon's Lair
- Don Bluth Biography at Cataroo.com