:: Buzzwords Archive: November 2010. Click here for the latest posts.

3:AM Cult Hero: Don Bluth (published 30/11/2010)


“Courage of the heart is very rare. The stone has a power when it’s there.”

Disney made it’s name by making high-quality animation – their films were not just well drawn, but they had unforgettable characters and unforgettable scenes. Disney had its golden age between 1937 and 1942 when it released animated masterpieces like Snow White, Pinnochio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi. By the 1970s, much of the magic had gone out of their films. Walt died in 1966 and took much of the magic with him, and the animation team was smaller and resorted to cheaper processes and shortcuts to make their animated features.

Don Bluth was one animator at Disney who wanted to bring some of the magic and artistry back to animated films. He ended up leaving Disney in 1979 along with several others to form his own studio. Bluth and the others started work on an animated film that showed how artistic animated films could be. The result was Bluth’s underrated masterpiece The Secret of Nimh (pictured above)

Nimh, like Disney’s The Rescuers that Bluth had been an animator for, portrayed mice as living in a civilized world of their own unknown to humans. While Nimh made a profit at the box-office it was mostly overlooked by the public. It was released a month after Stephen Spielberg’s E. T., which became the top-grossing film up to that time.

Spielberg was shown Nimh by his friend Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the music for the film, and was greatly impressed. Spielberg got in touch with Bluth and they collaborated on another civilized mice film – An American Tail. It ended up being the most successful non-Disney animated film at the time – even outperforming Disney’s attempt at a civilized mice Great Mouse Detective that was released five months before Tail.

Bluth’s next film, done in collaboration with George Lucas, did even better. The Land Before Time outdid Disney’s Oliver and Company – released the same day, oddly enough. By this time, Disney was putting more and more money into it’s animation studio thanks to changes in management and the great success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit which they co-produced with Spielberg. Bluth’s next film All Dogs Go To Heaven would come out the same day as Disney’s The Little Mermaid – and the latter became one of the most successful animated films of all time and began the “Disney Renaissance” that lasted through the 1990s.

During this time, Bluth’s films suffered under both a reduced staff and raised expectations set by Disney. All of the films he made through the 90s: Rock-a-Doodle, Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park, and The Pebble in the Penguin were critical and box-office failures, with much of the criticisms being that the films were cheap and lacking especially compared to the high-quality work Disney was putting out.

Bluth had resisted the Disney formula of a princess in despair until he was offered a saving grace from Fox Animated Studios which wanted to be a Disney competitor. Bluth directed Anastasia which use many of the common tropes of the Disney-renaissance films – a sassy princess, a great villain and good songs.

Anastasia turned a profit, but Bluth’s next project for Fox, Titan A. E. was a financial failure, despite good reviews. Titan made so little that Fox was forced to close its animated studio, although it’s been started up again recently. Bluth hasn’t returned to making films and rarely gives interviews, although he does give animation tutorials on his website.

Bluth’s good films are emotional and visually striking. The main characters in them are heroic and brave, but they’re also afraid and lonely, making their successes all the more triumphant. The heroes (or heroine in Nimh) are separated from their loved ones and end up reunited with them, and in trying to reunite with them, they become stronger and discover abilities within them they didn’t know they had.

Don Bluth loved Snow White and Pinnochio. He felt Disney had abandoned the great artistry of old and he wanted to make films as good as them. He succeeded, although he wasn’t prepared for the Disney renaissance that was to come.

(note: Bluth did not keep the sequel rights for any of his films and the studios that owned his first films have produced direct-to-video sequels without his involvement. The Land Before Time is infamous for having twelve direct-to-video sequels produced by Universal. None of them have received the praise the original films received and are not worth watching)

MORE: Don Bluth’s website, YouTube page // Secret of Nimh: Interview with Bluth about NIMH, Excerpt, Excerpt // American Tail: ‘Somewhere Out There’, Excerpt // Land Before Time: Exerpt // Siskel and Ebert review Rock-a-Doodle, Thumbelina, Pebble and the Penguin // Anastasia: “In the Dark of the Night” // Ebert and Roeper review Titan A. E

By Day, Robert O’Connor is a mild-mannered reporter for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He’s a journalist, musician, adventurer and a dozen other things. He’s from St. Paul, Minnesota – a city that knows how to keep its secrets. His work has appeared in Hot Press, Time Out Chicago, The New Indian Express, KFAI, the Chi-Town Daily News and a few other places.

The Missing Links (published 28/11/2010)


Borges on the task of art. * The birth of the arts. * The history of information overload. * “I love mankind… It’s people I can’t stand” (Linus Van Pelt). * Nabokov’s unpublished love letters. * Ian Fleming’s radio interview with Raymond Chandler. * Species of Spaces, a Perec-inspired exhibition. * Oulipians. * A documentary on the Chelsea Hotel (1981). * Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson RIP. Throbbing Gristle statement. Guardian obit. More here, here, here, here, and here. * Mark E Smith, Tony Wilson, Jon King (Gang of Four) and Stewart Home on Situationism (1996). * Salman Rushdie‘s favourite fantasy novels. * An extract from Mick Middlespunk diary. * A 1988 interview with Joe Strummer. * French and Belgian comics. * Animated films for grown-ups. * Mad Men: The Illustrated World. * Lovecraftian Tintin adventures. * Simon Critchley: no future! * Is Graham Greene the father of film noir? * Wild Hackney. * Joe Dunthorne on Hackney‘s Ministry of Stories. * Literary boozing. * The Specials announce 2011 tour. * Back to 1981. * Maggie‘s long goodbye. * Mapping the human brain. * Okay rules OK. * Sexist ads of yesteryear (see pic above). * Alan Bennett: “Yes, dirty old man. I don’t mind that. No. Quite happy with that”. * The rise of The Shard. * Flash Projects: nudes from the 50s to the 70s, including the works of Jean Clemmer. * Spanking as art (Alva Bernardine). * Rinko Kawauchi‘s photography. * An interview with photographer Antoine D’Agata. * The Economist on the beauty premium. * Brigitte Bardot as existentialist icon. * The art of Zelda Fitzgerald. * A 1975 documentary about David Bowie. * 70s Californian punk videos. * The Screamers‘ “122 Hours of Fear”. * An interview with Factory Records designer Peter Saville. More here. * Beckett‘s radio plays. * Sarah Angliss. * John Lydon postpones new PiL album following Ari Up‘s death. * 3:AMer Max Dunbar‘s fiction. * Former 3:AM editor Tao Lin is Dude of the Day. * Michel Houellebecq discovers Somerset Maugham. * On Simon Van Booy. * Fuck 1968. * The riot girls. * Nina Power gets kettled. * The cyber radicals. * The revolution will not be tweeted. * Guardian student media awards. * The New York Times‘s 100 notable books of 2010. * Will Self‘s book of the year. * The genius of Huckleberry Finn. * On Blackheath Books. * Patti Smith interviewed by John Robb (audio). * One-man demo at Tate Modern. * How Stieg Larsson set out to defy the conventions of the crime novel. * Sam Jordison on Tangier‘s literary history. * The creators of Doctor Who. * Jean Hannah Edelstein (video). * Roberto Bolaño on Andrés Neuman. * Zoe Howe on The Fall. * Lydia Davis on Madame Bovary. * Lydia Davis‘s “Kafka Cooks Dinner” (short story). * James Joyce‘s burnt kidney recipe. * The BBC wants your mod stories from the 60s. * Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis (1927) remastered. * Cage, Cunningham and constructed anarchy. * On founts, fonts and typefaces. * Filming one’s own death: Hervé Guibert. * John Waters. * A new look for A Piece of Monologue. * Anthony Burgess and Malthusianism. * The 10 best-dressed authors. * Why Murdoch’s The Daily is doomed. * Simon Reynolds on music for children, by children.