Don Bluth

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Don Bluth
Donald Virgil Bluth

(1937-09-13) September 13, 1937 (age 82)
Alma materBrigham Young University
OccupationAnimator, film director, producer, writer, production designer, animation instructor
Years active1955–present
EmployerWalt Disney Animation Studios (1955–1957, 1971–1979)
Filmation (1967–1970)
Known for
FamilyToby Bluth (brother)

Donald Virgil Bluth (/blθ/; born September 13, 1937)[1] is an American animator, film director, producer, writer, production designer, video game designer and animation instructor, known for his animated films, including The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989) and Anastasia (1997), for his involvement in the LaserDisc game Dragon's Lair (1983), and for competing with former employer Walt Disney Productions during the years leading up to the films that became the Disney Renaissance. He is the older brother of illustrator Toby Bluth.

Early life and Disney years[edit]

Bluth was born in El Paso, Texas, the son of Emaline (née Pratt) and Virgil Ronceal Bluth.[2] His great-grandfather was Helaman Pratt, an early leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is of Swedish, English, Irish, Scottish, and German descent.[3]

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".[4] At the age of six, his family moved to Payson, Utah, where he lived on a family farm. Bluth has stated that he and his siblings do not have much communication with each other as adults.[5] In 1954, his family moved to Santa Monica, California, where he attended part of his final year of high school before returning to Utah and graduating from Springville High School.[citation needed] Bluth attended Brigham Young University in Utah for one year and afterwards got a job at Walt Disney Productions. He started in 1955 as an assistant to John Lounsbery for Sleeping Beauty. In 1957, Bluth left Disney only two years after being hired. Afterward, 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 University. 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, and The Rescuers, and directed animation on Pete's Dragon. His last involvement with Disney was the 1978 short The Small One. Then he made and produced his first own short film, Banjo the Woodpile Cat, which takes place in his hometown Payson, Utah, during the 1940s as Banjo travels to Salt Lake City to find the urban world.

Independent years[edit]

Early critical success[edit]

On his 42nd birthday in 1979, Bluth, along with Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy, and nine fellow Disney animators, set out to start his own animation studio, Don Bluth Productions.[6][7] He drew a few (uncredited) scenes for The Fox and the Hound 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.[8] 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.[7] Though only 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.[9] Nevertheless, due to its modest box office take, and an industry-wide animation strike, Don Bluth Productions filed for bankruptcy.[8]

His next film would have been an animated version of the Norwegian folk tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, but was never made when the financial resources were drawn back.[10]

In 1983, he, Rick Dyer, Goldman, and Pomeroy started the Bluth Group and created the groundbreaking arcade game Dragon's Lair, which let the player control an animated-cartoon 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.[11] 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.[7] A sequel called Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp was made in 1991, but it was rarely seen in arcades.[12]

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. Sullivan Bluth Studios also helped boost animation as an industry within Ireland.[13] Bluth and his colleagues taught an animation course at Ballyfermot Senior College.[14]

Affiliation with Steven Spielberg[edit]

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.[15] The second Spielberg-Bluth collaboration The Land Before Time (1988) did even better in theaters and both found a successful life on home video.[15][16] The main character in An American Tail (Fievel Mouskewitz) became the mascot for Amblimation while The Land Before Time was followed by thirteen direct-to-video sequels.

Bluth ended his working relationship 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, nor with any of the numerous subsequent sequels to his other films.) Although All Dogs Go To Heaven only had moderate theatrical success, it was highly successful in its release to home video.[17] Like The Land Before Time, The Secret of NIMH, and An American Tail, All Dogs Go to Heaven was followed by related projects, none of which involved Bluth and his studio. He also directed films, such as Rock-a-Doodle (1992), Thumbelina (1994), A Troll in Central Park (1994), and The Pebble and the Penguin (1995), which were all critical and box office failures.

Work at Fox Animation Studios[edit]

Bluth scored a hit with Anastasia (1997), produced at Fox Animation Studios in Phoenix, Arizona, which grossed nearly US $140 million worldwide.[18] In a positive review of the movie, critic Roger Ebert observed that its creators "consciously include[d] the three key ingredients in the big Disney hits: action, romance, and music." Anastasia established 20th Century Fox as a Disney competitor.[19]

Despite the success of Anastasia, Bluth resumed his string of box office failures with Titan A.E. (2000), which made less than $37 million worldwide despite an estimated $75 million budget.[20] In 2000, 20th Century Fox Studios shut down the Fox Animation Studio facility in Phoenix, making Titan A.E. the last traditionally animated film released by 20th Century Fox in theaters until the release of 2007's The Simpsons Movie.[21]

Return to animation[edit]

On October 26, 2015, Bluth and Goldman started a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of resurrecting hand-drawn animation by creating an animated feature-length film of Dragon's Lair.[22] Bluth plans for the film to provide more backstory for Dirk and Daphne and show that she is not a "blonde airhead".[23] The Kickstarter funding was canceled when not enough funds had been made close to the deadline, but an Indiegogo page for the project was created in its place.[24]

On December 14, 2015, the Indiegogo campaign reached its goal of $250,000, 14 days after the campaign launched[25] as of February 2018 the total exceeded $728,000.[26] On March 26, 2020, it was announced that Dragon's Lair will be released as Netflix series later in the year.[27]

Unproduced projects[edit]

Throughout Don Bluth's career, there were many projects that ended up unproduced or unfinished due to studio closures, Bluth's severed partnership with Steven Spielberg, or the video game crash of 1983. Many art designs, filmed animation tests and videos of these unfinished projects still circulate online.

Unproduced films[edit]

The earliest of Bluth's unfinished film projects is a Disney Pied Piper of Hamelin short film from the early 1970s. .[28][29]

After The Secret of NIMH, Bluth began developing an animated feature film adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. While a few scenes were produced in 1984, the film's production was canceled when Don Bluth and the film's distributor Columbia heard the news of Disney beginning work on their own animated adaptation.[citation needed] Don Bluth Productions also started production work on an animated feature film entitled East of the Sun and West of the Moon.[30][31] Ultimately, the film was never made due to a loss of financial backing,[32] even though the film was heavily into post-production at the time of its cancellation. Following Don Bluth's partnership with Steven Spielberg, 1986's An American Tail was released as Bluth's second film instead. During production of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Bluth also animated a demo reel of Jawbreaker, a proposed television series by Phil Mendez of a boy who finds a magical tooth.[33] The series however, was not greenlit.

After acquiring the rights to The Beatles' songs in the mid-1980s, Michael Jackson approached Bluth with a movie idea called Strawberry Fields Forever. The film would have had animated Fantasia-style vignettes featuring Beatles songs, similar to Yellow Submarine. Not only did Don Bluth agree to it, he also planned on making it entirely in CGI. Had the movie been made, it would have predated the ground-breaking 1995 Pixar film Toy Story by about eight years. The project fell through when surviving Beatles members denied permission to use their images in the animated film. Only a scene of test footage featuring a group of "Beatle's gangsters" survives.[34]

Two more films were planned during Bluth's partnership with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. The first film was an animated adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit, a story about an abandoned toy rabbit in pursuit of its child owner. The second film was Guardian of the Moon, based on a story by Steven Bauer about a young boy in a fantasy world who defends the moon and sun from evil forces. Some of the film's concepts were later realised as the 2014 French animated film Mune: Guardian of the Moon.[citation needed]. After his partnership with Spielberg ended, Bluth began planning another film titled The Little Blue Whale with Carolco Pictures. The planned film was about a little girl and her animal friends who try to protect a little whale from evil whalers.[35] The project was abandoned by Carolco after the commercial and critical failure of their first animated film Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw.[citation needed]

Other unrealised projects also included plans for a 1994 animated short film centered around a magical talking pencil starring Dom DeLuise,[36] animated film adaptations of the books Deep Wizardry, Quintaglio Ascension, The Belgariad, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The latter productions were cancelled following the box office failure of Titan A.E. and subsequent closure of Fox Animation Studios. In 2005, a live-action adaptation of the live-action film of the same name was released by Touchstone Pictures.

Unproduced games[edit]

Following the success of Dragon's Lair in 1983, Don Bluth and Cinematronics began plans for seven more arcade games; "The Sea Beast", "Jason and the Golden Fleece", "Devil's Island", "Haywire", "Drac", "Cro Magnon", and "Sorceress". Due to the budgeting issues and the 1983 video game crash, these projects were abandoned. The sequel to Dragon's Liar, Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp would be shelved until its eventual release in 1991.[37]

Blitz Games planned a video game adaptation of Titan A.E. to be released for the PlayStation and PC in fall 2000 in North America, following the film's summer release.[38] Development on both platforms had begun in March 1999 under the film's original title Planet Ice,[39] and an early playable version was showcased at the 2000 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.[38] In July 2000, a spokesman from the game's publisher Fox Interactive, announced that development on the title had been halted largely due to the film's poor box office performance which was "only one of many different factors" that led to its cancellation.[40]

A sequel to the 2003 game I-Ninja was planned, which had input from Bluth.[citation needed] Work on the sequel started soon after the first game's release, but its studio Argonaut Games had some economic problems and eventually closed down in October 2004. The few aspects remaining from I-Ninja 2's development are some concept drawings.[41]

A project called Pac Man Adventures was originally planned in partnership with Namco around 2003, but was scrapped due to financial problems on Namco's part leading to their merger with Bandai in 2007 and whatever development assets were left over was made into Pac Man World 3 with no involvement from Bluth.[42][43]

Recent work[edit]

In 2002, Bluth and video game company Ubisoft developed the video game Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair, an attempt to recreate the feel of the original Dragon's Lair LaserDisc game in a more interactive, three-dimensional environment. Reviews were mixed, with critics both praising and panning the controls and storyline. However, the visuals were noteworthy, using groundbreaking cel-shading techniques that lent the game a hand-animated feel.[44] As of 2012,[45] Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were seeking funding for a film version of Dragon's Lair.[46][47] After apparently sitting in development for over a decade, the project raised over $570,000 via a successful crowdfunding campaign in January 2016.[48]

Bluth and Goldman continued to work in video games and were hired to create the in-game cinematics for Namco's I-Ninja, released in 2003.

In 2004, Bluth did the animation for the music video "Mary", by the Scissor Sisters.[49] The band contacted Bluth after having recalled fond memories of the sequence from Xanadu.

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.[50]

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.

As an author[edit]

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.

As a theater director[edit]

In the 1990s, Bluth began hosting youth theater productions in the living room of his Scottsdale, Arizona, home. As the popularity of these productions grew and adults expressed their wishes to become involved, Bluth formed an adult and youth theatre troupe called Don Bluth Front Row Theatre. The troupe's productions were presented in Bluth's home until 2012, when their administrative team leased a space off Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale and converted it into a small theater.[51]


Feature films[edit]

Title Year Functioned as Notes
Director Producer Writer Animation
Sleeping Beauty 1959 No No No Yes assistant animator
The Sword in the Stone 1963 No No No Yes assistant animator
Journey Back to Oz 1972 No No No Yes layout artist
Robin Hood 1973 No No No Yes character animator
Escape to Witch Mountain 1975 No No No Yes animator: titles
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh 1977 No No No Yes animator
The Rescuers 1977 No No No Yes directing animator
Pete's Dragon 1977 No No No Yes animation director
Xanadu 1980 No No No Yes animator: animation sequence unit
The Fox and the Hound 1981 No No No Yes animator
The Secret of NIMH 1982 Yes Yes Yes Yes story adaptation / layout artist / visual development
An American Tail 1986 Yes Yes No Yes production designer / storyboard artist / title designer
The Land Before Time 1988 Yes Yes No Yes production designer / storyboard artist
All Dogs Go to Heaven 1989 Yes Yes Yes Yes story / production designer / storyboard artist
Rock-a-Doodle 1991 Yes Yes Yes Yes story / storyboard artist
Thumbelina 1994 Yes Yes Yes No screenplay
A Troll in Central Park 1994 Yes Yes Yes No story
The Pebble and the Penguin 1995 Yes Yes No No
Anastasia 1997 Yes Yes No No
Bartok the Magnificent (direct-to-video) 1999 Yes Yes No No
Titan A.E. 2000 Yes Yes No No

Short films[edit]

Title Year Functioned as Notes
Director Producer Writer Animation
Lost and Foundation 1970 No No No Yes layout artist
Train Terrain 1971 No No No Yes layout artist
Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too 1974 No No Yes Yes story / animator
The Small One 1978 Yes Yes No Yes animator
Banjo the Woodpile Cat (for television) 1979 Yes Yes Yes Yes screenplay / animator
You Are Mine 2002 No No No Yes storyboard artist
Scissor Sisters - "Mary" (music video) 2004 Yes No No Yes animation director
Gift of the Hoopoe 2009 Yes No No Yes nominally director / storyboard artist
Circus Sam 2019 No No No Yes animator

Television series[edit]

Title Year(s) Functioned as Episode(s)
Fantastic Voyage 1968-1969 layout artist 17 episodes
The Archie Show 1969 production designer special episode Archie and His New Pals
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch 1969-1972 layout artist 58 episodes
Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down 1970 layout artist episode "Computer Suitor"
Groovie Goolies 1970 layout artist 16 episodes

Video games[edit]

Title Year Functioned as Voice role Notes
Director Producer Animation
Dragon's Lair 1983 Yes Yes No
Space Ace 1983 Yes Yes Yes Borf game designer
Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp 1991 Yes Yes No
Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair 2002 Yes Yes Yes intro and ending: animation director / background artist
I-Ninja 2003 Yes No Yes cinematics: director / storyboard artist
Tapper World Tour 2011 No No Yes animator

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bendazzi, Giannalberto (October 2015). "A Cat in the Heavy Traffic". Animation: A World History: Volume II: The Birth of a Style - The Three Markets. CRC Press. ISBN 9781317519904. Among the directors of feature films, Don Bluth is noteworthy. Born in El Paso, Texas, on 13 September 1937, Bluth went to Disney in 1956 (...).
  2. ^ "Don Bluth". Mormons in Business. Archived from the original on 2011-01-15. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  3. ^ William Addams Reitwiesner. "The Ancestors of Mitt Romney". Retrieved 2012-07-24.
  4. ^ Cardwell, Lynda (1984-02-18). "Laser disc arcade games could become wave of the future". The Gadsden Times. pp. A8. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  5. ^ "Shut Up and Talk: Don Bluth and Gary Goldman". Channel Awesome. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  6. ^ "About Don". Don Bluth Animation. Archived from the original on 2012-08-26. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  7. ^ a b c Heintjes, Tom (May 1985). "Newswatch: Bluth animation firm goes bankrupt". The Comics Journal No. 98. p. 19. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
  8. ^ a b Cawley, John. "Don Bluth Biography". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  9. ^ Cawley, John. "The Secret of N.I.M.H." The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Retrieved 2012-07-30. The film developed a cult following which only increased with easy access via video and cable showings.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Cawley, John. "Space Ace". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ "Estudios Irlandeses – Drawing Conclusions: Irish Animation and National Cinema". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2017-02-12.
  14. ^ Melena Ryzik (2010-03-03). "An Animated Irish Invasion". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-19.
  15. ^ a b Cawley, John. "An American Tail". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
  16. ^ Cawley, John. "The Land Before Time". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  17. ^ Cawley, John. "All Dogs Go To Heaven". The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Archived from the original on 2014-01-03. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  18. ^ "Anastasia (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 21, 1997). "Anastasia". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  20. ^ "Titan A.E. (2000)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  21. ^ "20th Century Fox Feature Films (Fox Animation Studios) Animated Theatrical Cartoons (1977-)". The Big Cartoon Database. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
  22. ^ "Dragon's Lair: The Movie (Canceled)". Kickstarter.
  23. ^ "Dragon's Lair Movie Won't Depict "Sexualized" Version of Princess Daphne". GameSpot. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  24. ^ "Dragon's Lair Returns". Indiegogo.
  25. ^ "Dragon's Lair Returns". Indiegogo.
  26. ^ "Dragon's Lair Returns". Indiegogo.
  27. ^ "Netflix requires rights to the Dragon's Lair film". /Film.
  28. ^ "Sections of Piper Short". YouTube.
  29. ^ Bluth, Don (December 13, 2017). "ENROLL TODAY! Get a full year of ONLINE classes from Master Animator & Director Don Bluth! Classes start Feb 6th, 2018. Only 14 seats left!".
  30. ^ John Grant, p 35, Masters of Animation, Special Effects Are Revolutionizing Film"
  31. ^ John Culhane, "Special Effects Are Revolutionizing Film"
  32. ^ "Newswatch: Bluth animation film goes bankrupt", The Comics Journal #98 (May 1985), p. 19.
  33. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help); External link in |website= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)
  34. ^ Bathroom Readers' Institute (1 October 2011). Uncle John's Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader. Portable Press. pp. 420–. ISBN 978-1-60710-459-9.
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ a b Douglas C., Perry (June 22, 2000). "Titan A.E." IGN. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  39. ^ Gestalt (November 8, 2000). "Philip Oliver of Blitz Games". Eurogamer. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  40. ^ "Titan A.E. Canned". IGN. July 26, 2000. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  41. ^ "I-Ninja 2 Cancelled". Unseen64. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  42. ^ "Content Pro".
  43. ^ Bluth, Don (December 16, 2015). "Check out these storyboard concept cut scenes for an interactive Pac-man game back in 2004".
  44. ^ "Dragon's Lair 3D: Return to the Lair". Metacritic. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  45. ^ Arrant, Chris (2012-04-05). "EXCLUSIVE: Don Bluth Talks About His Return To "Dragon's Lair"". Cartoon Brew. Archived from the original on 2012-05-09. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  46. ^ Kelly, Kevin (2007-05-01). "Don Bluth trying to make Dragon's Lair movie". Joystiq. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  47. ^ Weinberg, Scott (2007-04-29). "Don Bluth Still Wants to Make a 'Dragon's Lair' Movie". Moviefone. Archived from the original on 2012-10-08. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  48. ^ "Dragons Lair Returns | Indiegogo". Retrieved 2016-04-03.
  49. ^ Paolo (2004-10-22). "Don Bluth animates Scissor Sisters video". Animated Views. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  50. ^ "Gift of the Hoopoe -Recent film of Don Bluth?". Archived from the original on 2012-03-10. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
  51. ^ Trimble, Lynn (7 July 2016). "Don Bluth Front Row Theatre in Scottsdale Needs $50,000 to Stay Open".

Further reading[edit]

  • 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

External links[edit]