Like most respectable animation fans, we love ourselves some Don Bluth, at least when the material he’s been given is decent. But the sad truth is, it’s now been 24 years since his last theatrical film, Titan AE, and he hasn’t been given a major job since. This, however, has not dampened his optimism: all these decades later, he’s still waiting by the phone.
Over the weekend, during MegaCon in Orlando, ComicBook.com hosted a panel with Bluth where he talked about his past and his hopes for the future. As ComicBook is wont to do, they split up the reporting of this panel into five or six mini-articles for maximum clickage profits, but we’re going to be more kind and bundle it all into one post.
Animated films haven’t been hand-drawn for a long time. But Bluth believes they’re due for a comeback, if not for anything but this reason: he believes they’re cheaper.
“I believe that there will be a moment when, the suits I call them, when the suits finally say to themselves ‘We can make more money with 2D drawn animation than we make with 3D.’ I watch the amounts of money spent on a 3D picture, and it’s up to something like $200 million or $300 million. And it’s more people, I grow old watching the end credits. So it seems to me that hand-drawn animation, let me take, for example, The Secret of NIMH, we made that movie for $6.5 million. So how in the world, in your sane mind, can you say $300 million is justified?”
One problem here: he’s comparing the price of an independent animated film in 1982 with the price of a major studio-backed film in 2024. Adjusted for inflation, Bluth’s figure would actually be $20.5 million…which is still well below, but modern demands like extensive ad campaigns (NIMH had almost no advertising) would push it higher.
Now if you know anything about Don Bluth, it’s that he LOOOOOVES scaring children! He wants violence, he wants tragedy, he wants hideous toothy monsters! And we wouldn’t have it any other way, even if his bosses would. His original cuts of The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven were a lot more intense before their masters ordered him to tone them down.
“My theory is that every good story that’s a good story has a good villain, a good scare moment,” Bluth said. “However, when we made The Land Before Time, we took it to London to show Spielberg and Lucas. And Steven said, ‘You know what? It’s too scary, Don.’ He says ‘I’m going to have mothers holding their crying children in the lobby. We can’t have that.’ With the T-Rex they took out some of it that was so, so scary. They went in and took it out, never put it back in, and they destroyed it.”
Finally, you likely know Bluth got his start on the Walt Disney Studios lot before he famously got frustrated with the reluctance to push animation in new directions and quit. He shared with the audience an anecdote about the one time he got to meet the pencil-mustached man himself.
“I was all sweaty and dirty after an hour playing volleyball. So someone threw me the ball I turned and I caught the ball. And then as I turned again, I bumped into…Walt Disney. And I didn’t know it was [him]. Down I went on the ground. He was standing. I looked up and it was like a scene right out of Bambi where the little deer is looking up at the stag. It’s that scene right there. I’m looking up and I didn’t know who it was. He stepped over me and turned and said, ‘You’ll go farther if you slow down. That was personal advice.'”
“That was all over the studio within half an hour. I was the laughingstock. But my dear friend John Lounsbery, he said to me, ‘You know what, you bumped into him. So what? And he’ll ask about you.’ And he did. So it’s a wonderful story and it had a happy ending.”