Monday, October 26, 2015
A Legend Returns: Don Bluth Launches Kickstarter for 'Dragon's Lair' Film
It appears that a certain someone who made a big impact on animation might be returning with a theatrical film... A traditionally animated theatrical film!
The man is none other than Don Bluth!
Don Bluth needs no introduction if you are a fan of animation, but for those who don't know, he was a Disney animator who famously marched out of the studio in the late 1970s due to the fact that the studio wasn't being run quite well back then. Bluth scoffed at the cost-cutting and risk-averse ways of the executives, and took over ten other animators with him, the majority of them being the young animators that were supposed to take the baton from the Nine Old Men.
They formed up Don Bluth Productions, and soon Bluth was making big animated movies that were visually closer to Walt Disney's films than the contemporary Disney releases. The Secret of NIMH was his first film and while it was not a box office success, it grew a following and is recognized as an animated classic. Then he directed two mega-hits, both of which were produced by Steven Spielberg, An American Tail and The Land Before Time. Tail's success helped reignite animation at the box office, and convinced two certain someones running Disney that big-scale theatrical animation can indeed make money and is indeed viable.
After The Land Before Time and the lukewarmly-received solo outing All Dogs Go To Heaven, Bluth and his studio faced some hard times which resulted in heavily compromised films like Rock-A-Doodle, A Troll in Central Park, and The Pebble and the Penguin. After Disney's roaring success in the early 90s, major distributors wanted in on the animation game. Fox fired up an in-house animation studio and had Bluth deliver them their first feature, the pretty successful Anastasia. After that, Fox's executives sunk their own ship by ordering Bluth to make a film for the preteen boy crowd. The result, Titan A.E., was a box office bomb that lead to the closing of the studio. Bluth hasn't done a feature since then...
Gamers might know Bluth's impact on the gaming industry. In 1983, he teamed up with Cinematronics to create a LaserDisc-based arcade game called Dragon's Lair. An instant hit in a time where the arcade side of the video game industry needed a boost, it was followed by Space Ace in 1984. Space Ace didn't do as well, whereas Dragon's Lair spawned a belated sequel, a short-lived cartoon, and numerous ports among other things. It was a big hit, and something to hold him over until the smash success of An American Tail. After Titan A.E., he continued to do video game-related work...
For many years, a traditionally animated movie based on Dragon's Lair was teased. Now, it might be a reality. Bluth and his long-time partner Gary Goldman have launched a Kickstarter for the project, and yes, it will be done in traditional animation.
Perhaps history could repeat itself if this takes off. It took Bluth to help save theatrical feature animation in the mid-1980s, perhaps he could be the one to save traditional animation in theaters? Disney Animation seemingly isn't allowed to touch the medium again (The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh's box office performances being the nails in the coffin) except for short films or short sequences in their CG films (i.e. 'Almost There' in The Princess and the Frog), despite rumors of one of the future releases using the tech used in the shorts Paperman and Feast. Other studios won't touch it either. Even the studios that make films that cost less than $70 million! That "audiences moved on from 2D" stigma is still strong, apparently, even though audiences did not move on from traditional animation at all. Either that, or executives are just convinced that it isn't viable, using the product from the early 2000s as their backup. (Lilo & Stitch is the highest earning non-Simpsons Movie traditionally animated film made in the last 15 years.)
But my strong feelings about hand-drawn animation are another argument for another day, I could go on and on about what it's facing right now and what could be done to bring it back... But let's face it, right now the American feature animation industry isn't making 2D films and won't for a long while. The best we can get in the near future is a hybrid, unless someone surprises us. Stop-motion house LAIKA might do a small-scale 2D film one day, but who knows. Right now, other countries keep it alive in features.
I'm of course down for a new Bluth film, and a Dragon's Lair film at that. Dragon's Lair, if done right, could be a refreshingly old-fashioned type of medieval adventure but something that can indeed be good for modern audiences. Given Bluth's love of spectacle and flash, we can expect this film to be gorgeous, like Secret of NIMH-level gorgeous. Plus, like the old Walt films, Don's films had darker moments, imagery, and edge, so it'll be cool to see something like that amongst today's animated films.
So here's hoping this happens! Do you think we'll get a Dragon's Lair film? If so, do you think it will be instrumental in bringing back traditionally animated feature films? Sound off below!