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!


  1. I can't believe what this world has come to!

  2. I'm erring on the side of caution here. The issue isn't that I don't think Bluth will be able to get his funding from Kickstarter. After all, it worked for Ralph Bakshi.
    The problem, in a word, is timing. Dragon's Lair, the video game, came out in 1983, and it was huge back then. But today only animation and video game nuts really know or care about it. To anyone else, a Dragon's Lair would just look like a generic "90s Disney ripoff". As a matter of fact, most non-animation enthusiasts (read: normal people) tend to mistake Bluth's work for Disney's anyway.
    So what we have is a movie based on a property few people recognize, aimed at a narrow demographic, and which looks to a casual viewer like something made 20 years ago instead of today. Let me just say I wish Don Bluth luck on this endeavor. He's going to need it.

  3. Sorry to say this, but there's nothing in the world that can save the 2D art form from dying. As a way of making theatrical films, it's no longer viable in the marketplace. No matter what proof, people in the industry are not going to accept that.

  4. I'm really looking forward to this happening. Don Bluth is a brilliant guy. I'm glad to see that the stunning visuals that were brought to us from the Dragon's Lair game will be coming to the big screen. I don't think that traditional animation should be considered dead or dying until it isn't around anymore. My response is quickIy turning to the future of animation, but oh well, here goes nothing. Now, I know that disney has stated previously that there aren't any plans for traditionally animated movies in the foreseeable future, but who knows what the future will hold. Here's a direct quote from Bob Iger on the matter: "To my knowledge we're not developing a 2D or hand-drawn feature animated film right now," said Iger. "There is a fair amount of activity going on in hand-drawn animation but it's largely for television at this point. We're not necessarily ruling out the possibility [of] a feature but there isn't any in development at the company at the moment.". Things come and go out of style all the time in film and television. To me, the fact that stop motion is still around should be an indicator that beloved styles of animation never truly fade away, they just become less frequent in exchange for the latest medium.
    Great post, Kyle.

    1. I had no idea that Iger had said that. Most sites, from what I remember back in 2013, eliminated that bit about "not necessarily ruling out". Good find! I'm optimistic, I'm sure someone will make a 2D features comeback happen.

    2. Iger only said that just for PR purposes.