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Monday, March 27, 2006

Don Bluth is underrated

It all happened during a conversation I had with Guestblogger Justin when we had dinner just now, about the animator, Don Bluth. Many people have already forgotten about him, all thanks to the evil Disney, and the rise of 3D animation (Pixar's stuff are great, but the Shrek movies are kinda overrated, and we also get such mediocre shit like Robots and A Shark's Tale).

But I remember, during my childhood, Don Bluth's animated masterpieces leave a much deeper impression than Disney films (before they reached the 'second Golden Era' with the likes of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King). And therefore, I will now revisit my fond memories of Don Bluth cartoons, which, all of a sudden, I have a strong desire to find their DVDs.

Born in 1937, Don Bluth used to work in Disney and was involved in the production of Robin Hood, The Rescuers and Pete's Dragon before he left and did his own thing. He did the drawing for the groundbreaking video games, Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, but I won't be focusing on that yet.

I'll be looking more into the feature-length animated films he did after leaving Disney and forming a rival studio.

The Secret of NIMH (1982) = Unfortunately, my memories of this is pretty vague, I don't remember actually watching this at all, or I might have watched it when I was a very young kid. Can't really comment much on this, will probably search for its DVD if it's available.

Fievel, from Don Bluth's An American Tail

An American Tail (1986) = THIS, my friends, is undeniably a classic. An epic tale about a young Russian mouse, Fievel, who was separated from his family when he emigrated to America. The entire movie was about him trying to find his parents and elder sister, making friends and enemies along the way. It gave me nightmares because of its dark and edgy mood back when I was a child (I remember not being able to handle watching some scenes, mostly those that had something to do with those cats, I think). Like I said, it's pretty large scale, kinda like Godfather 2, when Don Corleone had just migrated to America. I wouldn't mind watching this again.

'Somewhere Out There', the song Fievel and his sister sang when they were miles away from each other, remained one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard in an animated film. Thinking of it again make me want to weep. Ah, nostalgia.

(Apparently, he didn't direct An American Tail 2: Fievel Goes West, which isn't such a bad film, though nowhere near as good as the original)

The Land Before Time (1988) = Another classic. This, not Jurassic Park, made me interested in dinosaurs. I wanted to be a paleontologist then, so I can hunt for fossils of a diplodocus, and it all had to do with the majestic-looking 'long necks' in this film. This is Lion King before Lion King. The death of Littlefoot's mom was the most heartbreaking scene I've ever seen, and I remembered how I was reduced to a sobbing mess after every single time I've watched it. Let's face it, Lion King DOES rip off from The Land Before Time (compare the part where Simba speaks to the ghost of Mufasa, and the part where Littlefoot communicates with his mom). The Great Valley... how I've wanted to travel back in time to see whether such a place exist. The Tyrannosaurus Rex AKA Sharpteeth in this film freaked me out more than his counterpart did in Jurassic Park!

But I just found out a really disturbing fact from IMDB. Judith Barsi, the girl who did the voice for Ducky, was murdered months before the film opened. She was shot dead by her abusive dad (who later committed suicide). The girl was only ten.

On 2004, marker was added to Judith's plot: "In memory of the lovely Judith Eva Barsi 1978-1988 'Our Concrete Angel' Yep! Yep! Yep!" Ducky had been Judith's favourite role.

All Dogs Go To Heaven

All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989) = My memory of this masterpiece is vague, but it's filled with fondness. Saw it with my dad in Singapore when I was 5. I remember an orphan girl (also voiced by Judith Barsi, this film came out a year after her tragic murder mentioned above), a dog, Charlie, who went to heaven after he was killed, his sidekick and well, unfortunately, that's it. I need to rejog my memory. I caught a glimpse of its sequel on TV few months ago, but like those The Land Before Time sequels, Don Bluth had nothing to do with them.

Rock-A-Doodle, by Don Bluth, has an Elvis-fied Rooster

Rock-A-Doodle (1991) = This is the one which has an Elvis-fied rooster, and live-action sequences where a boy turned into a cat or something. It's supposed to suck, but I don't think it was that bad, well, all right, maybe my opinions would change if I see it now, but come on, this is one deep animated film that explores the negative aspects of fame and glory. The sun rises when the rooster sings, and then the rooster sells out and becomes a famous singer, only to realize how lonely he is without his friends from the farm. And he realizes that he's entangled in this complicated web of lies and deceit spun by this owl called The Grand Duke who is trying to keep the sun from rising so that he could spread his evil influence throughout the world... or something, I think. Er, yeah. Well, I'm sure Elvis would've loved this... maybe not.

Thumbelina (1994) = Seen it only once, can't remember it well enough to comment. I remember Thumbelina being forced into a marriage with the bad guy, or some insect, before the Prince came to rescue her 'The Graduate'-style. But then, I might be thinking of some other cartoon. Help me?

A Troll In Central Park is rather forgettable...

A Troll In Central Park (1994) = Same as above. Very fuzzy memories. I had the laser disc, but I remember it was so mediocre that I wasn't compelled enough to watch it the second time. The hero, a kindhearted troll, can grow flowers and stuff with his magical green thumb, and I remember in the ending, he fought an intense fight with the villain where both of them press their magical thumbs against each other. It's kinda like Dragon Ball Z characters using ki blast, but in a more child-friendly, silly manner. (not that DBZ is THAT less silly...)

The Pebble and the Penguin (1995) = Didn't see this one. Anyone else seen it?

Don Bluth's Anastasia

Anastasia (1997) = An underrated gem where Don Bluth returned to nearly the peak of his game. Anastasia is usually mistaken as a Disney film due to its numerous similarities with Disney's formula. A sassy heroine, a dashing hero who has to put up with sassy heroine, a funny animal sidekick, a wacky bad guy and his not entirely evil minion. There are many good things I want to say about Anastasia, it's the film I escaped to watch in the cinema with three other buddies (here's to you, Wai Kong, Kai Wen and Kelvin Pang! Nine years have passed and I still remember watching the film with you!) after a horrendous reunion with some primary school classmates in a shopping mall.

Like I said, Rasputin is awesome in here, he's constantly decomposing, and he rocks like a rock god. For a while, the film left me interested in the mystery of Anastasia. Although it's a travesty that this film is constantly mistaken as a Disney film, the love-hate relationship between Anastasia and Dimitri is more complex than most of the romantic angles churned out by Disney. Hell, the action scenes are pretty damned intense too. I won't say that this is as good as the likes of the timeless An American Tail or The Land Before Time, but I think this film will age pretty gracefully.

Titan A. E. (2000): A financial disaster that stopped Fox from making 2D animation anymore (the Fox Animation Studio shut down immediately after this). And sadly, this is also Don Bluth's last animated film. He hasn't done anything since then. Yes, this film has its flaws, it's underdeveloped, both the characters and the plot, and the ending sucked, but it's visually stunning, and the sci-fi setting crafted in this film is something I would've loved to see explored and expanded more. Apparently, Joss Whedon (of Buffy, Serenity, Firefly and Angel fame) and John August were among the team of screenwriters involved in this production. It's meant to be targeted at older audiences, but older audiences didn't embrace it. I think Disney's Atlantis (which was also a box-office disappointment) is better than this, but I've hoped that this film had been successful so that Don Bluth could've been doing more animated films.

According to Wikipedia, Don Bluth is currently seeking funding for the film version of Dragon's Lair. I hope he'll succeed. After all he has achieved, he deserves to go out with a bang.

Come on, here's the chance for you to give Don Bluth some love!