Don Bluth

Active - 1977 - 2009  |   Born - Sep 13, 1937 in El Paso, Texas, United States  |   Genres - Children's/Family, Fantasy, Adventure

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Fresh out of Brigham Young University, Don Bluth joined the Walt Disney animation staff in 1956. Though he occasionally free-lanced at Filmation Studios, Bluth continued returning to the Disney fold in the 1970s, functioning as animation director on such cartoon features as Robin Hood (1973) and The Rescuers (1977). In 1979, dissatisfied with the hidebound atmosphere at Disney, Bluth and several fellow animators broke away to form Don Bluth Productions. Only the moderately successful The Secret of NIMH emerged from the Bluth factory before he combined his operation with Sullivan Studios in 1986. Disney's inability in the mid-1980s to deliver feature-length cartoons at a faster pace enabled Bluth to corner the market with such films as An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988). Upon the inauguration of Disney's one-cartoon-feature-per-year policy in 1988, Bluth found his audience diminishing. It wasn't simply because the Disney folks had better distribution channels and louder publicity: the animated films of Don Bluth, while technically superb, lack the strongly defined characters and well-developed stories which have always been the hallmarks of the Disney product.

Movie Highlights

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  • Started his animation career straight out of high school with the Walt Disney Company, working on Sleeping Beauty (1959).
  • Went on a Mormon mission to Argentina in the late 1950s.
  • Was one of the leaders of the "Disney Defectors" in 1979, when more than a dozen animators quit over creative differences during the production of The Fox and the Hound (1981).
  • Formed Don Bluth Productions, releasing the short film Banjo the Woodpile Cat (1979) and working on an animated segment for the Olivia Newton-John vehicle Xanadu (1980)
  • Directed his first feature film, The Secret of NIMH, in 1982.
  • Despite NIMH's being crushed by Steven Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial at the box office, would later find success collaborating with Spielberg on An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988).
  • In addition to film animation, also played a major role in the design of 1980s video games, including Dragon's Lair and Space Ace.