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Don Bluth and Gary Goldman Part Two – Long Live 2D!

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There have been few instances where the future of animation has looked bleak. In the early 1980’s when Michael Eisner had taken the reigns at Disney from Walt’s son in law Ron Miller, he had every intention of shutting down the animation feature division to concentrate on live action and other interests. However, outside of the house of mouse animation was enjoying something of a resurgence – whilst Disney had grown stale and lazy (even The Care Bears Movie beat The Black Couldren at the box office) other studios had begun producing work that perhaps made the firm realise it was time to change gear and breath new life into their animation division.

Don Bluth (and Mrs Brisby!)

Don Bluth (and Mrs Brisby!)

Two individuals giving Disney a run for their money were Don Bluth and Gary Goldman.  In our last interview we talked about their departure from Disney and how they started work on The Secret of N.I.M.H and other classics that would force Disney to try and rediscover their roots, something which according to the duo the company is still having difficulty finding. In this interview we discuss the old adage “2D is dead” as the pair embark on their own return to traditional animation based on their popular 1983 arcade classic Dragon’s Lair which is still seeking funds over on Indiegogo until the 16th January.

It does annoy me when people say 2D (traditional animation) is dead. Where as I think people mean Disney 2D is dead and Disney have successfully cornered that market (their “turf” as Gary called it) so the problem is language where people say 2D is dead when they mean Disney 2D is dead.

Don Bluth – The dangerous part of this is the message it sends to the economic community, to the financiers, it says don’t invest in 2D because you will loose your money. Disney made an effort to produce a 2D film The Princess and the Frog, to me the story was weak and the results, disastrous, I really didn’t really care about the frog, Walt (Disney) said years ago “We’re not going to do a picture about a chicken because people eat chickens so its hard to get them to like one”. He always said be careful with monkeys because they’re too close to humans, that was his judgement back then. So if you’re making a film about a frog it better be a really appealing looking frog and it wasn’t. Worse than that, they got into some kind of voodoo magic and it had a bad feeling about it which jumped beyond human feelings and emotions. I think that was part of the problem with it. Once it did not make its money back that was the last nail in the coffin for Disney 2D animation, so they got rid of it all, sold off the animation desks and stuck with CG.

Gary Goldman – When you watch that movie, theres a lot of great animation in it, but great animation doesn’t solve a weak story.

DB – No, it does not.


Gary Goldman

GG – It can be entertaining, there are a lot of top animators working on the project, and I assume many of them felt that the story wasn’t working, there were lots of moments that stopped the movie, you found yourself suddenly watching something that had nothing to do with her (Tiana’s) quest.

DB – I think if you put that movie up against one of Walt’s animated movies, back when he was doing Pinocchio or Snow White or even Fantasia it pales by comparison, so something got lost in the shuffle. It’d be nice if Disney hadn’t sent the “2D is dead” message. They don’t know that, trends change all of the time. I think what I see now, and I’m not a good barometer for the majority public opinion, but there are a lot of people who can compare CG films to one another because they look similar so where’s the exploration? Where are we looking for the new and the fresh? Walt always did that, he always looked for something new. I think they’ve thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

GG – Did you see Paperman by John Kahrs? There was hope there, that was fresh, but it also felt like something out of the 40’s and 50’s and it had a different look to whatever else was coming out of the Disney company. They’re the ones with all the money so any company that comes along with anything good, they buy them out, they wrestled with Pixar for a while and bought them out, as soon as Marvel showed they could turn their comic books into movies, they bought them out – how much turf do they need!?

We’ve talked about what was missing from the Disney films, and there is no denial you shook them up forcing them to up their game. I noticed that The Land Before Time uses the phrase “circle of life” years before The Lion King, with this in mind, what value lies within one of your films and what did Disney apply back to their films for their 1980’s 1990’s renaissance?

DB – There is a book which I know Steven Spielberg has read, and I’ve read for a long time by Bruno Bettelheim entitled The Uses of Enchantment and it explains that fairy tales are useful because when you grown up from childhood we are not able to process abstract ideas, so the fairy tales provide an explaination until you’re mature enough to understand what adults know. For example in The Three Little Pigs story there are two fools and one smart little pig who looks to the future, as the story plays out we see it is only safe where the wise little pig provided for the future. Kid’s will see that and understand what really works in life – if you get a mother or a father who loves you one moment and the next moment slaps him on the butt, the kid will question why his dad is mean one moment and kind the next and be confused, in a fairytale there will be a good witch and bad witch, so children understand that there is two kind of behaviour. As you get older, you realise that it is just temper!

All Dogs gO to Heaven (1989)

All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)

So this book is a good way at looking at things and the pictures we’ve tried to do have tried to put in morals that say “if you do this or that these are the results.” We have strong and scary villains which you want to stay away from because in life you’re going to meet those villains. I think as a child you need to see it first in a panorama or a little story where you see it happening, if you ignore that and pander to the public, go out and make everything sugar coated to sell that’s a great disservice to the public and to children.

GG – One of the things I tell people, if I go and see a movie and I don’t get choked up at some point during the movie then that movie was worthless to me, I need to feel something. Our idea is to make a movie on several different levels, from the seven year old right the way through to the granny and granpa, 8 to 80! That was the idea behind N.I.M.H. I just saw the Walt Disney documentary and they emphasised that Walt wanted to make audiences cry with Snow white, and what we’ve tried to do with every picture we’ve made is make the audience cry.

DB – You can make them laugh easily, but cry, you’re right!

GG – They’re really vested in those characters if you can make them cry. I remember when my wife saw the premier of All Dogs Go To Heaven, She had just left the theatre and called me in Dublin. She told me that she thought we were in trouble because when the angel came for Charlie in the end the kids recognised that and started to cry, and I said that I couldn’t ask for anything better! It was the same thing that happened to Littlefoot when his mother died, people sobbed in the audience, if you can touch people like that and stir their emotions wow, when you watch in N.I.M.H, when Mrs Brisby goes into the owl – I watched little kids crawl up into their parents laps, they didn’t turn away from the movie but they went closer to their parents. When kids used to go to the bathroom watching our films, they’d walk backwards so they wouldn’t miss any of the movie! I had managers of movies theatres coming up to me saying that they weren’t sure if they liked movies, I asked them why and they told me that people were not leaving the film to buy more popcorn!

This is part two of a multi part interview you can read part one here, keep your eyes on the Skwigly Facebook and Twitter feeds to be updated with future parts of the interview as they are released.

dragonslairthemovieIf you’d like to help Dirk the Daring on his quest to rescue Princess Daphne you can become a backer of the Dragon’s Lair Return’s crowd funding campaign over on Indiegogo.

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