Don Bluth: Mormon Animator
Don Bluth started his career as an animator at Walt Disney Animation Studies in 1971, where he also became director before he left and founded Don Bluth Productions, which competed with Disney Studios during the 1980s. He worked at Disney during a time the studio was moving to more live action films and cutting the budget of the animation department. Before he left Disney Studios, he worked on Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh, The Rescuers, and the animated sequences of Pete’s Dragon.
Bluth had worked for Disney right out of high school in 1955 as an assistant animator on Sleeping Beauty. He left to serve a full-time mission to Argentina for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then went on to Brigham Young University where he earned a bachelor’s in English literature. He started a choral called The New Generation, which ended up with about 60 singers. The group performed all over the western states and Mexico. He then went into live theater for three years with his brother. He returned to animation at Filmation Studios for three years. When he returned to Disney, he easily recalled working there during Disney’s Golden Age of animation, which was disintegrating due to the death of Disney in 1966 and the retirement of nine original animators, who did not pass on their techniques to younger animators. When he left, Bluth took with him Gary Goldman and sixteen other animators.
His movies included The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail and The Land Before Time (with Stephen Spielberg), and All Dogs Go to Heaven. Compared to Disney, his work portrays dark themes and sense of humor. He and Goldman worked for a time with Cinematronics to produce arcade games Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace, and Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp. Disney experienced a renaissance in 1989 while Don Bluth Productions went bankrupt with movies like A Troll in Central Park and with the decline of arcade games. In 1985 Bluth and Goldman partnered with businessman Morris Sullivan to form Sullivan Bluth Studios, which eventually moved their shop to more cost-effective Ireland.
Later Bluth and Goldman were hired to run Fox Animation Studios, where they produced Anastasia. His space epic Titan A.E. was a flop rather than the innovation he hoped for.
In 2012, Zuuka Comics released a digital version of Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair, which he coauthored. He and Goldman have consulted with a video game in the United Kingdom. Bluth also runs a theater in Arizona called The Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, where he also directs productions.