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Retrospective Look Back: Don Bluth Films

Updated on December 9, 2017
AlexisG profile image

Alexis is a special education teacher and a Jacklyn of all trades. She enjoys traveling, writing, and playing the violin.


Don Bluth: A Look Back

Often when I’m cleaning, reorganize or what have you, I watch a movie, usually one that I’ve watched before, playing in the background. As of late, I’ve also been going through my DVDs that I bought a while ago and never watched. Tonight, I grabbed my copy of “The Land Before Time” that I bought on my birthday two years ago.

The Land Before Time is a personal favorite and I’ve stuck with the series, even as its evolved into whatever it is now (the original was great and dark. The current state of the series is basically a watered down version that’s targeted towards a younger audience). Of course the original had some pretty big names, notably Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. It was also produced by Don Bluth, who has fallen into some obscurity over the last twenty years.

Let me be the first to tell you Don Bluth is a fantastic animator, producer, film director (and the list goes on, the man has worn many hats). He is well known in the gaming community for his involvement with Dragon Lair (1983). In the film world, he is known for directing the critically acclaimed “The Secret of NIMH” (1982), The Land Before Time (1988) and An American Tail (1986).

In the 1980s and early 1990s his studio kept Walt Disney Productions on their toes. However, after a few film flops in the 90s (Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park, The Pebble and the Penguin) his studio began to experience financial problems. Anastasia (1997) brought success, but Titan A.E. (2000) did the opposite. He created Titan A.E. in collaboration with Fox animation studios, who shutdown shortly after the films release.

Don Bluth films were a big part of my childhood. Several of them were personal favorites and ones I own and rewatch every few years. Truthfully, I’ve watched almost all his films (save three movies) and really appreciate his style. Perhaps if he and Spielberg had continued their collaboration we could’ve ended up with more? At any rate, lets take a walk down memory lane and explore a couple of his movies.

All Dogs Go to Heaven

Out of all Don Bluths film, All Dogs Go to Heaven is my favorite. Part of that being because the story takes place where my moms side of the family is from (New Orleans) and the other is everything else. All Dogs Go to Heaven does so many things right. Charlie is an anti-hero and a fantastic one at that. The other characters are almost all memorable and the story line is solid. The animation quality and music are also great. It's not a perfect film, but "you can’t keep a good dog down!"

Unless its the sequel. We don’t talk about that.


“Once Upon a December….”

If you remember nothing else of the film, that song should ring a bell. Don Bluth made Anastasia in conjunction with Fox and it was his first hit after a few flops. The music in Anastasia is enchanting and Anya is a fun character. Anastasia tells the story of the lost Romanv daughter, Anastasia, who some believed managed to escape the massacre of her family (the royal family of Russia).

This is sadly, not a historically accurate telling, but wouldn’t it have been amazing if it was? That said, the film does take some creative liberties. Though Rasputin was as creepy as he is portrayed in the film. Don’t google a picture of the guy, you’ve been warned.

A Troll in Central Park

I remember seeing advertisements for this movie and hating it. Lo and behold, my grandmother thought I would enjoy it and bought it for my brother and I to watch. My instincts were right about it based on the trailer (isn’t that often the case)? and I didn’t like it. I disliked the characters enough that when I thought a certain main character was a goner, I was happy with it! Yikes! The music was unmemorable and the story, while cute, just didn’t click as a long-term story in the movie.

Lets just say this is one film credited as being a flop AND getting a well deserved review from the Nostalgia Critic.

The Land Before Time

The Land Before Time was made in collaboration with George Lucas & Steven Spielberg, as mentioned earlier. It tells the story of five young dinosaurs who are separated from their families during a continental divide. After she mishaps, they agree to work together to find the ‘Great Valley’ a place where meat eaters (sharp teeth) can’t reach them and there is an abundance of greenery.

This is another personal favorite and its a solid movie (unlike the 12 or so movies that followed). The characters are each unique, the music is enriching and the dark animation style is fantastic. It’s a movie that truly captures the perils the characters are thrown into, all while delivering good messages of persisting, friendship and hope.


Can we call this a cute story because it was based on a Hans Christian Anderson book(?) just to give it some compliment? The characters are dull and some are flat out creepy. As a kid they creeped me out enough to still get creepy vibes thinking about them as an adult. Honestly, the only memorable moment in this dull fest was the almost mole and human marriage. Probably because it was one of the last scenes meaning the movie was almost over.

The Pebble and the Penguin

Where do you even begin with this one? I remember renting this from the library and that there was a dumb penguin trying to woo a girl penguin, but some ugly large penguin was interested in her too. Bully penguin tries to prevent a relationship between pretty penguin and dumb penguin and there’s a pebble he’s trying to hold onto. If my synopsis sounded boring good, don’t waste your time watching it, my review was more interesting than this movie. Now go watch Happy Feet.

The Secret of NIMH

Often considered Don Bluth’s best film, it is often considered one of the best animated movies. The Secret of NIMH is based on a book of the same name and tells the story of a young widowed mouse named Mrs. Brisby. She needs to move, but due to her sons illness is unable to safely. When she seeks help from nearby rats, she is caught in a plot that threatens her family and herself.

It’s hard to begin talking about The Secret of NIMH without mentioning how ‘dark’ it is. The subject matter is controversial and asks the viewer to raise questions. All of Don Bluths movies have a dark air in them (which was prevalent in 80s animated movies). The movie takes the viewer on a journey that everyone should experience. The characters, setting, story and music are all fantastic. If you only ever seen one Don Bluth film, make it “The Secret of NIMH”.


Don Bluth's dark animation and story style certainly appealed to many in the 80s and 90s. Even today, several of his films are talked about favorably, with the other several being reviewed by the Nostalgia Critic (he reviews bad movies). One thing is certain, he left an impact on many, myself included. Today he offers an online course, open to anyone in animation (the website is located in the sources section).

Thanks Don Bluth for some amazing, dark movies!


© 2017 Alexis


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    • AlexisG profile imageAUTHOR


      13 months ago


      I too would consider his films to be hit or miss. His animation style was always on par, but his story and character development were pretty lacking in his misses.

      Also, you need to see "The Secret of NIMH", it's a fantastic film! Its a dark adventure and chock full of great characters and dialogue.

    • Ian Rideout profile image

      Ian Rideout 

      13 months ago from Alberta, Canada

      I don't even need to google a picture of Rasputin to know exactly what you're talking about (although I did it anyway). I remember learning about him in high school Social Studies, and I got to see some photos of him back then. Pretty freaky stuff.

      I've heard a lot of people say that Don Bluth films are hit or miss. I saw quite a lot of his movies back when I was a kid; All Dogs Go to Heaven, Anatasia, A Troll in Central Park, The Land Before Time, The Pebble and the Penguin, Rock-A-Doodle, and I think I saw Titan A.E. I also watched An American Tail much later as an adult.

      I haven't seen any of his movies recently, and I don't remember most of them that well, although I recall Anatasia and The Land Before Time being quite good. I especially want to watch Land Before Time again sometime. I also need to see Secret of NIMH; that's one of the few of his I never saw.


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