Don Bluth was one of the chief animators at Disney to come to the mantle after the great one’s death. He eventually became the animation director for such films as The Rescuers (1977) and Pete’s Dragon (1977). Unfortunately, the quality of animation that Disney was producing at this point was not up to par with the great works of Disney, and there was rumor that the production unit at Disney might be shut down indefinitely. In retaliation, Bluth and several other animators led a walkout, and went off to form their own independent animation firm. Bluth’s first animated feature may still be his best. The Secret of NIMH (1982) was an animated film based on the children’s book “Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of Nimh”. The film dealt with a widowed field mouse named Mrs. Brisbee and her plight to move her house before the farmer plants his field. The rats of Nimh, an organization of super intelligent rats, band together to help her. “The Secret of NIMH” was a visually ravishing film that hearkened back to the glory days of Disney. While animation buffs raved, the film did little business at the box office. (The growing number of VCR’s in America would help the film reach a cult status on home video). Undaunted, Bluth persevered. He created the video games Dragon’s Lair (1983) and Space Ace (1983), both of which allowed the player to control an actual cartoon. He later teamed up with Steven Spielberg for the films An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988). While Bluth’s ambition to restore animation to its previous glory was being realized, the Disney studio, whose recent films had failed to match Bluth’s at the box office, was finally ready to return to true quality. With the release of The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991), Bluth had to compete with a Goliath. After his next film, All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), received mixed opinions and failed to be more than a minor box office success, Bluth fell into a failing streak of films that were comparatively mediocre when placed alongside his previous work, including Rock-A-Doodle (1991), and Thumbelina (1994). Bluth later joined forces with 20th Century Fox where he made his first commercial hit in some time, Anastasia (1997). He followed up with the ambitious but hollow science fiction fantasy Titan A.E. (2000). While Bluth has yet to reach the glory of his earlier work, he nonetheless deserves credit as a champion of animation, and for surviving as an independent film maker.
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