Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thirty Years On

Three decades ago, An American Tail was released to positive reviews and solid box office. It was Don Bluth's second animated feature away from Disney, and Steven Spielberg's start as a producer of full-length, theatrical cartoons.

[No animated feature] presented the whole lost child scenario as effectively as An American Tail. Released in 1986, it was the apex of unique family-friendly films created by director-animator Don Bluth–a diverse batch which also includes beloved classics like The Secret of NIMH (1982), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), Rock-a-Doodle (1991), A Troll in Central Park (1994), and Anastasia (1997).

Disney–specifically Pixar’s Finding Nemo (2003)–owes a lot to little Fievel Mousekewitz. This film–with Steven Spielberg as the executive producer and presenter–was ahead of its time for establishing serious issues under a G rating, and 30 years later, with the current immigration crisis at hand, An American Tail is an especially relevant animated film for children and adults today. ...

Don Bluth had a long, notable career in animation.

He started at Disney in the 1950s, working on Sleeping Beauty, then departed to pursue other goals. A decade later, after a stint at Filmation, he returned to the House of Mouse and quickly rose through the ranks. In the mid-seventies he was a directing animator, then the animation supervisor for (the first) Pete's Dragon, then the director of the holiday featurette The Small One.

Management was grooming Don to take over the department, but Don put together a deal to direct and produce The Secret of NIMH as an independent feature, and left in the middle of The Fox and the Hound.

NIMH was the first feature in a string of long-form animated productions that ended with Titan A.E. in 2000. Nobody has made more independent hand-drawn features than Mr. Bluth; American Tail was the second that he directed ... and (after Land Before Time) the most successful. American Tail was made by Don and his staff after NIMH and the production of some pioneering, hand-drawn video games. The budget for the feature was not large, but Don, always good at getting a lot of production value up on the screen, made the feature look more expensive than it was.

Hard to believe it's been thirty years since its release.

H/t President Emeritus Tom Sito.


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