Tag Archives: Don Bluth

Anastasia “Once Upon a December” (1997)

The glittering world of the Russian Imperial Family came crashing down almost 100 years ago, when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, he and his family were arrested, and later summarily executed. The ultimate fates of the Tsar, his wife, their four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and the crown prince Alexei were left unknown for decades, which gave rise to rumors and stories that some of the family had survived after all. The most well known story is that of Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Nicholas II. Rumors persisted for decades that the Grand Duchess had survived execution and was out there in the world somewhere. While ultimately disproven when the family’s remains were discovered in 1991, the story continued to be told both on screen and on stage.

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Don Bluth’s 1997 film Anastasia is one such recounting. It imagines a world where, while attempting to flee on a train with her grandmother Marie (played to perfection by Angela Lansbury), Anastasia falls and strikes her head, losing all memory as well as being left behind. Not knowing who she is, she grows up in poverty, with half-remembered songs and images her only clues as to where she came from. Anastasia is a musical film (and is sometimes confused for a Disney film) and my favorite song has to be “Once Upon a December.” In it, Anastasia is exploring an abandoned palace while looking for Dmitri (a former servant boy who is now working with a con man to find a “fake” Anastasia to claim a large reward) and she reminisces over her fragmented memories.

Anastasia “Once Upon a December” (1997)

Anastasia’s words conjure up a spectral ball as ghostly figures descend from the ceiling to take part in a dance, all dressed in the finery and glamour of the lost Imperial Russia. The royal family comes to “life” as well, with Anastasia’s four sisters dancing around her before finding partners. Anastasia, in the meantime, transforms into the grown-up princess she should have become, dancing with a partner of her own while her father strides onto the dance floor, all bowing to him (while her mother and brother wait in the background. As the song winds down, Anastasia and Nicholas share a brief dance before the magic is shattered and the figures vanish.

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I like to think of this song (and the scene as a whole) as being an homage of sorts to the old world of royalty, balls, and Imperial courts that was irrevocably broken after the First World War. It was an age of palaces, princes and princesses, nobles beyond count that had lasted for over a thousand years, and it will never come again, except in our memories. Hence, my favorite verse is at the end:

“Far away, long ago/glowing dim as an ember/things my heart used to know/things it yearns to remember…”

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This scene really is one of the best in the film, and I hope you enjoy watching and listening.

For more awesome animated songs (Disney and otherwise), check out the awesome main page here

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Disturbing Don Bluth #2: The Secret of NIMH: Dragon the (Demon) Cat

Part of the reason it took me so long to get started on this film is I had a difficult time deciding where to start. In fairness, the entire film could be considered one long disturbing moment. But since I had to start somewhere, I decided to go with something easy: Dragon, the unholy possessed demon cat owned by Farmer FitzGibbons.

The Secret of NIMH: Dragon’s first appearance (1982)

Dragon is the first antagonist introduced to the story, and the cat’s entrance is…memorable to say the least. In context, Mrs. Brisby is on her way home after receiving some medicine from Mr. Ages (also an escapee from NIMH, but she doesn’t know that yet) when she comes across a crazy crow (Dom DeLuise) tangled up in some yarn that he was trying to bring back to his nest. Being a nice mouse, Mrs. Brisby decides to help him get free, but when Jeremy (that’s the crow) starts singing about his future “Ms. Right”, she admonishes him to be quiet because “there’s a cat nearby.” And if you haven’t seen this movie before, you might be forgiven for thinking “Oh, it’s a cat, what’s so scary about a cat?”

Take a look at the picture below, and know that Don Bluth can turn ANYTHING into a disturbing terror (also observe Jeremy’s wide-eyed look of terror as he realizes he’s nose-to-nose with a cat):

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Yes, THAT is a cat, but he sure doesn’t look like one does he? Here’s a slightly better view:

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*points up* THIS is a CAT?!?

Dragon is a fat, seemingly mangy farm cat, blind in one eye (that’s the weird blue one, the yellow is his normal eye), and he has a vicious streak a mile wide. What really makes Dragon disturbing besides his appearance? He doesn’t even meow, when he first goes to attack Jeremy, he ROARS like some strange monster!!

This scene (like so many others) messed me up as a kid. It scared me because I’d see Dragon creeping closer and poor Jeremy is just oblivious and the tension build-up is almost unbearable.

I also have to give credit to Jerry Goldsmith’s incredible score (his first for an animated film) for helping to make this scene even more terrifying and disturbing, especially in the build-up to Jeremy coming face to face with Dragon.

While Dragon does appear later on in the film, this is his most menacing appearance by far. But this is nothing compared to other disturbing characters in this story (I’m not sure if I’ll cover The Great Owl next or start in on the rats, Jenner and Brutus are both getting their own sections).

Let me know your thoughts on Dragon, did he scare you when you were younger? Did he disturb you? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

See also:

Disturbing Don Bluth #1: The Secret of NIMH (Overview and Trivia)

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Disturbing Don Bluth #1: The Secret of NIMH (Overview and Trivia)

I can’t help but feel that I need to apologize for taking so long with this, even though I promised ages ago that it would be starting soon (life has been a little crazy since then). Nevertheless, here I go with a brief overview of the first film in this sister series to Disturbing Disney: The Secret of NIMH (1982)

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The film was based on the 1971 children’s book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien. In broad strokes the plot is largely the same as the film: the widowed mother of a family of mice must figure out how to keep her home safe from the farmer’s plow while her youngest son recovers from pneumonia. She is advised to ask for help from a colony of rats living in the nearby rosebush and discover that they (along with her late husband Jonathan) are actually escaped laboratory rats experimented on by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

For the movie, Mrs. Frisby becomes Mrs. Brisby to avoid being sued by Wham-O (the company who makes Frisbees) over a similar sounding name. The thing is, by the time the decision was made to change the name to Brisby, all of the actors had already recorded their lines. So…the editors manually edited the voice track to make it sound like Brisby and not Frisby. However, it is not completely perfect: listen closely to The Great Owl’s lines, you can almost hear the original pronunciation of the name.

The voice cast contains some acting greats. The previously mentioned Great Owl was voiced by the legendary actor John Carradine (the father of David, Keith and Robert Carradine). The cranky Auntie Shrew was voiced by Hermione Baddely, better known as Madame in The Aristocats (1970). Derek Jacobi (whose film accomplishments are too many to count) is the voice of Nicodemus, the elderly leader of the rats. Dom DeLuise (aka Tiger the cat in An American Tail) is Jeremy the crow. Wil Wheaton (in his film debut) plays Martin, Mrs. Brisby’s oldest son. And Shannen Doherty (of Charmed fame) is also making her debut as the voice of Teresa, the oldest daughter.

This series will break down the more disturbing scenes (and characters) in the film, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

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Disturbing Don Bluth: An Introduction

So for the past number of months I have been regaling you with tales of ‘Disturbing Disney’, finding the most disturbing Disney film moments I can remember and breaking them down in minute detail. Rest assured I have no plans of ending that series anytime soon (in fact I’m making plans to turn that series into a book, though that won’t come to pass for a while), but given how I still feel under the weather today, I thought I would take some time to introduce the subject of Disturbing Disney’s sister series: Don Bluth.

If you found any part of Disturbing Disney remotely disturbing or messed up, believe me when I say, you’ve seen NOTHING yet. It dawned on me somewhere around entry #10 that Don Bluth would require a series all his own to highlight the psychological torture he unwittingly put me through as a child.

For those who may not have seen the..imaginative…works of Don Bluth, allow me to make introductions. Don Bluth is, to be fair, a talented animator who originally worked for Disney, his first job as an assistant on Sleeping Beauty (1959). He returned to Disney full time in the 1970s and worked on Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, The Rescuers and he directed the animation for Pete’s Dragon. Not long after this, Bluth took 9 fellow Disney animators and set off to start his own animation studio, one that he hoped would rival Disney itself. Bluth was frustrated with how Disney was run at the time, and he wanted to revive the traditional animation that originally made Disney films famous.

Starting with The Secret of NIMH in 1982, Bluth directed a series of films that, though spectacularly animated, became the stuff of nightmares for children all over the world. And the biggest reason for this is due to Bluth’s philosophy on film: Bluth believed that children were capable of witnessing just about anything onscreen so long as the story had a happy ending that (in theory) cancelled out the previous trauma. In other words, Bluth wanted to go in directions that the Disney studio would not, considering that way ‘too dark.’

Disturbing Don Bluth will break down each of Bluth’s major films, all of which are full to the brim of Disturbing moments that, I assure you, will make Disturbing Disney look TAME by comparison. This series will look at films such as:

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

An American Tail (1986)

The Land Before Time (1988)

All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)

Thumbelina (1994)

That may seem like a short list, but in those films is contained more disturbing moments then I can count. For example, you’ll hear about how a young dinosaur nearly drowns in tar, a mouse is terrorized by a sea monster, a dog has a vivid nightmare of Hell (demons included) and one of the most traumatizing “death of a mother” scenes that I can remember (with one heck of a secret behind it).

I hope to be starting on this series very soon, and Disturbing Disney will also continue. I’m already feeling much better, so hopefully by Monday I will be able to resume a regular blogging schedule.

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