How Disney Cheaping Out On ‘Pete’s Dragon’ Started A Cartoon War
It’s the 45th anniversary of Pete’s Dragon, the best movie Disney ever made … about child slavery, invisible dragons, and Mickey Rooney getting super-hammered. Seriously, remember all this the next time someone who was alive in the ‘70s complains about the state of family entertainment today.
Despite its less than stellar reputation, Pete’s Dragon was a hugely important movie in the history of Disney – specifically because their cheapness helped to inspire one of the studio’s biggest competitors. Famously, former Disney employee Don Bluth left the company along with several others and started an all-out “war” with his old bosses in the ‘80s, releasing competing feature-length animated films, such as The Secret of Nimh and An American Tail, which were arguably far more mature and challenging for younger viewers than what Disney was offering.
Back in ‘77 though, Bluth was still working for Disney and, as reported by animation historian Jim Korkis, he was “promoted to full animation director on Pete’s Dragon,” a film that combined live action footage with animation, not unlike Who Framed Roger Rabbit or that one crazy horny Brad Pitt movie. During the production, Bluth insisted on “key scenes” being inked by hand, as opposed to Xeroxed which was “the norm at the time.” That way, the cartoon dragon wouldn’t look like absolute crap compared to his human co-stars.
Because Disney had already booked the film’s premiere, Bluth and his team had to finish their job within an “impossible deadline”; animators were forced to work overtime, but no one got any additional pay, or even a thank you from the studio for the extra effort. Bluth was even “reprimanded” for going slightly over budget (while Disney executives “split $3 billion in bonuses”).
When Bluth left in ‘79, he claimed that his experience on Pete’s Dragon was the “beginning of him starting to think that Disney was no longer committed to quality in animation.” So, really, if it wasn’t for Pete’s Dragon, zero ‘80s kids would have developed chronic bedwetting problems after the trauma of seeing All Dogs Go To Heaven.
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Top Image: Disney