Tim here. We’re talking 1989 this month at the Film Experience, and as any dabbler in the history of animation knows, 1989 is most important for being the year that Walt Disney Feature Animation get back on track after some two decades in the wilderness with the smashing success of the fairy tale musical The Little Mermaid.
That’s not what we’re here to talk about. The Little Mermaid doesn’t need me: it’s a stone-cold all-time classic that everybody reading this has an opinion on already. Instead, I would like to take you to the other animated feature that opened on November 17, 1989, and which crumpled in the face of Mermaid’s juggernaut performance at the box office. That day, y’see, also bore witness to All Dogs Go to Heaven, a film which shriveled up and died in the face of Disney's singing crabs and diva octopodes.
This was the fourth feature made by Don Bluth, who had once been the heir-apparent to the Disney studios until he fled that company during the joyless production of The Fox and the Hound in 1979. Throughout the ‘80s, he and his succession of companies had represented an old-fashioned, back-to-basics alternative to the confused, often unpleasant films Disney was miserably trying to hawk, and his two biggest successes – 1986’s An American Tail and 1988’s The Land Before Time – found him effectively beating his old employers at their own game.