The following is an excerpt from Caroline Siede’s 2014 essay on director Don Bluth written for the A.V. Club.

“It’s impossible to talk about Don Bluth without talking about Walt Disney. Bluth started as an animator and director at Walt Disney Animation Studios before founding a rival company that became Disney’s main competitor in the 1980s. During his roller coaster of a career, Bluth produced commercial hits (AN AMERICAN TAIL, THE LAND BEFORE TIME, ANASTASIA), cult classics (THE SECRET OF NIMH, ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN, TITAN A.E.), and bizarre missteps (ROCK-A-DOODLE, A TROLL IN CENTRAL PARK). He’s a magnetic but polarizing figure whose impact on the animation world is understood through conflicting narratives. What is clear, however, is that for two decades, Bluth’s films offered a dark alternative to Disney […]

Until Anastasia in the late ’90s, AN AMERICAN TAIL and THE LAND BEFORE TIME were far and away Bluth’s most commercially successful films. Remarkably, they found a mass audience despite (or perhaps because of) their darker tenor. THE LAND BEFORE TIME, arguably Bluth’s best film, perfectly blends his love of dark themes, child protagonists, and odd friendships into an imaginative story of a dinosaur migration. The movie is mostly a whimsical examination of inter-species friendships (and a metaphor for fighting racism to boot!), but it starts with the devastating death of Littlefoot’s mother. ‘It is nobody’s fault,’ an adult dinosaur explains to him, ‘The great circle of life has begun… You’ll always miss her, but she’ll always be with you, as long as you remember the things she taught you.’ Four years later THE LION KING would teach kids the same lesson almost verbatim.”