In my continuing series of animation in the 80’s articles, I wanted to try and branch out from traditional theatrical or television show animation. 1983 introduced the world to Dragon’s Lair, and I knew I couldn’t have mentioned the 80’s without Don Bluth or video games. After the “success” of an animated sequence in Xanadu and the Secret of Nimh , the Bluth animation company created a film on laserdisc – making this the first laserdisc video game that used cell animation for graphics. The technology was amazing for its time, but basically whenever something flashed yellow during the cartoon , you moved Dirk the Daring in that direction. Dirk would go through a series of small adventures fighting evil creatures and eventually rescuing the very alluring Princess Daphne from the evil dragon, Singe. Luckily, I found the game on DVD a few years back and could play the whole thing on my remote control without wasting quarters.
Don Bluth was a Disney animator for nearly twenty years, he worked on films like Pete’s Dragon , Sleeping Beauty , The Rescuers , The Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood in various roles from animator up to director. In the 80’s he created a slew of animated hits that gave Disney a run for its money, such as The Land Before Time , An American Tail and All Dogs Go To Heaven . I always liked Bluth’s style as his characters would typically go “off model” to be dramatic with their movements or expressions. When I studied animation in college, “off model” refers to a very tightly specific character model sheet that every animator had to go by in order to maintain consistency throughout a production. You can always tell you we’re watching a Bluth piece of work if the character threw their hands up in the air or made extremely silly faces that looked a bit more stretched or warped from the rest of the film.
Advanced Microcomputer Systems (aka RDI Video Systems) collaborated with Bluth to create original animation that would be played on a laserdisc, which was the highest quality in video/audio someone could get, if they could afford it. The style of animation paired with innovative technology caused Dragon’s Lair to make a lot of profits for the company, and it was quite the arcade smash for its time – making over thirty million in just one month. Merchandise followed suit, such as importing the arcade smash to home consoles like the Commodore 64, Activision and Nintendo, but to truly understand the dumbing down of this content, you have to watch The Angry Video Game Nerd . The following year, video games and animation went hand-in-hand. ABC aired a Saturday Morning cartoon series by Ruby-Spears Productions ( Hanna-Barbera’s sister company for Saturday Morning shows). You may remember Ruby Spears for other great 80’s “hits” such as Rubik , The Plastic Man Hour , Fang Face , Police Academy , Sectaurs , Turbo Teen , Saturday Supercade , Mister T , It’s Punky Brewster , Rambo and Chuck Norris:Karate Kommandos ). In fact, I don’t know how I have mentioned the 80’s cartoon series without even mentioning Ruby-Spears before, but now I realize – because Ruby Spears made a lot of commercial crap.
Any who, the Bluth and video game partnership didn’t stop there. Don Bluth duplicated the game and animation formula for Space Ace in the arcades. RDI made a lot of money with these games, so they tried to make a home video game console, the Halcyon, based on the pricey laserdisc technology and by making it controlled by voice. Unfortunately, no one could afford it and the video game industry went to crap until the original Nintendo Entertainment System came out in 1985. RDI made other animation video games for their technology, but nothing really matched the success of Dragon’s Lair. A sequel for Dragon’s Lair was eventually made but never found a grand arcade market like its predecessor. Bluth left the video game franchise for a time and focused more on his animated feature films until the massive flop, Titan A.E . in 2000.