Don Bluth, the man behind ‘The Land Before Time’ and ‘Anastasia,’ talks faith, leaving Disney and the art of animation

Don Bluth loved going to the movies. As a boy growing up in Payson, Utah, he would ride into the city on his trusty horse, Flash, parking him under a tree before entering the theater. While Flash “mowed the lawn,” Don experienced the magic of Disney films in all their glory, marveling at the color, music and storytelling in each scene.

When he emerged, Don mounted Flash and rode home, passing the time by talking to his friend. The faithful horse would always respond — though whether the reply came from his own boyish imagination or not, Don couldn’t really say.

“He was very encouraging, in that he kept saying, ‘You can do anything you want to do. You just have to believe in yourself … and if you want to be a Disney animator and you like what that is, then that’s terrific. Go ahead and do it. You can do it,’” recalled Bluth.

Don took the advice to heart. The boy who once dreamed of being an animator would later go on to work for Disney on some of the company’s most classic films, including “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), “101 Dalmatians” (1961), “The Sword in the Stone” (1963), “Robin Hood” (1973), “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” (1974) and “Pete’s Dragon” (1977, as animation director). But eventually, Bluth would be confronted with a crossroads he never anticipated, compelling him to leave the world of Disney in order to help start an independent animation firm — a move that would change his life forever.

Since then, Bluth has become one of the most prestigious competitors in the industry, making his mark not only as an animator, but as a director of films like “The Secret of Nimh” (1982), “All Dogs Go to Heaven” (1989), “Thumbelina” (1994), “Anastasia” (1997) and “Titan A.E.” (2000).

But it’s not just Bluth’s career that is remarkable — equally significant is how his faith has shaped his life’s work.

“I’ve learned over the years that the ideas and the creativity are not really [mine] — that I am a conduit through which I think the Deity can talk. But it isn’t me doing it. There are moments when you feel absolutely alone and that you’re not going to be able to do it. And there are other moments when it just really flows, like water flows in a river.”

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