Monday, August 12, 2013

An Afternoon with Don Bluth and Gary Goldman at the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline

Let me preface this article by stating that the fuzzy, blurry event photos here were taken with my awful camera phone. It no longer functions as a phone and barely functions as a camera, but if such things annoy you and you'd like to donate to help get this site a real camera, there's a link to your right, and many thanks.

So, this past Sunday, AKA yesterday, I had the good fortune to finally see Don Bluth's "An American Tail" for the first time. I had been holding out since I was never taken to see it in theaters when I was a kid. Yeah, that Christmas, I got a ton of "An American Tail" merchandise as presents, and thank goodness one item was the storybook, or I would have been at a loss. Anyway, as I said, I'd been holding out and avoiding TV airings, because I wanted to see this much loved film in a worthy atmosphere. In fact, I really wanted to see it on the big screen, though I never thought that would happen. Then, a week or two ago, I found out that the newest Alamo Drafthouse Cinema here in Austin, Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline, would be having three screenings of Bluth films attended by the animator/director himself and his constant partner in crime, Gary Goldman. 

Naturally, I was very interested, but Drafthouse visits can be expensive after you've ordered dinner and everything (I can't resist their pizza), and I barely break even each month. Besides that, which film to see? The screenings were for "The Secret of NIMH", "All Dogs go to Heaven", and "An American Tail". One would think the choice would be obvious for me, but I really love Secret of NIMH... Of course, I went with "An American Tail", and since NIMH was sold out anyway, I guess it was meant to be. As for All Dogs, there's a lot I enjoy about that film, but I have a lot of quibbles with it too.

I eventually realized I HAD to attend this, so I got my American Tail ticket online when there were hardly any left. Seeing/meeting Don Bluth and Gary Goldman in person was a big deal to me. A bittersweet big deal, but a big deal nonetheless. See, I'm one of those guys who thought he would be an animator his whole life, but my plans got disrupted by a few things. I pretty much set my sights on Disney animation specifically, and Disney was expressing that they wanted people with Fine Art degrees when I was starting college. They'd train you for animation in-house later (this was when they were in their Renaissance and could do as they pleased). Well, I got my fine art degree, even though I didn't have much interest in painting fruit, abstracts, or political pieces, nor in a starving gallery artist's life. The degree, of course, has since proven useless for me due to Disney eventually killing off hand-drawn animation, at least to the point that they now would only hire someone already trained and experienced. Yes, thoughts on the profession of animation are a tad bittersweet for me now, even though I think if I could make a go of my comic strip (if I could free up enough time), I could be even happier doing that. Still, I might try to self-train in animation a bit someday, or take a course or two sometime. Maybe make some shorts or features of my own...

Anyway, even after all that, I remain a Disney fanatic. I grew up obsessed with Disney, and when I was little, Bluth and Goldman were on the team and making great stuff like Pete's Dragon and The Small One. And when I was still little, I started to see their post Disney stuff, the video game "Dragon's Lair" and the movie "Secret of NIMH". Always a lover of toon females, Princess Daphne in Dragon's Lair, and perhaps even moreso her redhaired counterpart, Kimberly from Space Ace, were extremely gorgeous dreamgirls of mine, and Secret of NIMH, with its dark and mature themes and haunting music (that great song from Paul Williams in the end credits), I watched that over and over again on HBO when I was a kid. That's the great thing about Bluth and Goldman, though it's also bittersweet for me, ha. They ARE the famous "Disney Defectors". But, they also proved that fine American animation can exist outside of Disney, and that's good to know. I'm just glad I opted NOT to take any Disney merchandise in for them to sign after the Q&A.

By the way, I'm sorry to say that I have no photos from the Q&A. Well, there was a lot going on with me during this event. I'll explain in a moment. With that and just the joy of sitting there watching Bluth and Goldman tell stories of working on these films, with plenty of great celebrity namedropping peppered in, I just completely forgot I was supposed to snap a few shots. Easy to forget when your camera is a really bad phone hiding in your pocket, ha. Thank goodness I at least remembered it while waiting in line for an autograph. By the way, that's not me in the pic below. I was there alone, so yeah, I'm always the cameraman. I'm getting ahead of myself though. Let me get to why this was a fun experience for me, and also a stressful one. As a teaser, let me say that it involved Don Bluth sitting in my seat when I arrived...

Well, first off, I spent the week stressing about what to take to have signed at this event and whether or not there would be any autograph signing at all. I can never get an answer to that second one in advance via Facebook... *grumble* I know a lot of folks feel getting autographs is a pointless thing. I certainly never meant to start an autograph collection myself. However, I'm a guy who loves a good memento, even if you can't take 'em with you. Besides that, they can sometimes be your only excuse for one on one time with these folks you admire, even if, like me, the best you can do is say hello and thank you, and maybe shake their hands. I don't get starstruck really, I just feel tremendous pressure knowing people are waiting in line behind me, even if everyone in front of me is having long conversations with the celebrity guest. It's frustrating, but then I'm a bit neurotic, obviously. Anyway, I was quite annoyed that I knew I had some great Bluth/Goldman stuff in my old bedroom back at my mom's house, FIVE HOURS AWAY, but nothing here in Austin. And, of course, this week there was nothing to be found at any of the Half Price Bookstores, and I didn't think to check a comic shop until it was too late. Still, it all worked out. I realized I could just print out a picture from the web. That took some doing too though. I found this GREAT, hi-res Mrs. Brisby picture, but I had no computer ink (and at 50 bucks a pack, I couldn't afford to grab any just now). I realized I could stop at the Kinko's near the theater before the show and print it out there, and that's what I did. Of course, I had to come back home and change the format first, because I'd saved the wrong one on my pin drive, and this did have me barely making it to the theater. My thanks to the very nice guy working at Kinko's who tried very hard to help me not have to run back home, by the way. At any rate, I thankfully got to the theater right before the film started (Drafthouse won't let you in if you're late anymore). And, it was all worthwhile too, since they DID have an autograph table set up and you DID have to bring your own items (or settle for some postcard or something). Truth is, a nice photo like the one I came up with was the best thing I could have asked for, and I'm so glad I didn't just pick up that book of Disney's the Small One I saw at Half Price Books and ask them to sign that. It's a favorite Disney short and Bluth directed it, but still, it's Disney...

And, what's this? I get to the theater and Bluth is in my assigned seat?!!!

Yes, at the Drafthouse, for a while now, it's been all reserved seating. I found myself standing on the sidelines. Two extremely lovely young ladies were there too, and one finally asked if I needed some help. I just whispered (the theater was already dark), "I think Mr. Bluth is in my seat. But it's totally okay," ha. So, these two gorgeous women led me out of the theater and apologized and everything, and I was offered to sit in the front with them. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure both are married. Yes, I later Googled the one who seemed unaccompanied out of curiosity (she had that kinda Minnie Mouse fashion sense I really LOVE), which wasn't that hard since she owns Toy Joy, the famous Austin toy store, and was the person who arranged this whole, wonderful Bluth/Goldman event. The other's man was emceeing the event, and he ended up sitting between me and the girls. Nice folks, but, harrumph to that. I haven't met an attractive, unattached girl since I was in grade school, let alone one who loves cartoons and toys! Coulda been a nice moment of kismet.

So, the show soon began with a sing-along of the famous ballad from An American Tail, "Somewhere Out There." I used to play that record all the time when I was a kid, but I didn't remember the lyrics anymore. Of course, they were right there on the screen. I ordered a Carnivore pizza, 2 doses of parmesan, and a coke, my Drafthouse usual, and sat back to finally enjoy this classic animated film for the first time. I won't give much of an assessment of it here though, as I'd like to watch it again before I do that. You'd be surprised how hard it is to devote 100 percent attention to a "An American Tail" when Don Bluth and Gary Goldman are in the room watching it with you, there are two gorgeous ladies to your left and you're still wondering if one of them might be single, you are trying to have dinner at the same time and not get your freshly printed photo of Mrs. Brisby dirty or bent, and you're still a little befuddled that when you came into the theater, one of the most famous animation directors ever was sitting in your assigned seat, ha. All that was fine though. It made for an interesting experience.

To give the short version though, I enjoyed the film a lot. I found it almost as good as Secret of NIMH. Well, in some ways it was just as good, perhaps in time I could come to prefer it (or just view it as an equal), though it also was more kid-friendly in general, and that's cool with me too. Heck, I love the Care Bears movies. But, "An American Tail" is not the kind of kid-friendly that talks down to its smaller viewers or panders to their underdeveloped funny bones like a lot of the more recent and more crass stuff. Most people will point out easily the most impressive aspect of the film, besides that it is visually excellent, like all of Bluth's films (that I've seen, ha), and that's the U.S. immigrant story that is the backdrop of Fievel's search for his family (oh yeah, if you know nothing about it, the film is about little Fievel's search for his family after he gets lost during their journey to America in the early 20th century. Fievel also happens to be a mouse, and a Jewish-Russian immigrant, and their belief is that America is a land free of cats - which of course is incorrect). In fact, this immigration story aspect of the film reminded me sooo much of the first act of "American Pop", another animated feature that I really love (though it takes a lot of hits for being entirely rotoscoped, but that's just the chosen style, and it is fascinating). "An American Tail" was a delightful experience, and I look forward to watching it again soon (I recently received the DVD double feature of the original and the theatrical sequel, Fievel Goes West, from a good friend; and though Bluth had nothing to do with Fievel Goes West, so I hear, I DID see that one in theaters and remember liking it a lot).

Anyway, as the film was winding down, I have to admit that something else added a bit of stress to this otherwise great experience. I believe the waitress got a bit confused, and I was accidentally included on the bill of the group next to me, the lovely ladies and the emcee of the show. I admit, I was a bit confused that I was the only one not receiving a check. They politely informed me that they had picked up my food tab because I was forced to change seats, but I still feel this happened totally by mistake. I wish I knew how to get in touch with them so I could reimburse them. My only thought is to swing by Toy Joy soon (been meaning to check that place out forever anyway; as you know, I'm a toy collector myself) and drop it off over there, and hopefully they can pass it along... The more stressful and embarrassing part was that they asked me to leave a tip, and I had to tell them I didn't have any cash on me. It's true, I almost never have cash on me anymore and just include the tip on my card. I try to rectify that no cash thing all the time, but never can seem to make it stick. Again, they were very sweet about it and said not to worry, but of course, I never stop.

Following the film, Mr. Bluth and Mr. Goldman were brought onto the stage, and a movie poster of the film we just saw was given away. By chance, an adorable little girl was sitting in the lucky seat, and we all were quite happy for and bitterly jealous of her. Then, Mr. Bluth and Mr. Goldman proceeded to discuss their careers in animation, which was more fun to hear than I even imagined! Some great questions were asked (I wasn't called upon, but then I probably should have raised my hand sooner; but I was trying to decide on a question!), but that's cool. I was having fun listening, and a lot of questions I might have asked were answered anyway. Some highlights of the discussion were about working with actors like Burt Reynolds, Madeline Kahn, and Hank Azaria. There was some talk about Disney too, of course, ha, and a fun anecdote about getting Paul Williams drunk so that he would finally sing the song for "Secret of NIMH". Stories about Steven Spielberg's help with An American Tail, such as naming Fievel after his own grandfather, were all fantastic to hear! I could go on and on. I don't recall much being said about Dom Deluise, simply because apparently they had already been asked a lot about him at the previous two film screenings, ha, but there was a funny and interesting story about the inspirations for the two crows in Secret of NIMH. And, well, like I said, I could go on and on... It was an amazing experience and I'm very grateful to those responsible for putting this event on, especially Lizzy Newsome of Toy Joy, whose brainchild this all was, and my thanks to her friends, whom I don't know, but I assume are connected to the Drafthouse in some way and were kind enough to pay for my meal that day. I still wanna see if I can reimburse them.

Now, after the Q&A concluded, that wasn't the end of it. As you know, there was a little matter of an autographed picture. Out in the lobby of the new Drafthouse, where the two photos I previously posted were taken, several of us lined up in front of a signing table with our various treasures: Fievel plushes, movie soundtracks, books, magazines, photos, what have you... I wished I'd had my Fievel plush here too (I'm sure it's still at my mom's somewhere, and probably in like-new condition), or my Fievel Christmas stockings from McDonald's (hang on... I might actually have those here! Sheesh... well, probably not). But really, as I said, the photo I managed to get off the internet and printed out at Kinko's was the ideal item for me. You can see in the above image Mr. Bluth and Mr. Goldman sitting at the signing table as I photographed them, and that's my photo on the table in front of them. I didn't say much to them beyond pleasantries, despite how important these people were to me as animation legends. Like I said, I am uncomfortable when people are in line behind me, and I really don't know what to say, though they were two very friendly guys. I don't know what to say when I'm interested in a girl either. I don't know them personally and am shy in general, so beyond introducing myself, well... I'm mostly please and thank you at autograph signings and try to get out of their way quickly. I did manage to shake both their hands at least, ha. I guess that's something. Maybe some talent rubbed off, ha ha. And of course, I now have this...


  1. Hi there Monty! I've been a long time fan of your Amazon reviews. Like you I am a big fan of fairy tales, Disney movies, horror movies, and just plain movies in general. I found this story fascinating. I have always been a fan of Bluth's '80's output (An American Tail, Land Before Time, NIMH, etc.) and I would love to meet him and get an autograph. I've got your site bookmarked. Ryan.

  2. Hi Ryan! Thanks so much for the kind words, and I'm glad you liked the article! It's always great to make new friends with good taste! Ha, they can be hard to find!

  3. I always saw your name on Amazon whenever I read reviews on various horror, Disney, and fairy tale DVD's. Guess it shows that we have similar taste when it comes to movies. Do you have a Facebook account? I am frequently on Facebook so I could friend you on there if you have an account.

    1. Oh, sure, you should find a link on the main page of this site to the Moonlight Motel Facebook page, and among the members of that page you'll find Monty/Moonlight Motel creator Nathan Lee James. Feel free to friend.

      And yeah, ha, those are some of my favorite subjects!