508. The Small One – Don Bluth

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SUMMARY: A young boy must part with his best friend, a small donkey, when the family can no longer afford to keep him.

WHY IT’S HERE: Disney’s ‘The Small One’ is a heavy-handedly sentimental short which is nevertheless notable for several reasons. For one, ‘The Small One’ is one of the few overtly religious films Disney released. More significantly however, ‘The Small One’ also marked the directorial debut of Don Bluth, the Disney animator who would eventually briefly become the studio’s chief commercial rival. Bluth’s only solo directorial film for Disney, ‘The Small One’ betrays his reverence for the high artistic standards of Disney’s earlier work. The quality of this 25 minute short is significantly superior to much of Disney’s feature-length product of this era and Bluth’s desire to steer the studio back towards its former glories clashed both with those who wanted to explore money-saving techniques or less conservative, modern approaches. Soon after ‘The Small One’, Bluth would leave Disney and take with him a group of animators with whom he set up Don Bluth Entertainment, making popular films such as ‘An American Tail’ and ‘The Land Before Time’. Bluth’s obvious potential is clear in ‘The Small One’ but so are his weaknesses, such as an overburdening of sentimentality and some truly awful songs. Big things were expected of ‘The Small One’ but instead it slipped into relative obscurity. It remains as sweet and visually impressive featurette which signposts the emergence of one of the most popular animation names of the 80s.

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