Thoughts on Netflix’s Dragon’s Lair Plans

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Dragon’s Lair creator, Don Bluth, (Left) with his business partner, Gary Goldman (Right).

Netflix has announced that Ryan Reynolds could star in a live-action film adaptation of Don Bluth’s famous video game, Dragon’s Lair. Don Bluth has been associated with some of the best (The Secret of Nimh, An American Tail, The Land Before Time) and worst (Rock-A-Doodle, Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park) animated films of all time, but mostly his best. Following the critical acclaim of The Secret of Nimh in 1982, Bluth created the video game Dragon’s Lair, which stood apart from the 8-bit style graphics that gamers were used to from legendary titles like Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-man. It also cost 50 cents as opposed to a quarter, which was a lot of money in that decade, but it was to make up for the graphics it showcased that were on par with the likes of An American Tail.

The Secret of Nimh has been universally praised for being Don Bluth’s best film.
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Arcade comparisons of Dragon’s Lair to other 8-bit games at the time.

And over the years it’s been re-released on every gaming system imaginable, including the Game-boy Color. Since then, the series has had a spiritual successor in the form of Space Ace, a less than financially successful sequel in 1991, and a transition to 3D in 2002 titled Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair.

Space Ace was the spiritual successor to Dragon’s Lair, and is the only media where Don Bluth has a voice acting credit as the Evil Commander Borf. Despite connections to Dirk the Daring, the game flopped due to the video game crash of 1983. But it’s still available on all consoles today.
Dragon’s Lair 2: Timewarp has its fans, but is seen as a lesser sequel by the public.
Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair utilized some impressive cel-shading techniques when jumping to 3D, but has been viewed as the least in the series due to it’s wonky controls.
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As you can tell, Dragon’s Lair didn’t have much room to expand upon as a franchise after being ported to every console imaginable. But in 2016, Bluth started an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for his Dragon’s Lair movie, claiming it to be a comeback for hand-drawn animation. Despite exceeding his initial funding goal with $731,172 raised in donations, there haven’t been many updates on the project until now, as Netflix has acquired the film rights from Bluth after negotiating for an entire year, and plan to make a live-action movie rather than an animated feature, potentially starring Ryan Reynolds as Dirk the Daring.

This comes as a shock to people who funded the project as Don Bluth has been known for producing impressive animation. And if there’s any platform that can give someone a chance to inject life back into the endangered hand-drawn style, it’s Netflix. They’ve produced a variety of projects over the last couple of years with varying stylistic choices. Just look at the likes of Hilda, Green Eggs and Ham, Castlevania, Klaus, The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants, Carmen Sandiego, and the recently concluded Bojack Horseman. Even Guillermo Del Toro is working on a stop-motion adaptation of Pinocchio, which will be nothing like the iconic 1940’s Disney version we all grew up with. That alone could give theatrical computer animation a run for its money, even when Missing Link bombed at the box-office.

Hilda
Green Eggs and Ham
Castlevania
Klaus
The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants
Carmen Sandiego
Bojack Horseman
Stop-motion figures of Gepetto and Pinocchio in Guillermo Del Toro’s more faithful take on Carlo Collodi’s surprisingly dark book.

The other thing is that Don Bluth hasn’t made a movie in almost 20 years. Titan A.E. was his final film before he retired from film making to focus on teaching students about animation. So to have his comeback turn into a live-action endeavor seems counter intuitive to his very nature. To be fair, $700,000 isn’t much of a budget in animation, in fact it’s usually considered chump change. And that money was used more for a pitch to Hollywood than actually making the movie. However, Netflix was generous in providing a ton of financial support for Green Eggs and Ham, so it seems very odd to take an animated property and turn it into a live-action, almost like the 2000’s decade that had a lot of animated shows jump to the silver screen without their inked roots. Dragon’s Lair has always emphasized speed when it comes to dangers in the castle, which is why the quick time events aren’t as annoying as people claim them to be. It keeps you on your toes and tests your reaction skills. That’s part of what makes the death animations fun to watch even if you fail. In animation, you can control the speed of everything like a cursed knight trying to behead you, or a snake trying to squeeze the life out of you with its coils. But in live-action that suddenly slows down to a snail’s pace, often relying on blurry CGI to bring the impossible to life, and they don’t mesh well together unless the technology on par with 2016’s The Jungle Book. It’s been done before in the worst video game adaptations of yesteryear. Some things are best left in the past.

Bluth’s final film Titan A.E., which served as the big break for Blue Sky Studio as they worked on the computer animated planets.

This is TheCinematicBandicoot and Netflix’s plans for the Dragon’s Lair movie puts a wrench in everything Don Bluth stands for. The live-action direction has much more limitations than that of animation, though casting Ryan Reynolds as Dirk the Daring has promise. It feels like a wasted opportunity to put an animation expert’s work to live-action, but at this point there doesn’t seem to be any other option… unless it’s fitted for a Hulu.

Sources

Dragon’s Lair Movie Indiegogo campaign: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dragon-s-lair-returns#/

What do you think of the direction for Dragon’s Lair: The Movie? What’s your favorite Don Bluth media? Whatever your thoughts are, comment and discuss with others.

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