March 30th, 2020
Netflix announced a live-action adaptation of Don Bluth’s video game, Dragon’s Lair. Ryan Reynolds is attached as the lead knight, Dirk the Daring.
Bluth became 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. Following the critical acclaim of The Secret of Nimh in 1982, Bluth created Dragon’s Lair, which stood out from the 8-bit style graphics from arcade titles like Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-man. It also cost 50 cents as opposed to a quarter, but it made up for it with graphics from a former Disney animator.
Over the years, it’s been re-released on every gaming system imaginable, including the Game-boy Color. Since then, the series spun off into a spiritual successor Space Ace, a less than financially successful sequel in 1991, and a 3D action-platformer in 2002’s Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair.
Dragon’s Lair never expanded 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, hailing it as the comeback for hand-drawn animation. Despite exceeding his initial funding goal of $500,000 with $731,172 donations, updates stopped until Netflix acquired the film rights from Bluth after negotiating for a year. They 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 backers as Bluth’s animation background makes the live-action plans puzzling. If any platform can inject life into the endangered hand-drawn style, it’s Netflix. They’ve produced a variety of projects over the last couple of years with varying style: 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 Disney version. That alone could give theatrical computer animation a run for its money, even when Missing Link bombed at the box-office.
It’s been almost 20 years since Bluth’s last movie Titan A.E., before he retired from film making to focus on teaching students about animation.
For his comeback turn into a live-action endeavor seems counter intuitive to his 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. Netflix provided a ton of financial support for Green Eggs and Ham, so why take an animated property and turn it into a live action? This harkens back to the early 2000’s where animated shows jump to the silver screen without their inked roots.
Dragon’s Lair emphasized speed to avoid enemies, which makes the quick-time events mandatory. It keeps you on your toes by testing your reaction skills. That’s part of what makes the death animations entertaining even if you fail. In animation, one 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 slows down to a snail’s pace, relying on blurry CGI to bring the impossible to life. This does not mesh well 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.