If you went back in time to 1983 and told Don Bluth and Gary Goldman their most popular work would be Dragon's Lair, they'd likely laugh you out of their studio.
This arcade game (and its 22 minutes of feature-quality animation) was never intended to be a huge or prestigious project for Bluth. Dragon's Lair simply existed as work for hire until he and his team could start working on the cinematic project to follow 1982's The Secret of NIMH. But, thanks to its sheer novelty, Dragon's Lair quickly rose through the ranks to become one of the most popular games of the arcade's golden age. And in the passing years, it's become almost impossible to ignore; thanks to the simplicity of the game itself, everything from DVD players to the Game Boy Color has seen its own port of this arcade classic.
It's been more than 30 years since the release of Dragon's Lair, but Don Bluth and his producer Gary Goldman don't consider it a relic of the past. In fact, the two are currently in the midst of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign (which originally started via Kickstarter) that will pay for the production of a "sizzle reel" to pitch the idea of a Dragon's Lair feature to distributors. And while the crowdfunding aspect might be a new addition, Bluth and Goldman have been keen on the idea of a Dragon's Lair movie long before the Internet really existed.
"[Dragon's Lair] was so successful we thought it would be a good idea to make an animated movie out of it," says Goldman. "We made an attempt in '84, and that's when we sat down with Steven Spielberg to do An American Tail. So we abandoned [Dragon's Lair] when we went into that. And it turned out to be a two-picture deal, so [we also did] The Land Before Time. The next time I think we looked at it was probably the '90s—we even talked about it with Bill Mechanic at 20th Century Fox. This is probably our fourth effort."
Out of all Bluth's productions, Dragon's Lair can be called his most gleefully frivolous. It contains no real dialogue, paper-thin characters, and consists entirely of action scenes—very atypical of the films associated with his brand. While speaking with Bluth, you get the feeling he's tickled by what he views as the game's somewhat unlikely popularity: "Oddly enough, [people who played Dragon's Lair during its original release] keep going back and watching this game on all the platforms that it's on right now," he says. "And I can't comprehend that—I don't know why it's on all those platforms. But it continues to sell. And I'm trying to find the reason [it's still appealing to all of these people], so if you know, that'd be great."
Bluth's final Hollywood movie, Titan A.E., happened during a turning point for the animation industry. CG animation was quickly becoming the de facto standard, giving moviegoers the impression that traditional animation was a primitive thing of the past—regardless of how much hard work and artistry it involves. But in the 16 years since Bluth left Hollywood behind, audiences may have grown more receptive towards classic animation, as he explains:
"2D animation came out of the Disney studio, a lot of it. So what it was, it aimed at the children. And as these children grow up, they're in the nursery growing up, and they watch Disney movies. As they get into their teens, and the years when they're going through puberty, the last place they want to be found is in the nursery. So anything that's in the nursery has to be retired. And I think that's one of the reasons 2D got retired: Because it was something that the kids did in the nursery. Some time has passed, and I think there's a new generation of kids who've grown up on CG [animation]. So it's a possibility that you might say, 'Hey, this wasn't your experience in the nursery. Your experience in the nursery was CG.'"
This crowdfunding campaign might be for the sake of independently producing a Dragon's Lair pitch, but that doesn't mean Bluth and Goldman are striking it out on their own. Both men have decades of experience in the studio system, and understand the tricky balance of art and business. "It's really, really important when you know that you're going to make a movie that you're going to make compromises and you have to work with the system. That's the only way you can do it. You can't do it independently," says Bluth, adding, "Somewhere in the system of trying to market something, you have to please [moviegoers]. If they aren't pleased, they won't tell their friends, and more tickets won't come in. And you won't really get the money that that movie deserves to have. So everything in making a movie is a compromise."
After a somewhat rocky Kickstarter Bluth and Goldman chalk up to inexperience, their Indiegogo campaign now sits at a healthy 340,000 dollars. The two have had more than 30 years to think of what a Dragon's Lair feature could be, and before our interview ended, Goldman assured me it would amount to something far more ambitious than what we saw in the arcade: "This movie's not an expansion of the video game. This movie is the characters in that game, and we're going to tell you about those characters: what they want, what their arcs are, how they get together, how they become a couple... It's going to be an adventure, but it's also got a love story."