MarzGurl Loves Don Bluth: Banjo the Woodpile Cat

Marzgurl loves banjo.jpg

Release Date
July 25, 2011
Running Time
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(The episode opens with photos of Don Bluth)

MarzGurl (vo): If I hadn't made it obvious before in previous videos, I love Don Bluth. As much as people seem to take me for a huge anime fan, I actually have always found myself a far bigger fan of Western animation, and of all Western animation, Don Bluth has always been my favorite animator. The fluidity of his animation style, the facial expressions, and the body gestures given by every character always helped bring to life something that obviously isn't real.

(Stills from Titan A.E. and Anastasia are shown)

MarzGurl (vo): I especially adore his human animations; they move the way people actually move, but it isn't something that comes off as looking creepy or uncanny valley, it's still quite obviously a cartoon or a piece of animated work; it's still fun to watch.

(The poster from A Troll in Central Park is shown)

MarzGurl (vo): And yes, it's true that not every one of his movies was storytelling gold, but that's hardly what I'm in a Don Bluth movie for anymore. Even the worst of his features have had stunning animation that can't really be ignored. It may just be that sometimes, you have to throw the mute button on once in a while.

(The Walt Disney Pictures logo is shown)

MarzGurl (vo): For a brief history, prior to his work on his own, Don Bluth started as an animator for Disney. Looking back on some of the movies he's worked on, you can really often see how some of these features really affected his solo work later on down the line.

(Posters for The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book and The Rescuers are shown)

MarzGurl (vo): Just look at movies like The Sword in The Stone, The Jungle Book and The Rescuers, you can definitely see elements of facial expression and character movement spill over into his later work.

(Another photo of Don Bluth is shown)

MarzGurl (vo): Now, there were supposedly a number of issues Bluth had with Disney, and so he, along with Gary Goldman, who would later become his longtime animation partner, and a number of other animators left the company and started doing their own work.

(Clips from Banjo the Woodpile Cat are shown)

MarzGurl (vo): And that's what leads us up to the piece of animation that cropped up in 1979, Banjo the Woodpile Cat. The feature is really short, only thirty minutes in length, and it was never particularly well-known. It only had a couple of VHS releases and what would appear to be a limited print of a two-disc DVD release. Wow, two discs for a thirty minute animated feature? There must be a lot to tell. And really, it's not the most amazing story ever put to paper, but it was a fantastic means of getting Sullivan Bluth Studios off the ground. As you can imagine from the title, the main character is a kitten named Banjo who lives in a woodpile on a farm in the countryside, and as the theme song reminds us, constantly throughout the film, I might add, Banjo has a few problems listening to authority.

Theme singers: (singing) Banjo's the cat who could not behave, he seldom did what he should / Banjo is not really bad, they say / it's just, he couldn't be good.

MarzGurl (vo): There's a small montage of Banjo running around, doing things that get him into trouble, trying to get his siblings to do the same things he does, and his parents are constantly scolding him.

Banjo's dad: You have exactly one minute to fetch me a switch.

MarzGurl (vo): But Banjo doesn't like the idea of getting punished and decides to run away, so he hops on one of the farmers' trucks and heads to Salt Lake City. Why Salt Lake City? Well, there's no real reason why this short film takes place in Utah, but looking back at all the information now, why wouldn't Bluth put it in Salt Lake City? It seems that Bluth had a heavily Latter-day Saints background.

(A photo of Don Bluth's great-grandfather, Helaman Pratt, is shown)

MarzGurl (vo): His great-grandfather was a church leader who married in Salt Lake City.

(A photo of Mitt Romney is shown)

MarzGurl (vo): His second cousin is Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who is also Mormon and who also has ties to Utah.

(A picture of a sign for Brigham Young University is shown)

MarzGurl (vo): He got an English literature bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University in Utah, which is operated by the Mormon Church.

(A map showcasing the state of Utah is shown)

MarzGurl (vo): Basically, what I'm saying is Don Bluth most likely is very heavily attached to the state of Utah.

(Clips of the movie are shown again)

MarzGurl (vo): Anyway, moving forward. Banjo ends up trumping all around Salt Lake City. At first, everything is all peaches and cream; he's loving the sights and the sounds and wow, even the tastes. But once the rain sets in, he realizes he has no place to go and he misses his family. Yeah I know, kind of an obvious plot. That's when an alley cat by the name of Crazy Legs steps in. He vows to take care of the kitten while he's in the city and attempt to help him find his way home, but at the very least, he wants to cheer him up, so he takes him out to a nightclub where he meets three really...uh...colorful singing and dancing lady cats. Together, they go through a musical number or two.

Banjo, Crazy Legs and the lady cats: (singing) And old man trouble, he'll have to let you be / 'cause you're gonna come out smiling if you stick with me!

MarzGurl (vo): But when it all comes down to it, Banjo wants to go home. There's a scene where Banjo and Crazy Legs get chased down an alley by a few rabid dogs, and man, they are really scary-looking! I mean, don't get me wrong, this story is so simple and transparent that you know that the two of them are going to make it out of there just fine, but the way these dogs have been animated is amazing, I mean, wow! So yeah, they eventually get out of a bad situation and sleep through the night, hoping and praying to find the truck that brought Banjo to Salt Lake City in the first place, and wouldn't you know it, the next morning, that's exactly the truck that Banjo sees. So he says goodbye to his newfound friends in the city and nearly misses the truck, and rides it all the way back to the farm, never mind the fact that his parents don't even so much as scold him when he gets home; it just seems like everyone is glad to see him back. Maybe the idea was that Banjo was put through so much that that's punishment enough for him. I don't know, at this point, we just kind of have to fill in the blanks with our heads. But hooray, a happy ending for all!

Like I said, this animated short isn't the most amazing thing you'll ever watch, but if you ever manage to find a copy of that two-disc DVD set, pick it up immediately; it's definitely something worth collecting if only for the sake of the fluid animation and the fact that this is what launched Don Bluth into a further blossoming career in animation. When next we meet, we discuss Don Bluth's steps up to making the animated film, The Secret of NIMH.

(Credits are shown)

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