With the direct-to-home video release of Babes in Toyland, Toby Bluth shares his memories with us of growing up in a household that included brother Don...
Mapleton, Utah is cold in the winter. We were piss-poor Utah dirt farmers. The house was adobe brick and couldn't contain the whole family, so my folks converted the adjacent potato cellar into a room for my brother Don and I. The only thing colder than Utah in the winter was that potato cellar. In spite of the fact that we had an old coal stove with a smoke chimney to keep us warm, it was still freezing. Don and I would stoke up that stove until it glowed red hot and then, dressed in flannel pajamas and fat winter overcoats, we would make a bee-line for the bed and snuggle close like puppies to keep warm. Then we would quote the Disney films, acting out the various parts (Don always did the leads, but then he was older) and that's how we went to sleep. Is it any wonder that we grew up with an enormous love for Disney and for animation, and that we both have made it our life's work?
The Humor of God
I am absolutely convinced that among other infinite qualities, God possesses an enormous sense of humor. Please don't misunderstand me; I do not pretend to know who God is, however, I do know she exists. This sense of humor is painfully clear to me when I look at the Bluth family.
Poor Father did not understand the arts, any of them, much less how you would ever make a living doing such things. He understood work and worked harder than any man I've ever known. Now the joke. He had seven children (six boys and one girl) who are all artistic, each one as talented as the other. Is it any wonder that this man found it difficult to communicate with his own children? We lived in a world different from his. We even talked a different language, and it was sadly a place he didn't know how to be a part of.
Then there was Mother. She claimed she couldn't draw or carry a tune in a bucket. I don't believe she ever considered herself in any way exceptional. Poor Mama never realized that she was the most exceptional person I have ever known.
For as long as I can remember, my mother kept scrapbooks. She would collect pictures of any beautiful image she could find and paste them in a scrapbook like bits of treasure. Little did she know that each beautiful image was also being imprinted on the lives of her children; priceless pieces of beauty, joy, grace, charm and love. Many years later, I saw the flowering of Mother's artistic talent when she got an architect, a bulldozer and a construction crew and, out of her scrapbooks, created her dream house.
My brothers and my sister and I will forever owe a great debt of gratitude to our mother for nurturing the artistic spirit of her children. Certainly my brother Don and I would not be doing what we are doing today if it were not for Mom.
My First "Broadway" Musical
Sure, Pop didn't get the artistic stuff but he never failed to support us as we pursued it. When I was seventeen I wanted to do a Broadway musical - Plain and Fancy. It was an amateur production, but hey, we were kids. For actors and singers I used my friends, most of whom could do neither. For the stage I located a junior high school auditorium. This was great! I was doin' Broadway. My plan had only one tiny flaw, as even an amateur production costs something. I know that backers for Broadway shows are called angels and so I went about seeking angels. My potential angels were amused, but declined. After weeks of frustration it became clear, even to me, that Plain and Fancy was not going to happen. Then one afternoon I got a call from my piano teacher. She said, "I think we found your angel. He will provide the full $500. that is needed to pay the royalties and rent the hall." I was ecstatic. "But," she continued, "he has only one stipulation. He wishes to remain anonymous, and if you can accept that you can have your show. "The show was a "triumph." Time rolled on and I continually asked my piano teacher, "Who was the angel?" But true to her promise, she would never reveal his identity. Many years later as I sat in her kitchen she said, "I'm going to tell you something and I hope I'm not doing a bad thing, but that $500. came from your Dad." Since I was under the obligation of secrecy I couldn't even thank him - until now. Thanks Dad.
What is my point with all this? Simply that these experiences, and countless others like them, molded and shaped every aspect of my life both personal and professional, which by the way, I consider to be the same thing. Whether it is an hour television special The Story of Santa Claus, which thanks to Film Roman I was allowed to design and direct for CBS last year, or the feature Babes in Toyland, which thanks to MGM I was allowed to design and direct for the home video market this year, it is all based on and contains the images, the experiences and the love that was part of my childhood. Having been so blessed how can I consider whatever I may accomplish in the world of animation anything less then a privilege to repay a debt that will never be repayable.
But lo, God's humor continues. For now, here we are, Don and me, a couple of dirt farmers from Utah, each with an animated feature being released at the same time. Ain't life funny?
In no way do I consider any of this competition. I don't really believe in competition. I think it's an inferior motive. You know what I mean, to measure your self-worth against someone else? There will always be people better then I am and there will always be people worse, but this much I know - there will never be anyone quite like me. I feel that way about this entire industry. Animation is a very tiny and fragile part of the motion picture business. Today we are greatly in demand, but it has not always been so. I firmly believe that a success for anyone in this business is success for all of us. A failure for anyone is a failure for all of us. What kind of a person would I be, or how could I truly profess that I love the art of animation, if I rooted for the failure of any animated film from any animation studio, or if by some misguided sense of competition, I tried to take the wind out of someone else's sails? I can't believe that anyone, from Steven Spielberg to Michael Eisner doesn't know and believe this too.
What an exciting time for animation! Just look at the studios who are pouring money into our art form. I have never seen anything like it in the history of our business and hopefully, for all of us, it will continue and grow. Thanks to people like Randy Haberkamp from CBS and Don Mirisch, Jonathan Dern and Paul Sabella from MGM, I think it will.
On top of all this, animated film is so young that we still have many of the legends and pioneers who created our industry among us. During the making of my Christmas special, I had the privilege of working with one of these priceless, dedicated living treasures, Phyllis Craig. None of us could have known at the time that The Story of Santa Claus was to be her last film. At her memorial there were dedications, awards, galleries and moneys all pledged to animation in her name. What more could anyone ask from life than to know when your time comes to join the feathered quire, those of us who are left behind will forever sing your praises and countless others who you never knew you will see and enjoy your gift. Thank God for Phyllis Craig.
We, the artists, are well aware that they, the suits, think of us as "space cadets," and conversely we call them the "bean counters." Boys and girls... we must get over this. We "cadets" do not exist without you "bean counters," and you do not exist without us. We are all in the same boat together and it is obvious that we'll get a lot farther if we all put our little oars in the water and paddle in the same direction. It's called teamwork.
My Lucky Life
In his lifetime my father understood work only as drudgery. I'm not sure how I lucked out, but I color all day with my crayons and they pay me for it. What a concept. It's mind-boggling. You have fun and they give you money too. When we do a film, we collaborate with other talented people who hopefully are having a good time too. We are all dedicated to doing the best we can to make a film that will delight the viewer. I hope that my films will make you laugh, impart a bit of understanding of the human condition or best of all, move the heart.
Now, I certainly have no objectivity about my latest film, Babes in Toyland, nor will I have objectivity about my brother's film Anastasia, but if either of us can accomplish these things, I will consider our films a success. Please bear in mind this is the opinion of a man who's sources of reality are the Bible, The American Musical Comedy Theater, and animated cartoons. I'm sure that's because I've been a minister, I have done over a hundred stage musicals and I make my living in the wonderful world of animation.
Dear brother Don, good luck and break a leg. I want you to know that I love you and I am cheering for Anastasia.
We may all just be drops of water in the great sea of life, but some of the drops do sparkle. What a joy to work in a business like animation that is literally glittering with exceptional people.