Not all of Don Bluth’s films have been a critical or commercial success, but the man is still a legend in the animation industry. While it’s easy to say that even his best work is polarizing, Bluth offered a competitive alternative to Disney with films like An American Tail, All Dogs Go to Heaven and The Secret of NIMH. Bluth raised the bar for animation and pushed the envelope (as far as he could with children’s animation) with his dark, mature and incredibly strange stories and themes, forcing the world to see that animation can be taken seriously. He was way ahead of his time in his philosophy that kids could accept anything as long as there is a happy ending, and thanks to his struggles he paved the way for all the amazing animated shows we have today like Adventure Time, Legend of Korra and Steven Universe. While his work inspired many beloved franchises, his hand could be perfect for an adaptation of Kenneth Oppel’s bat epic Silverwing.
Bluth has left his mark on the world but much like the Avatar, when the world needed him most, he vanished for 15 years. The only project he’s currently working on is a full film adaptation of his arcade game, Dragon’s Lair, should it get backing from a major studio. The problem here is that while I’m sure this project has been on Bluth’s mind for some time, the man needs something even bigger for his comeback and The Silverwing series lends itself really well to his strengths.
The first three of four books follow the adventures of a young bat named Shade, while the last one is a prequel book about the very first bat named Dusk. Despite the novels being aimed at elementary and middle school children, the books get very dark and featured a lot of death and gruesome imagery, yet also provide a sense of wonder and adventure. And that’s why Don Bluth adapt the Silverwing books, he’s already done films exactly like these before.
The first book, Silverwing, is very American Tail-esque, with Shade (a runt) getting separated from his colony during a storm and having to make the migration journey alone, much like how Fievel gets lost. The book also coincides with another of Bluth’s films, The Land Before Time. Shade runs into another bat, Marina (who is also alone) and the two help each other survive and make the journey together while attempting to outrun two evil cannibal bats named Goth and Throbb, much like how Little Foot and his friends are all alone and have to make it to their promised land while escaping Sharp Tooth. All three focus on the struggles and determination of children, their hopes and their fears and the power of love and friendship.
Bluth is excellent at showcasing these themes because he isn’t afraid to show how kids really are. Kids aren’t always smart (not out of stupidity, but of ignorance) and often act impulsively. They follow their emotions, sometimes acting like little jerks and being downright cruel, yet they have this innocence and kindness that’s made them lovable. Bluth also showed that it’s okay to be vulnerable and flawed because that’s reality, especially when the hero is a child. Shade (while written a tad more mature) is exactly like Bluth’s child characters. He’s constantly afraid and questioning himself due to his low self-esteem from being born a runt. He’s always looking to Marina (who’s older) for guidance while being capable of coming up with a plan if need be. And he throws himself into the fire to protect those he loves because it’s what he feels is right.
Secondly, the Silverwing novels are filled with a complex imaginative lore and imagery combined with a hint of magic and technology, much like Secret of NIMH. There’s a dark and grand history to why bats can’t be in the sun. There’s religion with the bat god Nocturna and a belief that humans will help them. There’s even a way for bats to use their echolocation to a far greater potential by disguising themselves with projections and even using those projections to sing maps. In the sequel book, Sunwing, Shade and his friends are even experimented on by human scientists for their own personal gain, altering them and causing a great deal of death and destruction, similar to how the rats of NIMH were changed.
Bluth could easily bring all that imagery to life with his painting-like art style. All his films had incredible animation that knew how to set a tone with shadows and grey skies and dusty filth as well as colourful flowers and golden water brought on by the bright sun. The details of the echo chamber from the Silverwing colony and how Shade sees these stories in his mind would be breathtaking.
Lastly (and possibly the best reason), the books get surprisingly dark and gory. Despite being a children’s book, many of the animals die in gruesome ways or go through harsh and brutal trials, especially in Sunwing. Bats are hit by lightning and turned to dust, animals are eaten alive, burned, wings and flesh torn, manipulated into being suicide bombers, sacrificed with their hearts ripped out etc. The last book of Shade’s adventures, Firewing, even has main characters throwing themselves into bat Hell and attempting to escape to cheat death, much like All Dogs go to Heaven. It’s so strange and horrifying it has Bluth written all over it and since animation is allowed to break boundaries now, Bluth could do whatever he wants and go crazy.
Now, the Silverwing series did in fact receive an adaptation, it was popular enough in Canada to be animated as a television series thanks to Bardel Entertainment. However, the series consisted of only 13 episodes and was based off the first book with elements from the second. While the voice acting for the show was fantastic, everything else was…not so much. The animation was blocky and cheap with numerous horrendous animation errors. The show also omitted most of the dark and brutal elements from the novels and deferred greatly from the source material.
Don Bluth and Silverwing have both been burned and forgotten, but working together could be both parties’ salvation. It’s almost too perfect to be true—and most likely will never happen—but Mr. Bluth, if you’re reading this, please pick up the books and read them. Please make those books your magnum opus and come back with a bang. Both you and the series deserve so much more love.