The Animated Films of Don Bluth
by John Cawley


XANADU debuted in 1980 and became the first theatrical release to feature the new Bluth studio's powers. Though the work was merely an animated music video to the song "Don't Walk Away," it once again gained a good amount of publicity and is one of the few things notable about the film.


The story featured the muse Terpsichore (Olivia Newton John) coming to Earth and aiding a young man (Michael Beck) in the opening of a roller disco named Xanadu. It was slightly based on an earlier film, DOWN TO EARTH (1947).


The two lovers are having a glass of champagne at an empty Hollywood Bowl. Michael tries to kiss Olivia but she stops him. He questions her a bit, but he evades all his questions. Finally the two kiss. As they kiss, they begin to glow and animated sparkles surround their bodies. The two become fully animated characters, still at the Hollywood Bowl. They throw their champagne glasses away and kiss again. On this second kiss, the pair begin to spin and the background whirls around them. They and the background turn to whirling sparkles and light that shoot up into the sky like a skyrocket and explodes. The shower of sparks fall to earth and reveal a single rosebud in a garden. There is a spotlight on the solitary rose.

The camera moves in close to the rosebud as it opens. Inside the rose are the animated versions of Michael and Olivia, still kissing and glowing. She pulls away and dances off the flower onto a nearby stem and walks behind a leaf. Her glow shows through as she peaks out one side. He comes up from behind her and tries to kiss her again. As she pulls away, she vanishes in a swirl of sparkles leaving a mystified Michael.

She reappears at ledge near a waterfall. He dances up to her and they dance briefly. She then leaps through the waterfall and emerges on the other side as a golden, yellow fish. He follows her and is transformed into an orange-ish fish, still wearing his red jacket.

Underwater, she uses her tail as a veil to peak out from behind. He watches her through some foliage as his tongue hangs out. Then he swims upward and pops out of sight and out of the water, returning momentarily with a flower in his mouth. He swims down to her and drops the flower in front of her. She picks it up and swirls slowly at him and tickles him with the back of her tail. He spins around and smiles.

She drops the flower and swims around a branch with him in pursuit. Swimming towards the surface, she breaks through and flashes into a golden bird, with leggings. He breaks the surface and changes into a brownish bird, again with his red jacket. When he spots her, he tries to grab her with his wings but she drops below his grasp. Suddenly from behind him, she flies up, wraps her wings around him and then flies off.

Next she flies along the surface of the pond, looking at her glowing reflection. He flies in underneath her and turns around, flying backward and looking at her. Again he tries to grab her, but she flies upward. He continues backwards and crashes, unseen, into some bushes.

She lands on a leaf. Below he comes out of the bushes and flies upward. She takes off and the two fly around and land back on the open rose. She immediately changes back into her human (animated) form, as he, still a bird, jumps up and down in anticipation. Getting down on her knees, she picks up the bird and nuzzles it slightly. She then tosses it into the air as it transforms into the human (animated) Michael. He gives her his hand and helps her stand.

The two then kiss again. The rose closes back up as a spotlight changes into a circle so that all is seen is the rosebud. The scene then changes to live action, the next morning as Gene Kelly and the workers are celebrating.


The sequence came about due to a difficulty in production on the Universal film. It allegedly happened when those writing the songs for the film discovered that "Don't Walk Away" was not in the final production. They protested to the studio and the studio opted to put the song in the picture. The only problem was that there was no point in the story for it.

The producers decided to create a tiny fantasy sequence between the boy (Michael Beck) and the girl (Olivia Newton John). Don and Gary were brought in and shown the scene (a kiss) and asked for ideas. A letter from Gary Goldman to co-Producer Joel Silver stated "We feel that your project would lend itself perfectly to embrace our medium and has the potential to create a milestone in animation."

Don and his team came back to Universal with the following outline dated May 5, 1980:

"After the Kiss, somewhere in the Hollywood Bowl, Olivia and Michael will freeze frame, they begin to glow and sparkle. The patterns of lite [sic] explode moving in an upward direction and settle in a silhouette of a rose bud. The bud lites [sic] up and opens revealing Olivia and Michael still Kissing. She breaks away, but he wants more, so it will be her teasing and him pursuing as they fall very much in love. Olivia leads him to a gold river with a fall. She drinks the water and transforms into a shimmering sparkling goddess. She offers him a drink there, he takes on a similar appearance. There will be a series of transformations where they become fish and birds etc., maintaining all the while the coy love chase. She is always illusive [sic]. To finish they become human again and he gets his second Kiss.

"The Kiss will be the climax of the animated sequence. This should happen with perhaps an explosion of colorful pixy dust and a x-dissolve or wipe to the next sequence (front of the nite [sic] club)."

Universal agreed and said to go ahead with the work. The Bluth studio now had 12 weeks to complete two minutes and seven seconds of full animation.

Due to the heavy amount of work on NIMH, Don decided to handle the work on XANADU mostly himself. Don did all the key animation of the sequence himself, assisted by a crew of 12. To keep the work separated from the NIMH duties, it was decided those working on XANADU would work at Don's house.

Don set to work on finalizing the designs on the characters and came up with a pair of fish and a pair of birds. The sequence would start out with animated caricatures of the stars.

After a live action shoot on May 9th, the storyboard was finalized on May 10. He was assisted on the storyboards by Lorna Pomeroy. The final board was shot on the 11th. By the 14th, the crew was back to work at Don's home.


It received generally poor reviews. Daily Variety referred to it as "Truly a stupendously bad film whose only salvage is the music." Overall, it has been quickly forgotten. Even Don seemed disappointed with project. When a series of articles was being prepared in the mid-Eighties on the various films of his studio, it came time to discuss XANADU. Don's response was "No one could possibly be interested in hearing anything about that film."

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