For, May 23, 2014

"Banjo the Woodpile Cat" (1979) is a cute cartoon short (27 minutes) created by animator Don Bluth, a Mormon raised in Payson, Utah.

The story is set in the 1940s and has mischievous Banjo repeatedly getting into trouble until he finally runs away from home by hitching a ride to Salt Lake City, where he finds plenty of danger and excitement.

Bluth was working as an animator for Disney when he conceived "Banjo" and drew it (with help from animator friends) on his own time over the course of four years.

Becoming disillusioned with the studio features he worked on —  "Robin Hood" (1973), "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too" (1974), "The Rescuers" (1977) and the cartoon sequences of "Pete's Dragon" (1977) —  Bluth yearned for a return to the classical animation style of Disney's earlier heyday, which he employed in "Banjo."

In 1979 Bluth left Disney while working on "The Fox and the Hound" (1981) and "The Black Cauldron" (1985), securing a brief Los Angeles theatrical run for "Banjo" with a holiday re-release of "The Muppet Movie" at the end of that year. He wasn't able to get "Banjo" on television until May 1982, when it finally aired on ABC.

But the film led to his first solo theatrical feature, "The Secret of NIMH" (1982), followed by "An American Tail" (1986), "The Land Before Time" (1988), "All Dogs Go to Heaven" (1989), "Anastasia" (1997) and others, including the "Dragon Lair" videogames.


"Banjo the Woodpile Cat" had a healthy afterlife on VHS during the 1990s and is fondly remembered by a generation of young adults who grew up watching it over and over on their home videotape machines.

They will no doubt be happy to share it with their own children as it makes its DVD debut this week from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.