Three of the most prominent non-Disney animated feature films in the 80s were An American Tail (aka The Fivel Mouse movie), The Land Before Time, and All Dogs go to Heaven - all directed and produced by Don Bluth.
In 1986's An American Tail (which is the first movie I can recall seeing in theaters), we are introduced to the Mousekewitzes, a Russian-Jewish family of mice, who decide to immigrate to America, however on their trip, son Fivel gets separated from his family in a storm and floats into New York on a bottle, where he searches the street for his family. He meets several other ethnic mice, including Irish Bridget and Italian Tony, whose gang are always battling against the cats that terrorize them. Eventually Fivel does find his family and all is good. This movie also spawned the Grammy-winning hit song, "Somewhere Out There." The movie also spawned a 1991 sequel - Fivel Goes West - as well as a Saturday morning cartoon show based off the 2nd film and a western attraction at Universal Studios Theme Park.
In 1988, dinosaurs were made popular again with the release of The Land Before Time. In this movie, dinosaurs roam the earth, however there is a great drought so they are in a hurry to find "The Great Valley" where it is believed lush greens and water are. Near the beginning of the film, a great "earthshake" occurs, separating Littlefoot (a baby "longneck") from his grandparents after his mother dies in a battle against Sharptooth - the T-Rex Lillian of the film - saving her young. Following the directions of his dying mother, Littlefoot begins to make the journey alone to The Great Valley, in hopes that he'll find his grandparents there. Along the way, he finds Cera - a bossy triceratops who got separated from her dad during the earthshake, Ducky - a friendly "swimmer" (parasaurolophus) who is also alone, Petrie - a "flyer" (pterodactyl), and later on, Spike, a stegosaurus who hatches out of an egg and Ducky takes under her wing, deeming him like her brother. While Ducky, Petrie and Spike stay with Littlefoot the whole time, stubborn Cera keeps going off on her own, running into the group several times. They also have a few scary encounters with Sharptooth as they make their way to The Great Valley, having to band together to defeat him and rejoin their families. While this first movie was cute, and the first sequel wasn't too bad, there has been a total of 12 - 12! - sequels to this film. Call me crazy, but I think that's over doing it! I do remember collecting most of the Pizza Hut plastic puppet toys of the characters though - I had Littlefoot, Ducky and I think Petrie.
In 1989, we were given talking dogs in All Dogs go to Heaven. The synopisis from Wiki (which sums up the plot nicely): "Set in 1939, the film tells the story of two dogs, Charlie and his loyal best friend Itchy. Charlie, who is murdered by his gangster business partner Carface, forsakes his place in Heaven to return and take revenge. On his return he frees a young orphan girl, Anne-Marie, who Carface was holding captive because of her ability to talk to and understand animals (giving Carface insider information about whom to bet on in races). At first Charlie and Itchy intend on exploiting Anne-Marie's gift too, but they soon become attached to her and act as her protectors. Charlie learns that he will have to change his ways in order to get back into Heaven." This was a cute film, I loved doggies so naturally I loved this movie, and the little girl was cute too. I recall this one also spawned a sequel and a Happy Meal toy line as well (or was it at Wendy's?). While this one didn't do as well in theaters as Bluth's previous animated films (it opened the same day as Disney's The Little Mermaid - oops!), it did great on home video!
In 1988, Disney decided to get back in the game of animated movies and released Oliver & Company - animal, musical twist on Charles Dicken's classic story of Oliver Twist. Orange kitty Oliver is left alone in the city of New York after all his siblings get adopted but he doesn't. Alone and hungry, he meets a street dog named Dodger, whom he helps get some hotdogs with and follows him back to his hangout and meets the other dogs - Tito, Einstein, Francis and Rita - as well as their owner Fagan, a guy who owes a lot of money to loan shark Sykes, yet has no way to pay him back as the deadline approaches. During an attempt to steal car radios, Oliver gets left behind in a car and found by a rich little girl named Jenny, who's butler Winston takes care of her as her parents are often away on business. She takes Oliver home, where her prissy poodle Georgette gets jealous of all the attention the cat is getting. Thinking Oliver is in trouble, the dogs hatch a plan to get him back, with the help of jealous Georgette. Learning he's been staying with a rich family, Fagen decides to ransom the cat to get money for his debt, but when his plan falls through (Jenny shows up with her piggy bank, as it's all she has), Sykes kidnaps her instead and it's up to Fagen and the gang to get her back! This film had a great cast (Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Cheech Marin, Joey Lawrence) and memorable songs. It marked Disney's comeback and was really groundbreaking for the company.
One of Disney's best known films in the late 80s was 1989's The Little Mermaid. An adaption of the Hans Christian Anderson classic, I loved this one as a kid. We are introduced to 16 year old mermaid princess Ariel and her many sisters, however unlike her sisters, Ariel seeks adventure and is curious about the world up above. After saving a human prince from drowning, Ariel longs to see him again. Having a fallout with her father, the king of the sea who just doesn't understand, she makes a deal with Ursula, the seawitch, who will give her human legs for 3 whole days where in order to keep them, she must get the prince to kiss her with a kiss of true love. Only there's a catch - she will have to trade her voice to the seawitch during her stay up above. And if she doesn't receive the kiss by the end of the 3rd day, she will be enslaved forever to the seawitch. Of course she makes the deal though and begins a brief romance with Prince Eric, the prince she rescued. Truth is, he's in love with her voice, as she sang to him after she rescued him and while he can't remember what she looks like, he remembers her voice. This of course poses a problem, as Ariel no longer has her voice. With the help of her best friend - a fish named Flounder - and her father's aid - a crab named Sebastian - they still try to get Prince Eric to fall in love with her and give her that kiss. Things go fine until Ursula shows up, in a different form and with Ariel's voice, on the third day. I was a crazy Little Mermaid fan, collecting the dolls, tshirts, bedroom sheets, and more! I couldn't get enough of this movie!
In the mid-80s we were also given animated films based off popular toys, such as My Little Pony, Care Bears and Barbie.
In 1985, The Care Bears Movie came out and it was the first feature length movie ever to be based off a toy-line. The Care Bears spend their days in Care-A-Lot, which appears to be up in the clouds, watching down on earth, looking for people who need cheering up. One day, they spy 2 orphaned kids, Jason and Kim who just don't care anymore. Despite the Care Bear's attempts to teach them about friendship and caring, the kids still don't seem phased. Eventually they get the kids to Care-A-Lot and they decide to stay and help out the Bears, as they are working on some invention that can easily teleport a Bear to earth and back. Meanwhile, Tenderheart Bear finds a young lonely magician's apprentice, Nicholas who resides at an amusement park and doesn't have a friend in the world. After finding a mysterious spellbook, Nicholas is befriended by an evil spirit that resides in the book and soon becomes possessed by it. Thanks to all the Bears coming together and the help of Kim and Jason, they are able to break the hold the spirit has on Nicholas. Nicholas becomes friends with the Bears, and Kim and Jason find new parents at the amusement park. At the end, it is implied that Kim and Nicholas also got married later on. This movie was such a hit that it spawned 2 sequels, 1986's The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation, which included the Carebear Cousins, and 1987's The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland, which was a cross between Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.
In 1986, following the trend of movies based on a toy-line, we were given My Little Pony: The Movie. From IMDB: "At Dream Castle, the Little Ponies are preparing a festival to celebrate the first day of Spring. From the Volcano of Gloom, the evil witch Hydia watches the event via her cauldron and, disgusted by the frivolity, tells her daughters that they must ruin it. Hydia's daughters, Draggle and Reeka, are inexperienced at causing mischief and fail utterly at ruining the festival. They return to the Volcano of Gloom in disgrace, where Witch Hydia presents a better plan - they'll make Smooze. The sisters collect a series of disgusting ingredients, but neglect to obtain the Phlume, the prospect of which terrifies them. The spell seems to work regardless, creating a pool of sentient purple lava that gleefully buries Ponyland. It looks like the end of Ponyland, unless all the magical creatures of Dream Valley answer the Ponies' call for help." I remember the witch and her daughters were pretty scary, but for some reason me and my best friend LOVED watching this movie. We loved the ponies and would often use our own My Little Ponies and play along with the movie. This movie also spawned a hit TV series in the 80s as well, which was rerunned on the Disney channel in the early-mid 90s (I remember watching it again with my sister back then!).
Another movie, based off a toy, was 1987's Barbie and the Rockers, which was released with a line of Barbie dolls named also Barbie and the Rockers and was the first Barbie movie. In this movie, Barbie and her band, the Rockers, have just finished a World Tour are invited to do one last show in space to promote World Peace. While the concert in space goes successfully, it appears the band goes through a wormhole and when they land back on earth, they are in 1959, the land of classic Chevy's and malt shops. Adjusting to the time change, Barbie and her band continue to share their music and message of world peace with everyone. Eventually they find a way to get home, but not before one last concert! As a little girl into Barbie dolls, my friends and I loved this movie as well and would sing along with the songs (which included covers of oldies "Do you Wanna Dance?" "Do You Believe in Magic?" and "Catch Me If You Can"). I'll admit, it was this movie that completely confused me when it came to Barbie competitor Jem. For the longest time, thanks to this movie, I thought Barbie and Jem were one and the same, except I couldn't figure out why in Jem movies there was no Ken! There have been plenty of Barbie movies over the years, but this one was the original.