- Directed and Produced by Don Bluth
- November 18, 1988
- Littlefoot-Gabriel Damon
- Cera-Candace Hutson
- Ducky-Judith Barsi
- Petrie-Will Ryan
- Littlefoot’s mother-Helen Shaver
- Cera’s father-Burke Byrnes
- Littlefoot’s grandfather-Bill Erwin
- Narrator, Rooter-Pat Hingle
Fleeing famine, a young dinosaur is separated from his family and must continue their journey with others as they avoid danger along the way.
The Land Before Time came out at a time when Disney was pretty much the only game in town when it came to theatrical animation. Until the purchase of Fox kids today got movies from them. There is also a great deal of access to stuff today that does not see a wide release. Back then it was Disney or nothing. This and An American Tail along with The Secret of NIMH were something unique and better than what was coming from the House of Mouse back in the day.
I recall The Land Before Time being heavily marketed with the George Lucas and Steven Spielberg connection heavily hyped. It certainly was an indication of quality to my young mind but the film itself looked fantastic. And truthfully it was and still is.
The Land Before Time is a little over an hour but it manages to pack in a lot in its 69 minutes. Reportedly Spielberg made some cuts so as to prevent upsetting children, but I never felt anything was missing. The story is set up and the characters are well-developed. They all go through an arc and deal with a major threat. Along the way the child characters leave youth behind and become adults through their struggle and needing to face serious decisions with permanent consequences.
For much of my young life I was heavy in the dinosaurs. I read just about every book that my school library had on them. Sometimes even more than once. I went into this film being able to identify the dinosaurs by name and even the water creature in the opening. We have the Apatosaurus (Longneck) named Littlefoot, Cera the Triceratops (Threehorn), Ducky the Saurolophus (Bigmouth), Petrie the Pteranodon (Flyer), and Spike the Stegosaurus (Spiketail) who are barely one step ahead a Tyrannosaurus (Sharptooth).
One theme in this film is faith. I am not talking about religious faith. Early on in the story little foot is having a discussion with his mother and he asks how does she know that the Great Valley exists. Her response is that some things you see with your eyes and some things you see with your heart. I can’t remember the last movie that talked about that kind of faith. That faith-the faith that things will get better or can be better-gets you through the darker times.
There is also the theme of bigotry and overcoming your differences. For example, Littlefoot starts playing with Cera when her father steps between the two and says that Threehorns never play with Longnecks. And then Littlefoot’s mother eventually explains to him that it’s always been that way. Deep stuff for a kid’s film. A children’s movie touching on how biases and bigotry can be generational because “that’s the way it has always been”? When was the last time you got that from a film?
And that leans into the overcoming your differences aspect of the story. This is diverse group of individuals from different backgrounds and what you could equate to ethnicities overcoming the differences between them to make it to their destination. They found what they had in common and built from there.
My point is while this certainly appeals to little kids it is not a juvenile story. These are juvenile characters who have to step up in their young lives and be adults, but they also act like kids. The narrative doesn’t simplify or soften what goes on. For example these children are very clearly on the menu of the Sharptooth.
And that moment when Littlefoot’s mother dies is not done quickly but is drawn out and rather tragic. Littlefoot has trouble dealing with the loss of his mother, but the reality of the situation hits him and he has no other choice but to pick up and continue on. That’s some pretty heavy-duty stuff right there for a kid’s movie! I’m not sure if you could find that as explicit and seriously done in anything released today. The 80s did not mess around.
The animation is still beautiful. Don Bluth created vibrant environments and characters. Maybe it’s me being nitpicky but I did notice though some issues with coloring. Maybe it was an artistic choice or maybe somebody screwed up but the characters in some of the distance shots took on completely different tones than they did close up.
The Land Before Time is a great classic piece of animation. It is well done and still beautiful to look at. If you haven’t seen this yet or it has been a while, then you need to give it a watch!
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