The Land Before Time (1988)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Some scary, violent moments, but no blood or gore.

This friendly animated feature from executive producers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas spawned a dozen (that’s right, 12) sequels. So while people like me toss and turn at the thought of three more Star Wars or Indiana Jones installments (or Jurassic Park, for that matter), I can always put things in perspective thanks to The Land Before Time.

Most kids (at least boys) become fascinated with dinosaurs at some point during their elementary school years. I know I did. And the film’s narrator (Pat Hingle) unfolds the first five minutes of the story like an elementary school science teacher with brief overviews of the era, the physiognomy of the dinosaurs, and why they eat certain things. It’s a perfect precursor for the little ones. As he explains, herds of herbivores (flat-toothed) are beginning to travel west as the leaf population begins to wane. Kind of like Bambi, the movie opens in the fall as baby dinosaurs hatch and concludes the following spring.

Here is where we meet Littlefoot LandBefore3(Gabriel Damon), the baby “longneck” (brachiosaur) who narrowly escapes death as he pops through his shell. Shortly after, Littlefoot tries to play with Cera (Candace Huston), a baby “three horn” (triceratops), but their parents forbid it to add a subplot message that mirrors racism. “Three horns never play with long necks,” Cera’s father states. When Littlefoot asks his doting mother (Helen Shaver) why he can’t consort with three horns, spike tails, swimmers, or flyers, she says, “We keep to our own kind. … We never do anything together.” When Cera and Littlefoot playfully chase after a frog that evening, they meet a “sharp tooth” (tyrannosaurus rex) and barely escape the beast’s clutches thanks to some help from Littlefoot’s mom. She’s not as lucky after the encounter, however, making Littlefoot an orphan, while a great earthquake separates many other children from their parents.

As the only one that knows the way, Littlefoot becomes the reluctant but determined leader of a group of misfits in search of The Great Valley, an area said to be lush with greenery. Joining him for the trip is the snotty loner Cera, curious bigmouth Ducky (Judith Barsi), scaredy cat Petrie (Will Ryan), and tight-lipped fatty Spike. Together they march through winter snow, over mountains, and through caverns, all while avoiding Sharp Tooth, who’s hot on their trail. The two most enjoyable moments along the way include baby pterodactyls comically fighting over a berry (it almost seems like an animated short), and Petrie finally learning how to fly (a climactic moment of victory worth cheering for).

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Spielberg and Lucas reportedly wanted the movie modeled after Fantasia’s Rite of Spring sequence, and it definitely captures the scary factor. Though the characters are cartoon-ized creatures with slightly human features and childlike voices, their environment is a bleak and depressing one with trees, thorn brambles, and tar pits draped in black, plus fiery skies and barren deserts poured in deep red. With a running time of barely over an hour, director Don Bluth saw about 20 scenes cut during production because they were deemed too frightening. The dark adaptation of the original seems strange now, since most of the sequels turned into bright and cheerful musicals aimed at a younger audience. And there’s not a one I’d recommend like the original.

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