George LucasSteven SpielbergdinosaursDiana Ross
The Land Before Time
Medium: film
Year: 1988
Director: Don Bluth
Writer: Stu Krieger, Judy Freudberg, Tony Geiss
Executive producer: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg
Keywords: dinosaurs, animation
Country: USA, Ireland
Actor: Judith Barsi, Pat Hingle, Gabriel Damon, Helen Shaver, Bill Erwin, Burke Byrnes, Candace Hutson, Will Ryan, Diana Ross
Format: 69 minutes
Website category: Other
Review date: 7 July 2011
It's the other animated dinosaur children's movie, after Disney's Dinosaur. It actually came out first, by twelve years, but Disney's more famous than Don Bluth and so I hadn't heard of it before. However this demonstrates my ignorance, since it spawned twelve straight-to-video sequels with "sing-a-long" musical numbers and a more kiddie-friendly tone. My favourite example of the latter is the following title: The Land Before Time XIII: The Wisdom of Friends. These films died in 2007, but only because they'd turned into a TV series.
I won't be talking about those any more, though. The original film is better than Disney's one, but both of them are okay.
The main differences are that this one's more charming, less stupid and more in control of what it's saying. The character who goes around saying racist things is also obnoxious, stupid, pig-headed, a liar and self-destructively proud. (She can be useful when it comes to Tyrannosaurus Rexes, though.) However the key factor is that she's essentially a small child, as are all of our hero dinosaurs, and half the time she's just parroting nonsense that she was told by her parents. She's going to learn that she's sometimes wrong and grow as a person. She's arguably the most important character in the film, but you can't say that her worldview is being supported by the story.
There's no credibility gap with dinosaurs living alongside cute lemurs. You can watch most of it without having to remove your brain, although I frowned a bit at our heroes all finding their families at the end (eh?) and there's an oddity in their use of language. Dinosaurs speak English (unless of course they're trying to eat you), but with vocabulary quirks.
Longneck = Brontosaurus
Three-horn = Triceratops
Sharptooth = Tyrannosaurus Rex
Earthshake = earthquake
"the bright circle must pass over us many times" = many days
In theory this is admirable. It's a nice touch, of which I approve. Getting more specific, the first three are reasonable. It might have jarred to hear dinosaurs referring to themselves with Latin-derived names, especially the ones who are tiny children, although personally I think it would have followed on logically from them talking English in the first place. "Earthshake" is harmless. It's a bit of flavour. However I defy any linguist to explain why dinosaurs' language would have a word for "circle", but not for "day" or "sun".
I also liked the hand-drawn animation style. Disney's film looks stunning, but the photo-realistic CGI makes it more disappointing when they start talking and you realise that despite appearances these are still Disney characters under the dino-skin. There are no such problems here. The animation's just as lovely to look at as the CGI... no, on second thoughts I prefer it. It's also more appropriate to hear hand-drawn animated characters talking like children.
The story's straightforward, but I think it has slightly more meat than Disney's. All our heroes are being voiced as extremely small children... and the main hero sees his mother fight a Tyrannosaurus Rex and die. The producers (Spielberg and Lucas) were extremely worried about this and there was talk of omitting this part entirely, but then this caused a story problem in that you'd have to explain why our heroes had to travel on their own to the Great Valley. In the end, Don Bluth got to keep it on condition that they added the Rooter scene, who's a wise old dinosaur who gets a quick cameo to dispense philosophical wisdom about grief. I really liked this scene, actually. It feels as if it's adding weight to what's occurred. It's underlining it and giving it a point. That really works. However there were other battles that Bluth lost, resulting in a film that lost a full eleven minutes of footage in order to turn its PG rating into a G. Bluth wasn't happy about this and fought to keep all the changes, but it wasn't to be. Apparently the uncut version hasn't necessarily disappeared without trace, though, having surfaced on Finnish television in 1995 and 1998.
Personally though, I didn't notice a problem. The Tyrannosaurus attacks could have been more terrifying (i.e. at all), especially given their oddly lyrical incidental music, but I can forgive a lot of a movie that kills the hero's mother.
There are little things I love. I enjoy the potential of an egg, for instance. You see this white round thing twitching and you know that anything could be about to emerge. Also Petrie made me laugh, which means that for once in one of these films, a comedy sidekick has actually been funny.
As for the cast, I didn't notice them much, which means they're doing their jobs. Judith Barsi has a bit of trouble with her "yup yup yup", but then again she was only nine or so at the time and otherwise she's pretty good. I'm impressed. However I'd advise you not to think about the fact that this is the same Judith Barsi who got murdered by her father the following year, aged only ten, shortly before the release of All Dogs Go to Heaven.
The basic story's a lot like Disney's film. Dinosaurs are driven by something that looks a lot like an extinction event to go on a big trek across inhospitable country to find a sheltered valley where they'll all be able to live in peace. This film even goes so far as to tell us that their descendants go on living there for many generations, suggesting that that extinction event might not have been what it looked like. I thought the similarities were going to go even further when something tries to steal an egg near the beginning and it rolls away, but fortunately there's no lemur island in this film. Overall, it's quite nice. It's charming, it has heart and it has a strong emotional journey for its characters even if the plot isn't particularly complicated. I'll admit that I'm curious about Bluth's original 80-minute edit, but not enough to put too much effort into searching for it. This is an excellent film for small children, which also plays well enough to be watchable for adults without being likely to become your lifelong favourite or anything.
"Three-horns never play with longnecks."