It was a low-key occasion but the prehistoric hand-drawn animated adventure, The Land Before Time, marked its 30th anniversary in November.
Within the first half hour, we meet the core characters of this animated adventure: Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Petrie, and Spike. Littlefoot meets Cera while his Longneck family of three are on a journey to the Great Valley. Initially told that Longnecks don’t play with Three-Horns, neither Littlefoot nor Cera have a choice if they want to survive and reunite with their families following an earthquake. The unthinkable happens when Littlefoot’s mom sacrifices her life to save her son and Cera.
In this time of mourning, Littlefoot doesn’t think he can do it. He pressures on and soon meets Ducky the Swimmer. Not long thereafter, Petrie the Flyer who can’t fly yet joins. Finally, there’s Spike the Spiketail who eats everything in sight. With herds divided and families split up, it soon becomes a race against time for Littlefoot and company to reach the Great Valley. All the while, the threat of Sharptooth looms large. Will they get there in time?
In the years leading up to the Disney Renaissance, Don Bluth was directing some of the classic animated films of the 1980s. Teaming with Steven Spielberg, Bluth was at the helm of both An American Tail and All Dogs Go to Heaven. As for this animated film in particular, George Lucas came on board to executive produce alongside Spielberg and Amblin. The duo were no strangers when it came to putting an adventurous film together–having worked on the Indiana Jones series. We still have the same sense of adventure but in a different era of time altogether.
There’s no denying the fact that animation has changed so much in the past three decades. Much of it takes place by way of computer rather than hand-drawn animation. In viewing The Land Before Time, one can’t help but appreciate this bygone era. It seems so rare now but yes, there was a time when people drew animation by hand. It’s just as beautiful now as it was in 1988 when it became the first film I ever watched on the big screen. I still appreciate the splendor of this film.
At 69 minutes, The Land Before Time is awfully short. One can’t help but place the blame on the scenes that would be seen as otherwise too dark for children. As a result, nobody could blame them for cutting out what they did. The scenes with Sharptooth were so intense that it took several years before I stopped flinching. This doesn’t change the fact that I still get upset and angry that Littlefoot’s mother dies within the first half hour. This is one of the few on-screen deaths in animated films that are so tragic that one can’t help but cry. Bambi’s mom is another that comes to mind. This isn’t surprising to know upon learning that Bambi is one of the film’s chief inspirations.
With animation that is beautifully hand-drawn, The Land Before Time manages to hold up at 30 years old.
DIRECTOR: Don Bluth
SCREENWRITER: Stu Krieger
CAST: Gabriel Damon, Candace Hutson, Judith Barsi, Will Ryan, Helen Shaver, Burke Byrnes, Bill Erwin, Pat Hingle