The Land Before Time Parent Review
Remember when you were a kid and you had that favorite childhood movie? It was the one you could watch over and over again and never get tired of. You knew all the lines, you’d memorized all the jokes, and no matter how much your parents pleaded, you couldn’t seem to stop quoting it. For me, The Land Before Time was that film. It was with great nostalgia that I dusted off my old VHS copy. Watching it again was like being reacquainted with an old friend, and I even remembered the words to the song in the closing credits.
If my attachment sounds a bit obsessive, I’ll have you know I’m not alone. The Land Before Time was so successful in its 1988 debut that it spawned over a dozen sequels (I counted), and even a short-lived television series. The production was definitely a good investment for director Don Bluth and a host of producers (including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas) who worked on the franchise over the years.
So what’s so great about this animation anyway? I’ll admit, viewing it as an adult, some of the glitter has rubbed off. The tale follows a young, plant-eating dinosaur named Littlefoot (voice of Gabriel Damon.) Raised under the protective care of his mother (voice of Helen Shaver), Littlefoot is told stories of “The Great Valley”, a place more idyllic than their current surroundings, where his small family can be reunited with others of their kind. Even with signs of the approaching drought, the situation seems manageable until a sudden attack by a vicious carnivore leaves Littlefoot’s mom fatally wounded. In her last moments, she gives her son some final instructions and sends him on a quest to find the legendary land alone. But not quite alone. It isn’t long before the solitary orphan is joined by a variety of other youngsters who look to him as a leader as they search for their own families.
The journey includes a whole range of prehistoric hazards like earthquakes, volcanoes, tar pits and fearsome reptiles. Foremost among them is the terrible tyrannosaurus who dispatched Littlefoot’s parent and seems intent on hunting down the young hero himself. Consequently, the characters are in nearly constant peril. To make matters worse, they have a hard time getting along and tension within the group results in name-calling, arguing, and even some physical confrontations.
Of course, all differences are eventually resolved and the story ends with the disparate dinos learning the value of teamwork and friendship. Unfortunately, the message is weakened by heavy-handed narration and a childish vocabulary, which replaces the names of various species with titles like Longneck and Threehorn. To be fair, Saurolophus and Pteranodon don’t really roll off the tongue, but it’s a bit of an awkward fit to have the serious sounding script (lives are at stake here!) being told in dumbed down language. It’s also a little preachy, even for a kid’s movie.
So why was it my favorite? As I watched the plot unfold yet again, I realized that much of the magic for me was in the music. Perhaps it’s just sentimental attachment, but the haunting melody as Littlefoot’s mother says her goodbyes still brings a tear to my eye and is a credit to veteran composer James Horner. His score added life and emotion to the characters. It gave the fictional world a sense of wonder that it still hasn’t lost to this day.
So despite the mediocre writing, the mystery of a long ago time populated with fantastic creatures of the past proves a sure way to capture a child’s imagination. And strangely, that side of me hasn’t really changed much. I still feel a fairytale sense of anticipation as I hear the narrator say: “Once upon this same earth, beneath this same sun, in the time of the dinosaurs…”Directed by Don Bluth. Starring Pat Hingle, Gabriel Damon, Judith Barsi. Running time: 69 minutes. Theatrical release November 18, 1988. Updated October 13, 2015
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Land Before Time here.
The Land Before Time Parents Guide
What are some of your favorite childhood films? Why did you love about them? Has your perspective changed now that you’re older?
Littlefoot and the other characters sometimes have disagreements. How did those differences of opinions keep them from progressing on their journey? How did pulling together help them move forward? Have you ever had to overcome challenges while working with others?
Littlefoot’s mother gives him directions that are hard to follow, but eventually help him and the others reach their goal. Have you ever been given difficult instructions? How did you stay focused and finish the task? How did this experience benefit you?