The Land Before Time is a 1988 American animation adventure film directed and co-produced by Don Bluth (at Sullivan Bluth Studios), and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall.
Originally released by Universal Pictures and Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, it feat anthropomorphic dinosaurs living in the prehistoric times. The plot concerns a young Apatosaurus named Littlefoot who is orphaned when his mother is killed by a Tyrannosaurus. Littlefoot flees famine and upheaval to search for the Great Valley, an area spared from devastation. On his journey, he 1980s in which Dom DeLuise did not participate (instead, he starred in Disney's Oliver & Company that same year), and the only film in The Land Before Time series that is not a musical, as well as the only one to be released theatrically worldwide.
The film was a critical and financial success, and spawned a multi-million dollar franchise with direct-to-video sequels (without association with Bluth, Spielberg, or Lucas) as well as merchandise (toys, video games) and a television of catastrophic events are causing an intense drought and several herds of dinosaurs seek an oasis known as the "Great Valley". Among these, a diminished "Longneck" herd gives birth to a single baby, named Littlefoot. Years later, Littlefoot plays with Cera, a "Three-horn", lefoot's mother names the different kinds of dinosaurs: "Three-horns", "Spiketails", "Swimmers", and "Flyers" and states that each has historically remained apart. That night, as Littlefoot follows a "hopper", he encounters Cera again, and they play together briefly until a "Sharptooth" appears. He attacks them, before Littlefoot's mother comes to their rescue. During their escape, she suffers severe back and neck injuries from the Sharptooth's teeth and claws. At that same time, an "earthshake" opens a deep ravine that swallows up the Sharptooth and divides Littlefoot and Cera from their herds. Littlefoot finds his dying mother, and receives her final words of advice in favor of his intuition.
Depressed and confused, Littlefoot meets an old Clubtail named Rooter, who consoles him upon learning of his mother's death. Littlefoot later hears his mother's voice guiding him to follow the "bright circle" past the "great rock that looks like a longneck" and then past the "mountains that burn" to the Great Valley. On his journey (now all by himself), Littlefoot meets Cera once again and tries to get her to join him, but she refuses.
Later, Littlefoot is accompanied by a young "Bigmouth/Swimmer" named Ducky, whose company bears him out of his depression. Soon after, they meet an aerophobic "Flyer" named Petrie. Cera, who is attempting to find her own kind, finds the unconscious Sharptooth inside the ravine. Thinking he is dead, Cera harasses him, during which she mistakenly wakes him up, and flees. She later bumps into Littlefoot, Ducky, and Petrie, and tells them that the Sharptooth is alive, although Littlefoot does not believe her. She then describes her encounter (exaggerating her bravery), during which she accidentally flings Ducky into the air and discovers a hatchling "Spiketail", whom she names Spike and brings him into the group. Seeking the Great Valley, they discover a cluster of trees, which is abruptly depleted by a herd of Whiptailed Longnecks. Searching for remaining growth, they discover one tree still with leaves, and obtain food by stacking up atop each other and pulling the leaves down. Cera remains aloof, but at nightfall, everyone including herself gravitates to Littlefoot's side for warmth and companionship.
The next morning, they are attacked by Sharptooth, but escape through a cave-tunnel too small to admit him. Beyond this, they discover the Longneck-shaped monolith mentioned by Littlefoot's mother, and later a string of "mountains that burn". Cera grows impatient of the seemingly resultless trip and decides to go another way, but Littlefoot tells her that she is going the wrong way. Cera refuses to retract an insult about Littlefoot's mother (whom he mentioned to back his claim) causing Littlefoot to attack her, which results in a physical confrontation, a move he later regrets as she bests him. Littlefoot continues in the direction he was told, while the others follow Cera. When Ducky and Spike become endangered by lava and Petrie gets stuck in a tar pit, Littlefoot rescues them, later to find Cera harassed by a small territorial herd of "Dome-heads", and having been coated in tar, scare them away. Ashamed of her fear and reluctant to admit her mistake, Cera leaves them in tears.
Later, while crossing a pond, Petrie discovers Sharptooth nearby. Tired of Sharptooth stalking them and determined to avenge his mother, Littlefoot plots to lure him into the water (using Ducky as bait) beneath a nearby boulder, intending to drown him. As Ducky lures Sharptooth to the water, Littlefoot and Spike are having trouble moving the boulder. During the proceeding struggle, a draft from Sharptooth's nostrils enables Petrie to fly. Sharptooth leaps onto the boulder and the plan nearly fails until Cera reunites with the group to allow Littlefoot and his friends to push both Sharptooth and the boulder into the water below. Sharptooth, who is still determined to attack the young dinosaurs, tries to take Petrie with him to his death. Littlefoot and his friends mourn the loss of Petrie, until Ducky finds him, soaked and exhausted, but still very much alive.
Littlefoot, alone, follows a cloud resembling his mother to the Great Valley, there to be joined by the others. Upon arrival, Petrie impresses his family with his newfound flight, while Ducky introduces Spike to her family, who adopt him. Cera reunites with her father and Littlefoot rejoins his grandparents. Cera then calls for Littlefoot to play. They join their friends at the top of a hill and embrace each other in a group hug.
- Gabriel Damon as Littlefoot
- Candy Hutson as Cera
- Judith Barsi as Ducky
- Will Ryan as Petrie
- Helen Shaver as Littlefoot's mother
- Burke Byrnes as Cera's father
- Bill Erwin as Littlefoot's grandfather
- Pat Hingle as Narrator and Rooter
- Recurring characters:
- Grandma and Grandpa Longneck
- Daddy Topps
- Mama Swimmer
- Ducky's Siblings
- Papa Swimmer
- Petrie's Mother
- Petrie's Siblings
- One-off characters
- Cera's Mother
- Cera's Siblings
- The original Sharptooth
- Littlefoot's Mother (deceased; is mentioned in later films and appears in a flashback in The Great Longneck Migration
During production of An American Tail, talk began of the next feature with Steven Spielberg. Spielberg wanted to do a film similar to Bambi, but only with dinosaurs. An early working title for the film was The Land Before Time Began. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas originally wanted the film to have no dialogue, like The Rite of Spring sequence in Fantasia, but the idea was abandoned in favor of using voice actors in order to make it appealing to children. The film was originally planned for release in fall of 1987, but the production and the release date were delayed by a year due to the relocation of Sullivan Bluth Studios to Dublin, Ireland.
The production was preceded by extensive research, wherein researchers visited natural history museums in New York and Los Angeles and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. The artists had to create a credible landscape and animals. Animators made more than 600 background images for the film. Littlefoot was originally going to be called "Thunderfoot", until it was found out that a Triceratops in a children's book already had that name. It was Lucas's idea to make Cera a female Triceratops, when she was in mid-animation as a male named Bambo. After voicing Digit in An American Tail, Will Ryan performed the voice of Petrie. The idea was brought up by Spielberg's son, Max. The character of Spike was inspired by Don Bluth's pet Chow Chow, Cubby.
Throughout production, The Land Before Time underwent a severe cutting and editing of footage. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas thought that some scenes in the movie would appear too dark and intense for young children. "It's too scary. We'll have kids crying in the lobby, and a lot of angry parents. You don't want that.", Steven told Bluth while looking at the scenes from the film. About 11 minutes of footage, a total of 19 fully animated scenes were cut from the final film, to attain a G rating instead of a PG rating. Much of the cut footage consisted of the Tyrannosaurus attack sequence and sequences of the five young dinosaurs in grave danger and distress. Some screams were revoiced using milder exclamations. Though Don Bluth was unhappy with the cuts, and fought for all the footage, he had to settle on a final running time of 69 minutes, one of his shortest. The sequence of Littlefoot's mother's death was shown to psychologists who gave their feedback to the production team, and the character of Rooter was added to the story to soften the emotional blow. Brief portions of the scene which showed the mother's neck and back bitten have since been edited out of home video releases and television airings, though this footage was present both in the theatrical cut and on earlier VHS copies of the film.
The theme song "If We Hold on Together" was sung by Diana Ross and released as a single in January 1989. The soundtrack was composed by James Horner and released on November 21, 1988.
- Track listing
- "The Great Migration"
- "Sharptooth and the Earthquake"
- "Whispering Winds"
- "If We Hold on Together"
- "Foraging for Food"
- "The Rescue/Discovery of the Great Valley"
- "End Credits"
- The Little Blue Brontosaurus
The Land Before Time was a box office success, grossing $48 million, as well as beating the Disney film, Oliver & Company, which was released on the same day, for the #1 spot during its opening weekend. It brought in a box office total of nearly $50 million during its domestic release, slightly more than Don Bluth's previous film, An American Tail. The film became a hit worldwide, and while Oliver & Company had grossed over its domestic earnings, The Land Before Time grossed nearly $84 million worldwide, which the Disney film did not surpass.
Attached to the film, Universal and Amblin issued Brad Bird's Family Dog short from their television anthology Amazing Stories.
The film has received near-universal acclaim, with most critics comparing the film to the classic Disney films. The film was more critically successful than Bluth's previous film, An American Tail. At review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 74% "fresh" rating from critics. Critics praised the fact that it covered many adult contexts such as diversity, disaster, death, and poverty.
Siskel & Ebert gave The Land Before Time "two thumbs up"; Ebert gave its competitor, Oliver & Company, a "thumbs up", while Siskel gave it a "thumbs down". For his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert gave the film three stars, writing "I guess I sort of liked the film, although I wonder why it couldn't have spent more time on natural history and the sense of discovery, and less time on tragedy."
A review in the Motion Picture Guide 1989 Annual notes that the film "has been called a sort of prehistoric Bambi", and considers it to be more in the style of a classic Disney film than Oliver and Company.
The film generated many direct-to-video sequels, which differ from the original by adding "sing-a-long" musical numbers akin to Disney animated films. Bluth and his animation studio have no affiliation with any of the film's sequels. The sequels have generally been met with mixed reception with several fans of the original disregarding the sequels, while some have embraced the sequels into the canon of the story.
A 2007 television series was released in North America. It follows the style of the sequels in terms of the morality and the musical numbers (with some of the songs being shortened, reworked versions of songs from the sequels).
Home video release history
- UK: CIC Video
- USA/international: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- UK: BBC One ('90s), Cartoon Network UK ('00s), Channel 4 (curre