Monday, November 5, 2012

The Land Before Time (1988) - A Classic Dinosaur Tale

The Land Before Time: Don Bluth Goes All-Out Dinosaur

Land Before Time DVD cover 1988
"The Land Before Time" (1988).
Animation, of course, goes way, way back in film history.  Walt Disney built his empire with his animation studio back in the 1930s.  If anything, motion picture animation was considered old news when Director Don Bluth helmed this simple tale adapted by from a story by of cute dinosaurs, "The Land Before Time" (1988). It was a natural fit with low risk - kids love dinosaurs, so why not take a chance and give them what they want?
Littlefoot and her mother in The Land Before Time 1988

But something unexpected happened. This retro film started people thinking. It helped trigger the explosion in animation that continues to this day. It seems like some new animated film bloated with celebrities and button-pushing themes that invariably revolve around some easily sold merchandise comes out every week now during the summer months.

three cute dinosaurs in The Land Before Time 1988

This is a real pioneer. Pixar owes this film a debt of gratitude. It also happens to be a pretty good film.  There are something like 8 sequels out, I lost count, but this was the only one released theatrically.

The Land Before Time 1988

The follow-ups weren't bad, it was just a different era then and nobody really paid attention. People didn't recognize the possibilities except for, well, a few guys who became Billionaires.

dinosaurs group hug in The Land Before Time 1988

If made now, the "Land Before Time" series no doubt would be like "Shrek" or "Cars" and become a cottage industry.  However, in a way, this works to your advantage.  Since the follow-ups were not "big events," a whole lot of them were churned out.  You don't think they could get a new "Shrek" out every year if they felt like it?  Well, this team basically did it.  There is plenty of material available should your child become hooked on the adventures of Ducky (Judith Barsi), Littlefoot (Gabriel Damon) and her mother (Helen Shaver), and the rest of the gang.

dinosaurs fighting in The Land Before Time 1988

You may say to yourself, "Who are these people?"  Judith Barsi isn't exactly Jennifer Aniston in terms of name recognition.  Well, they are good voice people.  Today, everybody knows that animation films are big money (video games, too, but that's another story).  Fancy stars like Dustin Hoffman who once would have laughed if offered voice work, now has his own franchise with "Kung Fu Panda."

The Land Before Time 1988

The big stars let the real pros experiment with work that was then considered beneath them, but once it became clear that animated films were cash cows, they decided to cash in. Why let all those ordinary voices people make some honest money when you can buy another estate? You can see from this film's cast list that it was populated by little-known and even unknown performers. That alone assures you that the creators were not going for only celebrities who could help sell the product but carefully choosing people whose voices actually fit the parts.

three dinosaurs in The Land Before Time 1988

You see the same phenomenon with reality shows.  When they first appeared, the casts and judges were unknown, working stiffs in the industry who had risen to a level of prominence through years of hard work, but whom you would not have recognized if you bumped into them on the street.  Now, of course, the judges' chairs are all loaded only with B-list celebrities and has-beens looking for one last payday, or greedy pop stars.  The average folks are crowded out so that the rich can get richer.  OK, sorry, end of rant.

dinosaur looking back over its shoulder in The Land Before Time 1988

My point is that you shouldn't pass a film like this up because the voices are done by people you don't automatically recognize. Anyway, this is a fun film. The plot here is simple.  An orphaned brontosaurus (Littlefoot) sets off in search of the legendary Great Valley. That is a paradise of lush vegetation where the dinosaurs can thrive and live in peace. Along the way, Littlefoot meets four other young dinosaurs, each one of a different species.  Naturally, they encounter several obstacles as they learn to work together in order to survive.

exploding volcano and dinosaurs crossing a bridge in The Land Before Time 1988

This is a great film for kids of all ages.  The animation is good but doesn't have the exquisite refinement that later such films achieved.  Still, it has a terrific message about getting along and working together to achieve a common purpose. You won't regret picking this one up for a young child to spend endless hours enjoying.

The Land Before Time 1988


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