The Land Before Time (1988)

“Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen closely.”

“Petri, do not feel sad. It is alright. Many things cannot fly. Rocks, trees, sticks, Spike…”

What kid doesn’t like Dinosaurs? Even little girls with frilly hair and frou frou dresses, if you asked them, would name you their favorite dinosaur. In the late 80s, EVERY SINGLE KID probably saw this movie. We got those plastic puppets at Pizza hut. We quoted it nonstop (“yep yep yep yep yep”). Admit it, you just said that in Ducky’s voice. I know you did. How could you not?

Don Bluth hit another one out of the park in 1988 when this movie came out. In fact, this movie is why very few people have heard of Disney’s The Rescuers Down Under. They competed at the box office, and this one won. It’s kinda a shame too. Cause both are amazing movies (we’ll get to Rescuers Down Under later…).

Everyone I’m sure knows the story. The Dinosaurs are all trying to get to the Great Valley, where there’s enough food to last for eternity. Along the way, an earthquake (or “earth shake” as they call it) along with a T. Rex (or “sharp tooth”) separates some of the young from their families, and it’s up to Littlefoot, Ducky, Cera, Petri and Spike to find their way to the Great Valley and (hopefully) be reunited with their families.

I think one of the things I adore about this movie still is that it has a language all its own. The dinosaurs aren’t called “triceratops” or “Apatasaurus,” but instead “3-horns” and “long-necks.” I don’t know why, but I LOVE this. It’s like we’re really watching it as it was happening. It’s what they called each other. There’s “tree-stars,” and “earth-shakes.” oh man. I just… I love it.

Once again, just like in The Secret of Nimh and An American Tail, Bluth is not afraid to shy away from tough subjects. In fact, this feels like nothing but tough subjects. Everyone always complains about Bambi’s mom dying and saying it destroyed their childhood. My reaction to Bambi’s mom dying is what Chandler said once in Friends: “Yes, it was all very sad when the guy stopped drawing the deer.” You didn’t see anything. But OH. MY. GOD. Littlefoot’s mom dying is SO much worse. How this didn’t scar me beyond all hope is amazing. I know why it didn’t. Because it was handled SO WELL. The things his mother says to him as she’s dying… it’s perfect.  It’s real. And Littlefoot handles it like it’s real. It takes him a while to get over it. He sees a shadow of himself and thinks it’s his mother and runs up to it and licks a wall and… oh my god. Crying…

The more I think about it, the more amazing this movie becomes. It’s about life. It’s about hardships. It’s about overcoming everything that you ever thought was hard to get to the goal at the end. It’s about facing your monsters. It’s about friends. It’s about overcoming prejudices (3-horns do NOT play with Long-necks!). It’s about survival.

The characters are amazing, memorable, and great. Littlefoot is a dinosaur on a mission; a bit one-track minded but you can see why. He is the leader. Ducky is just… how could you not remember her? She’s the fun one. Petri is the pteradon that can’t fly. And Spike is the stupid Stego. Yeah… I always thought that was a bit mean, but I always just tossed it off as he was younger than the rest so he didn’t know how to speak yet.

Then there’s Cera. She is by far the most interesting character I have run across in a long time. When I was a kid watching this, she was just super annoying. As an adult, I see so many little kids in every little thing she does. She acts all tough and proud and wants to be independent, but at the same time is timid and self-conscious and needing of friendship. I feel like I really can’t explain her well enough. You just have to watch the movie yourself as an adult and see. She’s great.

I am going to address the one “conspiracy” theory that people seem to have about this movie. Apparently some people believe that the kids’ journey to the Great Valley is really all about their journey to “Heaven,” and that all the dinosaurs are already dead. That they’re traveling through limbo or something. I have to admit, it is a very interesting idea. I can see why people think Don Bluth could possibly have meant something like this. The Great Valley is a Utopia, like Heaven, and given everything else that this movie is about, I really wouldn’t put it past him to be this deep. However I believe that this is not the case. If it was, wouldn’t his mother be there? Yeah… ah well. If you believe it means that, more power to you.

This is another Classic that I would definitely recommend to families. There really isn’t much wrong with it, other than the fact that it can move a bit slow. Although my biggest qualm is that it wasn’t long enough. It’s really short. Like… just over an hour. I feel it could have been a little bigger and a little longer. But as it is, it’s wonderful. It’s heartfelt, funny at times, and teaches many valuable lessons that little ones can learn. It’s also insanely quotable.

Don’t ask me about any of the sequels. I refuse to watch any of them (although I think I saw one one time when I was babysitting…)

Oh yeah, then there’s this:

The moment you realize that Littlefoot…

Littlefoot

is Spot from Newsies. Yeah. Mind = blown!!!

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I give The Land Before Time (1988) 4.25 out of 5 stars.

Up Next: Anastasia (1997)

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