Film Review: The Land Before Time
In 1988, Don Bluth released The Land Before Time, which starred Gabriel Damon, Candy Hutson, Judith Barsi, Will Ryan, Helen Shaver, Burke Byrnes, Bill Erwin, and Pat Hingle. The film grossed $84.4 million at the box office and spawned 13 direct-to-video sequels. The film was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film as well as the Young Artist Award for Best Family Animation or Fantasy Motion Picture and became the highest grossing animated film of all time until 1989.
When a group of dinosaurs leave their home for a place of promise and opportunity known as the Great Valley, a Long Neck named Littlefoot becomes separated from his grandparents and watches his mother die protecting him from the Sharptooth, causing him to have to make the journey to the Great Valley by himself. However, he is soon joined by other young dinosaurs of different species who are also trying to find their families in the Great Valley.
Though it’s not a paleontologically accurate film by any means, The Land Before Time is a wonderfully great film presenting both kids and adults with a group of child dinosaurs just trying to find their way back to family and safety. While they eventually do, the film makes it so they have to earn their happy ending as the characters have so much happen to them. Not only does Littlefoot get separated from his grandparents and lose his mother, for which he immediately blames both himself and her, but Ducky, Petrie and Cera are all separated from their own families and Spike is orphaned before he’s even hatched. As the film progresses, the group faces starvation and the fact that Sharptooth keeps finding and chasing them and at the same time, Littlefoot struggles with keeping everyone together while Cera constantly tries to do everything by herself. Yet, they certainly do earn the happy ending they receive as they all find the Great Valley, get their families back and Spike ends up getting adopted by Ducky’s family.
As a character, Littlefoot is pretty interesting and goes through quite a bit of growth has he starts off the film completely dependent on his mother and grandparents. When everything happens and his mother eventually gets killed by Sharptooth, he does take the time to grieve, but eventually picks himself up and becomes the leader of the ragtag group of dinosaurs that flock to him. He also demonstrates an iron will and resolve to make it to the Great Valley or die trying, even going so far as to take an extremely difficult route simply because it’s the correct way. It’s a fascinating depiction of the hero’s journey through a prehistoric lens and what’s great is that it works. He goes from a depressed, friendless and naïve youngster to a strong leader with friends, even if one of those friends doesn’t always appreciate him.
Cera is a pretty decent foil to Littlefoot in the long run of the story. Where the latter has a character arc of going from weak and timid to strong and self-confident, Cera goes from a prideful and cowardly racist loner to valuing the other dinosaurs in the group and understanding that she can’t do everything alone. Cera hates the rest of the group and sees herself as better than them simply because she’s a Three Horn, but in having to stick together with them, she ends up surviving the events of the film. She realizes that too and it’s what helps break her of her superiority complex. Notably, though, it would appear that she got her racist tendencies from her father, who made her stop playing with Littlefoot earlier on in the film because he was a Long Neck.
Sharptooth is an interesting villain as well, as the film is vague on whether or not he’s just a mindless monster just trying to survive or whether or not he’s flat out chasing the group out of revenge. What it really looks like is that he’s a mixture of the two: he’s flat out chasing the group so he can survive, but is more a force of nature than a vengeful character. Whenever Sharptooth makes an appearance, he looks unhinged and violent and has the temperament to back that up and all that grows worse as the film progresses. Combined with the lack of food sources following the Great Earthshake and getting constantly outsmarted by the main characters until his death, it makes sense that he’s pursuing the group with extreme prejudice. They’re a group of young dinosaurs without any protection, they should be an easy meal. They’re not and the film seems to show that with each passing defeat, Sharptooth just gets more wild and violent in his hopes to just kill and eat them. He’s a desperate villain and those are some of the best.
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