Throwback Thirty – The Land Before Time (1988)

landbeforetime_posterart5_star_rating_system_3_and_a_half_stars  One of the greatest things about this project is that I get to revist films I haven’t seen for ages. Of course, there is always the problem that, now I’m a 30-year-old, I will watch them again and realise how bad they are now. 80s movies aren’t all timeless classics unfortunately. Today’s film is one that I can’t say has stayed with me for my entire life but I certainly have memories of it. I have always thought of it fondly but not enough to sit and watch it again. It’s also entirely possible that I’m actually remembering watching on its many sequels instead. I’ve never had the greatest memory for stuff like this so I could even be thinking of Jurassic Park for all I know. Anything with a dinosaur in it. Hell, I watched The Good Dinosaur a few years ago, maybe I was just confusing it with that. Still, I love dinosaurs and I’ve always, sort of, credited this series of films. Dinosaurs are cool but adorable talking dinosaurs are way cooler.

I couldn’t tell you how long it’s been since I saw The Land Before Time but it’s definitely been decades. Having watched a handful of the sequels I remembered it being brighter but the first film in the series has a much more muted colour scheme. It’s not a problem but it does feel a bit jarring when you compare it to the Disney brightness children are used to. It feels a bit more grow-up and educational. Especially when you consider the voiceover that keeps coming in with facts every now and then. That’s not to say that the animation isn’t beautifully done. We’re still in the safe hands of Disney alumnus Don Bluth, after all. Which is, perhaps, why the story feels like a classic Disney film. It’s simple and to the point: young dinosaurs who must go on a dangerous journey and overcome their obstacles along the way. It’s hardly groundbreaking but there is plenty of scope.

When food supplies run low, every dinosaur herd is moving towards the fabled Great Valley where there are plenty of supplies. Littlefoot, a ‘Longneck’, is travelling with his mother and grandparents. After a run-in with a T-Rex, Littlefoot’s mother dies and, thanks to an unfortunate event, he becomes separated from his grandparents. The young dinosaur must get over his grief and find his way to the Great Valley and back to his family. Thankfully he is not alone and teams up with Ducky, a ‘Bigmouth’, Petrie, a ‘Flyer’, and Spike, a ‘Spiketail’, who have also found themselves lost. Littlefoot initially clashes with Cera, a ‘Three-horn’, who believes she can find her way alone but, as they find themselves at the mercy of a ‘Sharptooth’, the two must work together to ensure the safety of the rest of the group.

The Land Before Time wasn’t exactly the film that I remembered it to be. It had some exciting moments but, as a child, I always remembered it being more fun. It’s true that it isn’t exactly a bloody film but there is a lot of violence and sadness very early on that I guess I blanked out. The first film seems to be unclear about its audience. It’s a kind of uncomfortable mix between silly kids film and sombre, more mature film about the realities of life. It’s weird but just about holds together. Thanks to the beautiful animation and a rather straightforward narrative.

It’s hardly a great comparison with the great Disney classics but there is certainly something in there. It’s like a watered down, Prehistoric Bambi. The dinosaurs are cute but there is too much reality creeping in that they never quite reach the adorable levels of the family favourites. This is, by no means, a terrible film; it’s just a not got the punch to compete with some of Disney’s best animation. The tone and the story let down the exquisite artwork.

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