The Land Before Time

The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Don Bluth[1]
Produced by Don Bluth
Gary Goldman
John Pomeroy
Executive Producers:
Steven Spielberg
George Lucas
Kathleen Kennedy
Frank Marshall
Screenplay by Stu Krieger
Story by Judy Freudberg
Tony Geiss
Narrated by Pat Hingle
Starring Gabriel Damon
Candace Hutson
Judith Barsi
Will Ryan
Helen Shaver
Burke Byrnes
Bill Erwin
Frank Welker
Pat Hingle
Music by James Horner
Editing by John K. Carr
Dan Molina
Studio Amblin Entertainment
Sullivan Bluth Studios
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) November 18, 1988[2]
Running time 69 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $12,000,000-13,000,000
Box office $84,460,846[3]

The Land Before Time is a 1988 American animated adventure film directed and co-produced by Don Bluth (through his 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 features anthropomorphic dinosaurs living in a fantasy version of prehistoric Earth. The plot concerns a young Longneck (Apatosaurus) named Littlefoot, voiced by Gabriel Damon, who is orphaned[4] after his mother is killed by a Sharptooth (Tyrannosaurus Rex). Littlefoot flees famine and upheaval to search for the "Great Valley", an area which has been spared devastation. On his journey, he meets four young companions: Cera, a Three-Horn (Triceratops); Ducky, a Big Mouth (Saurolophus); Petrie, a Flyer (Pteranodon); and Spike, a Spike-Tail (Stegosaurus).[5]

The film explores issues of prejudice between the different species and the hardships they endure in their journey as they are guided by the spirit of Littlefoot's mother. This was the only Don Bluth film of the 1980s Dom DeLuise did not participate in (instead, DeLuise starred in Disney's Oliver & Company that same year). This is also 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 twelve direct-to-video sequels (without association with Bluth, Spielberg, or Lucas) as well as merchandise (toys, video games, etc.) and a television series.



Long ago in the time of the dinosaurs, a drought is occurring and several herds are heading to the "Great Valley", a land still lush and green. At the same time, a " Longneck" herd gives birth to a single baby, named Littlefoot (Gabriel Damon). Years later, Littlefoot comes across Cera (Candace Hutson), a " Three-horn", practicing head-butting while trying to smash a Beetle. The dinosaurs play together until Cera's father, (Burke Byrnes), intervenes. Littlefoot's mother (Helen Shaver) explains the different kinds of dinosaurs: "Three-horns, Spiketails, Swimmers, Flyers" and that they never do anything together, and it's always been that way, but she promises Littlefoot that there will be other longnecks for him to play with in the Great Valley. That night, as Littlefoot follows a "Hopper"(frog), he encounters Cera again, and they play together briefly until a " Sharptooth" (Frank Welker) attacks. During their escape, Littlefoot accidentally blinds Sharptooth in one eye with a thorn. Littlefoot's mother battles with Sharptooth and suffers severe injuries, but defeats him by pushing him into a deep chasm.

At that same time, an "earthshake"(earthquake) occurs, opening a deep ravine in the ground. It swallows up the Sharptooth and many other dinosaurs, separating Littlefoot and Cera from their herds. Littlefoot finds his mother after the earthshake ends, but she is near death. Before she dies, she tells Littlefoot that she will always be with him, even if he can't see her, and to let his heart guide him. Now feeling depressed and confused, Littlefoot by chance slides down a ravine, where he meets an old Polacanthus named Rooter (Pat Hingle), who consoles him upon learning of his mother's death. Littlefoot later hears his mother's voice giving him instructions on how to get to the Great Valley: to follow the "bright circle"(sun) past the "great rock that looks like a longneck" and then past the "mountains that burn"(volcanos), and that she'll be in his heart. Littlefoot later sees his shadow and thinks it's his mother, only to find out it's his own. He encounters Cera once again, and tries to get her to join him, but she refuses.

Littlefoot meets a young " Bigmouth" named Ducky (Judith Barsi), who has also lost her family in the earthshake. They journey on together, and as they try to find food, they encounter an aerophobic " Flyer" named Petrie (Will Ryan), who joins them on their quest. Meanwhile, Cera finds Sharptooth's body and begins playing with it. However, it is not dead, only unconscious, causing Cera to flee in terror when he wakes up. She later bumps into Littlefoot, Ducky, and Petrie and warns them of Sharptooth, but Littlefoot is convinced that Sharptooth is dead. As Cera describes the encounter (exaggerating her bravery), she accidentally flings Ducky near a patch of grass, which has a hatching egg containing a baby " Spiketail". Ducky names him Spike and brings him into their group. Seeking the Great Valley, they find a river leading to a cluster of trees, which is abruptly depleted by a herd of starving Diplodocus. Searching for remaining growth, they discover a single leaf-bearing tree, and obtain food by stacking up ontop of each other and pulling it down. Cera remains aloof and arrogant, boasting that she is independent, but at nightfall, everyone, Cera included, gravitates to Littlefoot's side for warmth and companionship.

The next morning, Sharptooth finds them and attacks. They escape through a cave-tunnel too small to admit him, then discover the Longneck-shaped monolith mentioned by Littlefoot's mother. Although they pass other landmarks, such as a string of volcanoes, Cera grows impatient as the search begins to yield no results. She quarrels with Littlefoot and insults his mother, causing a schism in the little herd following a fight between the two. Littlefoot continues in the direction he was told, while the others follow Cera, who goes another way, which she claims to be the easier way. As Ducky, Spike and Petrie fall into danger involving lava barriers and a tar pit, Littlefoot rescues them. They find Cera being harassed by a pack of Pachycephalosaurus, and, having been coated in tar, scare them away. Ashamed and humiliated, Cera, still unwilling to admit that she had gone the wrong way, goes off to be alone.

Later, while frolicking in a pool of water, Littlefoot and his friends spot Sharptooth in the distance. Surmising that Sharptooth cannot swim, Littlefoot formulates a strategy to lure him into the deep end of the pond, and push a nearby boulder onto him, drowning him. As Ducky lures him to the water, Littlefoot and Spike have trouble moving the rock. During the proceeding struggle, a draft from Sharptooth's nostrils enables Petrie to master his powers of flight. The plan nearly fails when Sharptooth leaps on top of the boulder, until Cera rejoins the group, allowing Littlefoot and his friends to push both Sharptooth and the boulder into the water below. However, as he falls, he grabs Petrie in his jaws and drags him into the pond with him. And Sharptooth was never to be seen again. As the young dinosaurs mourn the loss of Petrie, he re-emerges.

Littlefoot encounters a large cloud that appears to be his mother in some sort of spirit form. As he laments to her that the journey is just too hard, she departs. Littlefoot follows the cloud through a cave and emerges just as the sunlight illuminates the landscape beneath him: He has found the Great Valley at last. The others join him and hurry down sto the Valley, where the children's surviving relatives are already settled. Petrie impresses his family with his new-found flying ability, as Ducky introduces Spike to her family, who adopt him. Cera reunites with her father, but not her mother and sisters, who appear to have died on the way to the valley. Littlefoot rejoins his grandparents. Cera calls for Littlefoot to play. Together, they race up to the top of a hill along with Ducky, Petrie, and Spike and embrace each other in a group hug.


Littlefoot, Petrie, Cera, Ducky, & Spike.



An early working title for the film was "The Land Before Time Began".[6] 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 appeal to children.[7] 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. Researchers visited Natural history museums in New York and Los Angeles and the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC. The artists had to create a credible landscape and animals. In an animated movie, the background is just as important as the foreground. Animators made more than 600 background images for the movie. There are 12 to 24 drawings for every second of the movie and overall The Land Before Time has over one million drawings.

Littlefoot was originally going to be called "Thunderfoot", until it was found out that there was a Triceratops in a children's book who already had that name. It was George Lucas's idea to make Cera a female Triceratops, when she was in mid-animation as a male named Bambo. Spielberg's son, Max, suggested the voice of Digit, from An American Tail, for the character Petrie, which resulted in Will Ryan, who had voiced Digit, performing the voice of Petrie. The character of Spike was inspired by director Don Bluth's pet chowhound, Cubby.


Throughout production, The Land Before Time went under a severe cutting and editing of footage. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas thought that some scenes in the movie would appear too frightening or could even cause psychological damage to young children. About 11 minutes of footage,[8] 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 Rex attack sequence and sequences of the five young dinosaurs in severe situations of peril and stress. The scene of Sharptooth landing on the back of Littlefoot's mother was altered so that it was only shown in shadow, though some early VHS copies of the film have the original version of the scene. Some scenes with the characters in the movie screaming had to be revoiced using milder exclamations. It was felt this would be more suitable for young children.[7] 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 also going to be eliminated; however, it was thought that if the scene were removed it would complicate explaining why Littlefoot had to journey to the Great Valley alone. The scene was shown to psychologists who gave their feedback to the production team. The character of Rooter was added to the story to soften the emotional blow, and teach Littlefoot and the audience that even after loved ones die, they are always with us in the lessons we have learned from them. However, brief portions of the scene which involved the mother's neck and back being 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. Later editing of the film was presumably done to bring the tone closer to that of the non-violent and more child-friendly sequels and television series that the franchise has become known for.

Deleted Scenes

Some stills from the film include deleted Sharptooth scenes, stills from the original ending, Ducky making faces, and Spike being enticed with berries by Ducky, from a scene that was to have included Cera arguing against Spike coming with the group. There also appears to be a deleted scene involving the main characters happening on an oasis inhabited by a group of "crown-heads"(possibly Pachycephalosaurus/dome-heads)who tell the group that only their own kind can eat. Ducky is told that she can eat because she is like them, but the others cannot, so the group moves on to find their own food.

Original ending

The film's ending was also altered. The original version had Littlefoot finding the Great Valley on his own, after Cera and the rest of the group go their own way. He would then have gone back to find the others and help them defeat Sharptooth, before they all entered the valley. Evidence of this ending remains in the scene of Littlefoot talking to his mother's spirit after the death of Sharptooth. The rock pushed onto Sharptooth is still there in the background, on its ledge, because this scene was meant to appear before the film's climax.


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.[9]

Track listing
  1. "The Great Migration"
  2. "Sharptooth and the Earthquake"
  3. "Whispering Winds"
  4. "If We Hold On Together"
  5. "Foraging For Food"
  6. "The Rescue/Discovery of the Great Valley"
  7. "End Credits"


The film 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 movie 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. Siskel & Ebert gave The Land Before Time "two thumbs up", whereas Ebert gave Oliver & Company, a "thumbs up", while Siskel gave Oliver & Company, a "thumbs down".

At the film review site Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 73% Certified "Fresh"[10] from critics while the movie's fans gave it an 85% Certified "Fresh".[11]

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.[12]


The film generated many direct-to-video sequels. Currently there are twelve sequels in circulation. The sequels depart from the style of the original significantly by adding "sing-a-long" musical numbers akin to Disney animated films, and toning down the intensity seen in the original film. Don 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

  • September 14, 1989 (VHS and laserdisc)
  • May 13, 1997 (VHS and laserdisc - The Land Before Time Collection)
  • December 1, 1998 (VHS and laserdisc, the last laserdisc release - Universal Family Features)
  • December 4, 2001 (VHS)
  • December 2, 2003 (DVD - Anniversary Edition)


  1. ^ Lenburg, Jeff (2009). The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons Third Edition. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 0-8160-6599-3. 
  2. ^ Lenburg, Jeff (2009). The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons Third Edition. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 0-8160-6599-3. 
  3. ^ The Land Before Time (1985) at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ Lenburg, Jeff (2009). The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons Third Edition. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 0-8160-6599-3. 
  5. ^ The Land Before Time DVD
  6. ^ Maltin, Leonard (1987). Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. New American Library. pp. 354. ISBN 0-452-25993-2. 
  7. ^ a b The Animated Films of Don Bluth by Jon Cawley
  8. ^ Washington Post review by Hal Hinson
  9. ^ page for original The Land Before Time soundtrack.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ The Motion Picture Guide: 1989 Annual. Jenny Mueller (Editor), Jeffrey H. Wallenfeldt (Senior Editor), Jennifer Howe, Michaela Tuohy (Associate Editors), William Leahy (Editorial Director). Evanston, Illinois: Cinebooks, Inc.. 1989. pp. 185–186. ISBN 0-933997-20-5. 

See Also

External links

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