Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Land Before Time

An American Tail was a hit, and it allowed Bluth a period of time where he didn't have to worry about one of his companies going bankrupt. The next film being planned with Steven Spielberg (George Lucas jumped on board too) was described as a story like Bambi, but with dinosaurs. The early title was The Land Before Time Began, and it was originally planned to have no dialogue, similar to the Rites of Spring segment of Fantasia. Spielberg and Lucas decided that this would alienate children, so they made it a talking dinosaur movie. A lot of research went into the movie, with many of the film's animators and production teams visiting natural history museums and especially the Smithsonian. The film featured many different types of dinosaurs, but the research team didn't do a perfect job: in the setting of the movie, five species of dinosaurs depicted would have already been extinct. Oh well, kids aren't going to nit-pick that sort of thing. Plus, people are trying to tell me that there's no such thing as a triceratops, so now Cera isn't real! Scientists, stop messing with my childhood! You took Pluto away, don't tell me certain dinosaurs didn't exist!

A lot was changed in the movie as time went on. Littlefoot was originally going to be named Thunderfoot, though they had to change it when they found out a triceratops in a book was named that. I think Littlefoot has a better ring to it. Thunderfoot doesn't fit the character of Littlefoot, really. Maybe if Littlefoot wore cool sunglasses the whole movie. I'd pay to see that movie! Cera's character was originally going to be a male named Bambo (why so close to Bambi?), until Lucas decided that Bambo should instead be a girl and have a clever name instead of a stupid one. Also, I had no idea until a few years ago that Cera's name was spelled that way. I just assumed it was Sara, or some variation of how we spell it. My mind was blown. I mean, come on, triCERAtops?! Who does that? Spielberg and Lucas took one look at the finished project and realized that they had made one scary dinosaur movie. They had to tone it down a little or they would be stuck with a PG rating. This may be a common thing today, but back in the eighties it was pretty risky to let your animated film get a PG rating. The only two I can think of that did it around that time were Watership Down and Disney's The Black Cauldron. With Bluth complaining the whole way, Lucas and Spielberg cut about nine minutes of the film, mostly consisting of Sharptooth scenes, making the film only sixty nine minutes long. That's barely longer than Dumbo! Littlefoot's mother dying was deemed too emotionally scarring and the character of Rooter (the old clubtail dinosaur) was introduced to soften the blow. Doesn't matter, it's still probably the most tear jerking scenes in all of animation. Even the theatrical version seen in 1988 is different from the version you see on DVD. In the original, Littlefoot's mother is shown being bitten by Sharptooth on the neck and back, but apparently it was later deemed to intense. While the movie isn't the darkest of the Bluth films, it's easily the most depressing.

The cast of dinosaurs centers around an Apatosaurus (Littlefoot), a Triceratops (Cera), a Parasaurolophus (Ducky), a Pteranodon (Petrie), and a Stegosaurus (Spike). In the story, a tyrannosaurus named Sharptooth (I always thought it was Sharktooth as a child, I can't be the only one!) attacks a group of dinosaurs while a random earthquake happens. Littlefoot's mother fends off Sharptooth, who falls into a deep crevice, though it costs her her life. Due to the earthquake, both Littlefoot and Cera are seperated from what's left of their families and have to set out to find them. Their ulitmate destination is the Great Valley, a place that hasn't been ravaged by volcanoes and earthquakes; a place where food is plentiful and there are no sharpteeth. Along the way they are joined by Petrie, Ducky, and Spike. They run into trouble along the way involving other, more dangerous dinosaurs, though in the end they defeat Sharptooth and make it to the Great Valley. I know that was a short run-down, but there isn't much to this story in terms of plot. What I will go into however is the relationships between the dinosaurs.

Whether you knew it or not as a child, you were watching a big story about tolerance and acceptance of people different from you. At the beginning of the film we learn from Littlefoot's mother that there are four other main groups of dinosaurs that they live around, "Three-horns", "Spiketails", "Swimmers", and "Flyers." We also learn that historically these dinosaurs don't associate themselves with each other and generally mind their own business. This conversations stems from Cera's father insisting that Cera not play with a "Longneck." This is an easy reflection of race/class relations in our own culture. Two children of different backgrounds or race play with each other for a time, until one of the parents insists that they stay away from each other. The other child questions their parents, who tell them that's just how it is. Maybe you've been in that situation yourself, or have seen examples of it in your daily life, but the movie does a good job of setting up a realistic scenario of how fear of other kinds of beings will lead to chaos instead of union. Both Littlefoot and Cera are OK with playing with each other until they are told by their parents that it's not acceptable behavior. Each gets a different response; while Littlefoot's mother says that's just how it is, Cera's father makes Longnecks out to be an inferior group. Cera's attitude throughout the movie carries her parent's indoctrination, though it doesn't help that she's kind of bossy to begin with. It's only through their travels together that they realize that's there's nothing wrong with associating with other dinosaurs. In fact, they probably all would have perished had it not been for each other. I know I didn't pick up on most of those things when I was a kid, but I did know by the end that you shouldn't dislike someone just because they are different.

Released in 1988, The Land Before Time was a huge hit for Bluth, grossing over $84 million dollars worldwide (around the same as An American Tail, though Land Before Time did better domestically). Disney's Oliver & Company came out around the same time,  but came in about $10 million less than Land Before Time. Critics liked the film more than An American Tail and confessed that it was more like a classic Disney movie than Oliver & Company. The only common complaint against the film was that it spent more time on tragedy than it did on the sense of discovery and natural history. The film has spawned twelve direct-to-video sequels and even a television show. I've honestly probably only watched one of the sequels, but I remember it being garbage. So why isn't this film my favorite of the Bluth films? Well, honestly Cera and Littlefoot kind of bug me. I loved this film as a kid, but it's lost some of its sheen in more recent viewings. I love all the other characters, but for some reason Cera and Littlefoot just rub me the wrong way now. Still a great animated film, though, and a classic Bluth film.

10 comments:

  1. I loved this film as a child, watched it recently and can say I still enjoyed it... Used to find it hilarious because my little sister's called Sarah and at the time of viewing she was as stubborn as Cera... Lots of sibling teasing. I also thought sharptooth was called sharktooth! Shame about all those stupid sing-along sequels.

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  2. I'm glad that I'm not the only one who hates Cera, although I prefer Littlefoot to her. At least, he's more mature and disciplined than her. If I'm him, I'd give on that pathetic Triceratops forever. Besides, I can't stand her bad attitude and screams just as I hate her dad for his attitude problem and machismo.

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    1. Oops. I forgot to put "up" between "give" and "on." My bad.

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  3. Like you, I used to love the first Land Before Time movie when I was in a kid. But now that I'm past childhood, I no longer love it. And the primary reason for that is Cera whiel topsy, who's her pop, is my secondary reason,

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    1. Dang it! I spelled "while" as "whiel" just as I forgot to capitalize the T in Topsy. My apologies.

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  4. Wait a minute! You hate Littlefoot?! For your information, he's not bad! Sure, I may not agree with everything about him. But he doesn't deserve to be hated! Cera does, especially because of what she said about his mom and when she defeated him battle.

    For crying out loud, Little foot's a Sauropod and Cera's a Certopsian. Since Sauropods were much larger than Ceratopsians, he should be able to crush her like the jerk she is.

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    1. O dang, I forgot to put "in" between "him" and "battle." I apologize.

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  5. Ob brother. Another false assumption that Ducky's a Parasaurolophus. She isn't one! Instead, she's a Saurolophus because or her crest.

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    1. I meant "oh" instead "ob." My mistake.

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    2. And I also meant to put "of" between "instead" and "ob." My bad.

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