The Land Before Time

This article is about the 1988 film. For the franchise as a whole, see The Land Before Time (franchise). For other uses, see The Land Before Time (disambiguation).
The Land Before Time

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Don Bluth
Produced by Don Bluth
Gary Goldman
John Pomeroy
Screenplay by Stu Krieger
Story by Judy Freudberg
Tony Geiss
Narrated by Pat Hingle
Music by James Horner
Edited by John K. Carr
Dan Molina
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • November 18, 1988 (1988-11-18)


Running time
69 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $12.5 million
Box office $84.4 million[2]

The Land Before Time is a 1988 American-Irish animated adventure drama film directed and produced by Don Bluth and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall.

Produced by Sullivan Bluth Studios, Amblin Partners' Amblin Entertainment and Lucasfilm (despite not receiving an official credit nor the film's marketing bearing the studio's logo), it features dinosaurs living in the prehistoric times. The plot concerns a young Apatosaurus named Littlefoot who is orphaned[3] when his mother is killed by a Tyrannosaurus. Littlefoot flees famine and upheaval to search for the Great Valley, an area spared from devastation. On his journey, he meets four young companions: Cera, Ducky, Petrie, and Spike, a Stegosaurus.[4]

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 and also forced to deal with the murderous Tyrannosaurus Rex that killed her. This is the only Don Bluth film of the 1980s in which Dom DeLuise did not participate (instead, he starred in Disney's Oliver & Company that same year), and 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.

Released by Universal Pictures on November 18, 1988, the film was a critical and financial success, and spawned a multimillion-dollar franchise with thirteen direct-to-video sequels and a television series (without involvement from Bluth, Spielberg, or Lucas) as well as merchandise (toys, video games, etc.).


In a time of drought, several herds of dinosaurs seek an oasis known as the Great Valley. Among these, a diminished "Longneck" herd gives birth to a single baby, named Littlefoot. Years later, Littlefoot plays with Cera, a "Three-horn", until her father intervenes; whereupon Littlefoot's mother describes the different kinds of dinosaurs: "Three-horns", "Spiketails", "Swimmers", and "Flyers". That night, as Littlefoot follows a "Hopper", he encounters Cera again, and they play together briefly until a large brown "Sharptooth" attacks. They are in mortal danger but Littlefoot's mother comes to their rescue, receiving fatal injuries in the process. An earthquake swallows up the Sharptooth and divides Littlefoot and Cera from their herds. Littlefoot receives advice from his dying mother. Depressed and confused, Littlefoot meets an old "Clubtail" named Rooter who consoles him. Littlefoot is guided by his mother's voice telling him to follow the sun to the Great Valley.

Later, Littlefoot is accompanied by a young "Bigmouth/Swimmer" named Ducky, whose company bears him out of his depression. Soon after, they meet a Flyer named Petrie. Cera, who is attempting to find her own kind, finds the unconscious Sharptooth inside the ravine. Thinking he is dead, Cera harasses him, during which she mistakenly wakes him up, and flees. She later bumps into Littlefoot, Ducky, and Petrie, and tells them that the Sharptooth is alive; although Littlefoot does not believe her. She then describes her encounter, during which she accidentally flings Ducky into the air and discovers a hatchling Spiketail, whom she names Spike and brings him into the group. Seeking the Great Valley, they discover a cluster of trees, which is abruptly depleted by a herd of Whiptailed Longnecks. Searching for remaining growth, they discover a single leaf-bearing tree, and obtain food by stacking up atop each other and pulling it down. Cera remains aloof; but at nightfall, everyone including herself gravitates to Littlefoot's side for warmth and companionship. The next morning, they are attacked by Sharptooth, but they escape through a tunnel too small for him. Beyond this, they discover landmarks mentioned by Littlefoot's mother. Cera decides to go another way, but Littlefoot refuses and a schism divides the traveling party. When Ducky and Spike become endangered by lava and Petrie gets stuck in a tar pit, Littlefoot rescues them. He also rescues Cera harassed by a pack of "Boneheads". Ashamed of her fear and reluctant to admit her mistake, Cera leaves them in tears. Later, while crossing a pond, Petrie discovers the Sharptooth nearby. With this, Littlefoot plots to lure him into the water beneath a nearby boulder, intending to drown him. As Ducky lures Sharptooth to the water, Littlefoot and Spike are having trouble moving the boulder. During the struggle, a draft from Sharptooth's nostrils enables Petrie to fly. Sharptooth leaps onto the boulder and the plan nearly fails until Cera reunites with the group, allowing Littlefoot and his friends to push both Sharptooth and the boulder into the water below, momentarily taking Petrie down with him; but he later emerges unharmed.

Littlefoot, alone, follows a cloud resembling his mother to the Great Valley, there to be joined by the others. Upon arrival, Petrie impresses his family with his newfound flight, while Ducky introduces Spike to her family, who adopt him. Cera reunites with her father and Littlefoot rejoins with his grandparents. Cera then calls for Littlefoot to play, joins their friends at the top of a hill and embrace each other.



During production of An American Tail, talk began of the next feature with Steven Spielberg. Spielberg wanted to do a film similar to Bambi, but only with dinosaurs, and George Lucas also brought in on the project. An early working title for the film was The Land Before Time Began.[5] 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 make it appealing to children.[6] 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, wherein researchers visited natural history museums in New York City and Los Angeles and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. The artists had to create a credible landscape and animals. Animators made more than 600 background images for the film. Littlefoot was originally going to be called "Thunderfoot", until it was found out that a Triceratops in a children's book already had that name. It was Lucas's idea to make Cera a female Triceratops, when she was in mid-animation as a male named Bambo. After voicing Digit in An American Tail, Will Ryan performed the voice of Petrie. The idea was brought up by Spielberg's son, Max. The character of Spike was inspired by Don Bluth's pet Chow Chow, Cubby.


Throughout production, The Land Before Time underwent a severe cutting and editing of footage. Spielberg and Lucas thought that some scenes in the movie would appear too dark and intense for young children. Spielberg told Bluth while looking at the scenes from the film, "It's too scary. We'll have kids crying in the lobby, and a lot of angry parents. You don't want that." About 10 minutes of footage, comprising 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 attack sequence and sequences of the five young dinosaurs in grave danger and distress. Some screams were re-voiced using milder exclamations.[6]


The Land Before Time Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released November 21, 1988[7]
Genre Soundtrack
Length 57:49
Label MCA Records (1988)
Geffen Records (2013)
Producer James Horner
Don Bluth Music of Films chronology
An American Tail
The Land Before Time
All Dogs Go to Heaven

The music for The Land Before Time was composed by James Horner, who had previously provided the soundtrack for An American Tail, and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of King's College. An official soundtrack was released on audio cassette and vinyl record on November 21, 1988, and later on CD by MCA Records, and features seven tracks from the movie.[8] The film's theme song "If We Hold on Together" was sung by Diana Ross and was released as a single on January 21, 1989, peaking at number 23 on the US adult contemporary charts,[9] and was later included on her 1991 album The Force Behind the Power.[10] A digital version of the soundtrack was released on a number of services on January 22, 2013 by Geffen Records.[11]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Track listing
  1. "The Great Migration" (7:49)
  2. "Sharptooth and the Earthquake" (10:33)
  3. "Whispering Winds" (9:00)
  4. "If We Hold on Together" - performed by Diana Ross (4:07)
  5. "Foraging for Food" (7:15)
  6. "The Rescue/Discovery of the Great Valley" (12:43)
  7. "End Credits" (6:22)

Home media

The Land Before Time was released on VHS on September 14, 1989, as well as LaserDisc in regular pan and scan[13] and "Special Collector's Edition" CAV-play editions by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment in North America and internationally, and CIC Video in the UK.[14] According to the book The Animated Films of Don Bluth, the original release did "very successful business" on the home video market, and included a promotional tie-in with Pizza Hut in North America, which was offering rubber hand puppets based on the film at the time.[6] The VHS version was made available once more on February 20, 1996 under the Universal Family Features label,[15] and was later packaged with following three films in the series as part of the Land Before Time Collection on December 4, 2001.[16]

The film was released on DVD for the first time on April 30, 1997,[17] and re-released in December 2, 2003 as the "Anniversary Edition" for the movie's 15th anniversary, which included games and sing-along songs.[18] The Anniversary Edition was later included with An American Tail and Balto as a three-movie pack in November 2007.[19] A widescreen Blu-ray version was available for the first time on October 13, 2015, which included digital HD and UltraViolet copies,[20] which was accompanied by a new widescreen DVD release on the same day.[21]


Critical response

The Land Before Time holds a 70% "fresh" approval rating from review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes from 30 critics with the consensus "Beautifully animated and genuinely endearing, The Land Before Time is sure to please dino-obsessed tykes, even if it's a little too cutesy for older viewers."[22] Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "two thumbs up" on a 1988 episode of their television program At the Movies.[23] Siskel found it to be "sweet more than it was scary" and "quite beautiful", also praising its straightforward story and remarked that he would recommend it to children over Disney's Oliver and Company, released the same day.[23] In his own review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, writing "I guess I sort of liked the film, although I wonder why it couldn't have spent more time on natural history and the sense of discovery, and less time on tragedy."[24] Peter Travers of People magazine felt the movie had an unclear audience, stating "The animation is fine. But the Stu Krieger screenplay contains violence that might be hard on the younger ones, [...] and a never-let-up cuteness that can turn minds of all ages to mush."[25] Los Angeles Times writer Sheila Benson also stated that the movie's enjoyment was limited to younger viewers, remarking "do dinosaurs really lend themselves to ootsie-cutesiness?"[26]

Many reviewers compared the The Land Before Time to films from Disney's Golden Age. Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer said that the movie "looks and sounds as if it came out of the Disney Studios of the '40s or '50s. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing," calling it "meticulously crafted" but was also "mildly disappoint[ed]" that the dialog wasn't as sophisticated.[27] In her review for the Sun-Sentinel, Candice Russel similarly remarked, "The Land Before Time works by evoking the simple virtues of this art aimed at children, as it was in the beginning when Disney animated Mickey Mouse."[28] A review from the Motion Picture Guide 1989 Annual notes that the film "has been called a sort of prehistoric Bambi".[29] David Kehr from the Chicago Tribune similarly felt that the film's title "also refers to the Disney past, but it goes for all the marbles. Its model is nothing less than the life-cycle saga of Bambi, and that Bluth gets even half the way there is proof of a major talent."[30] Kehr gave the movie three-and-a-half out of four stars, calling it "as handsome and honest an animated feature as any produced since Walt Disney's death; it may even be the best."[31]

Box office

The Land Before Time was a box office success worldwide, grossing $48 million at the domestic box office, 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 film became a hit worldwide, and while Oliver & Company had grossed over its domestic earnings, The Land Before Time grossed nearly $84 million worldwide,[2] which the Disney film did not surpass. However, it should be noted that Oliver & Company did beat out The Land Before Time at the domestic box office by about $5 million. Attached to the film, Universal and Amblin issued Brad Bird's Family Dog short from their television anthology Amazing Stories.[32]


The Land Before Time was nominated for "Best Family Animation or Fantasy Motion Picture" at the 10th annual Youth in Film Awards, losing out to Tim Burton's Beetlejuice.[33] It also received a nomination for "Best Fantasy Film" at the 16th Saturn Awards ceremony in 1990, beaten by Who Framed Roger Rabbit.[34]

Award Nomination Nominee Result
Saturn Award Best Fantasy Film The Land Before Time Nominated
Youth in Film Award Best Family Animation or Fantasy Motion Picture The Land Before Time Nominated


The film generated many direct-to-video sequels, which differ from the original by adding "sing-a-long" musical numbers. 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 others have embraced the sequels into the canon of the story.

In 2007 a 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, and reworked).


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  2. 1 2 "The Land Before Time (1988)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  3. Lenburg, Jeff (2009). The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons (Third ed.). Infobase Publishing. ISBN 0-8160-6599-3.
  4. "The Land Before Time". Universal Pictures Entertainment. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  5. Maltin, Leonard (1987). Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. New American Library. p. 354. ISBN 0-452-25993-2.
  6. 1 2 3 Cawley, Jon (October 1991). The Animated Films of Don Bluth. Image Pub of New York. ISBN 0-685-50334-8.
  7. "James Horner, Diana Ross - The Land Before Time". Retrieved October 20, 2015.
  8. "The Land Before Time [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] - James Horner". AllMusic. Retrieved October 20, 2015.
  9. "The Land Before Time [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] - James Horner / Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved October 20, 2015.
  10. "The Force Behind the Power - Diana Ross". AllMusic. Retrieved October 24, 2015.
  11. "The Land Before Time(Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". 7digital United States. Retrieved October 20, 2015.
  12. "Filmtracks: The Land Before Time (James Horner)". Filmtracks. Retrieved October 20, 2015.
  13. "Land Before Time, The [40864]". LaserDisc Database. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  14. "Land Before Time, The [40924]". LaserDisc Database. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
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  17. "Land Before Time". Amazon. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  18. "The Land Before Time (Anniversary Edition)". Amazon. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  19. "Amblin/Spielberg Animated Family Favorites 3-Movie Collection". Amazon. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  20. "The Land Before Time Blu-ray". Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  21. Bluth, Don (2015-10-13), The Land Before Time, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, retrieved 2016-07-26
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  23. 1 2 "The Land Before Time, Oliver and Company, Child's Play (1988)". Siskel & Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  24. Ebert, Roger (November 18, 1988). "The Land Before Time". Roger Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  25. Travers, Peter (November 28, 1988). "Picks and Pans Review: The Land Before Time". People. 30 (22). Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  26. Benson, Sheila (November 18, 1988). "MOVIE REVIEWS : Dogs, Dinosaurs from Disney, Bluth : 'The Land Before Time'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 30, 2015.
  27. Rea, Steven (November 18, 1988). "A Prehistoric Tale Of Adventure And Survival Of The Cutest". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  28. Russel, Candice (November 18, 1988). "Animated Dinosaur Adventure Evokes Disney's Best". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  29. 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.
  30. Kehr, David (November 18, 1988). "'Land' Shows The Inspiration That 'Oliver' Lacks". Chicago Tribune. p. 1. Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  31. Kehr, David (November 18, 1988). "'Land' Shows The Inspiration That 'Oliver' Lacks". Chicago Tribune. p. 2. Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  32. Thompson, Anne (November 3, 1988). "The Profits Keep Rolling In For Spielberg". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 30, 2015.
  33. "10 Annual Awards". Young Artist Awards. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  34. "Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA (1990)". IMDb. Retrieved October 21, 2015.

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