There are some kid’s movies that just stick with us for longer than others. Disney classics are normally the usual suspects, and some of them feature talking creatures who teach us about being human even though they’re not. The Land Before Time fits that bill exactly. The story of a group of young dinosaurs, all of whom find themselves alone and separated from their parents in a difficult time, has been a favourite of young audiences since it was first released in 1988.
The heart-warming tale sees the young dinos learn about dealing with grief, fear, and hardship, as well as forming lasting friendships and learning to respect others in spite of what differences we may have. It’s also about working towards a goal rather than giving up when times are hard. Ultimately it also has a message of hope: that we might be stronger than we first think and braver than we believe. That’s why it’s such a firm classic, and one that can still thrill an audience today despite its age.
But there are plenty of things that you may not know about this classic adventure. It has a dark side that not everyone has seen, and plenty of secrets linger about the production of the movie and how it was written. Here are the most interesting facts that you probably don’t yet know about The Land Before Time. Don’t blame us if they make you see one of your childhood favourites in a whole new light!
15. Darker Scenes Were Cut From The Final Version
Though the film is already fairly dark in places, a large amount of scenes were cut because it was feared that they would be too dark for children. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas reviewed the footage and decided that some of it was just too much, especially for the younger part of the intended audience. Spielberg said, “It’s too scary. We’ll have kids crying in the lobby, and a lot of angry parents. You don’t want that.” There were around 10 minutes of footage cut, most of which included the Tyrannosaurus Rex who was the villain of the piece. These included 19 scenes, which took the film down to only 69 minutes long. The director Don Bluth was unhappy with the decision and wanted to retain the full-length feature, but he apparently has a personal copy which includes all of the scenes that didn’t make it to the final cut.
14. It Was Originally Planned Without Dialogue
It was back in the mid-80s when Steven Spielberg came up with the idea of having a dinosaur film that would be along the same lines as Bambi. “Basically,” he later said, “I wanted to do a soft picture… about five little dinosaurs and how they grow up and work together as a group.” He also drew inspiration from Fantasia, in particular the ‘Rite of Spring’ sequence. In that sequence, the creatures perform in absolute silence. Spielberg came up with the idea of having the dinosaur film be the same– no dialogue whatsoever. As the development progressed, it was thought that not having dialogue might start to bore or even confuse the intended audience of young children. That’s when the dinosaurs were given lines. It’s lucky that they made the choice they did, as it just would not have been the same film that we grew up with without it.
13. ALL The Characters Are Real Dinosaur Species
It’s obvious that the characters are all supposed to be different species of dinosaurs– after all, they all look different, and they even make a point of mentioning that they don’t usually mix with one another. But did you realize that they are all based on real species which actually existed? There was no Hollywood dramatization. The film has a lot of science behind it, or at least science as far as the discoveries that had been made at that time go. Some of it now is a little out of date, but that’s just due to the passage of decades. Littlefoot is a large herbivore called an Apatosaurus, while Cera is of course a Triceratops. Spike is a Stegosaurus, and Petrie is a Pteranodon, a large type of pterosaur. Finally, Ducky is a Parasaurolophus, notable for the large, ridged crests on their heads. It’s now thought that they used these crests for communication, blowing air through them like horns.
12. There Are 12 Sequels… And They’re All Musicals
The Land Before Time is a classic, but the second movie… not so much. Neither is the third. And it may surprise you to learn that there were actually a total of 12 sequels in all. Most of them were released direct to video, which makes you wonder why they still continued to churn them out. On top of this, the first movie is the only one in the whole series which is not a musical– which is something that probably contributed hugely to its success. There are some other spin-offs too, such as a TV show and two sing-a-long videos. They even released 8 games based on the series. Needless to say, not all of them benefitted from the star treatment of the winning Spielberg and Lucas team. Most people who have seen the lot feel that the first movie is the only one with any real worth.
11. Littlefoot Was Originally Alone To Discover Great Valley
The second half of the film was originally written in a very different way. Don Bluth had decided that Littlefoot would go off alone, leaving the rest of the group with Cera, and find the Great Valley. He would then go back for them and find them in the volcano. They would defeat the Sharptooth and he would lead them back to the valley and the end of the movie. You can still see traces of this in the final cut. When Littlefoot laments that he will never find the Great Valley, you can see the rock they push onto Sharptooth in the foreground, because in the original version it hadn’t been pushed yet. In the first scene at the Great Valley, you also see him standing alone for one shot, before the others join him. It was simply clever cutting that changed the storyline around, allowing Littlefoot and his friends to find the valley through collaboration.
10. There Were More Than 600 Backgrounds In The Film
Each of the background scenes had to be painted by the creative team, as a backdrop for the animators to work on. The film is unfortunately set in a more or less barren wasteland, as the dinosaurs struggle to find the promised Great Valley which is the last remaining place to find fresh green leaves. The illustrators therefore had a huge challenge on their hands, to ensure that the backgrounds were still beautiful and varied without featuring foliage. The environment had to be engaging and believable. They managed to get it right by using vibrant colours, which meant that even the desolate setting managed to avoid seeming monotonous or drab. This was a real feat at the time, as most animated films were set in lively and vibrant locations to start with. Over 600 individual background frames were painted. This gave the young dinosaurs rocks to leap around on, as well as a sky and other features to keep the scenes flowing at all times.
9. It Had A Record Opening Weekend
At the time when The Land Before Time was released, there was a lot of competition, with Oliver & Company even opening on the same day. But for a solid month this film was at the top of the charts. It had the highest opening weekend that had ever been seen for an animated film, pulling in $7.5 million– a cool $3.5 million more than Oliver & Company. Of course, it has since lost the title, with other animated films coming along to smash the record. And it was only the highest grossing animated film of all time until The Little Mermaid came along a year later. But the fact that it stood out so highly during a time when Disney was having a real heyday just shows how successful it was. There’s no wonder that we still consider it to be a classic children’s film today, or that they made so many tie-ins.
8. A Sad Story For The Young Voice Actress Behind “Ducky”
Sadly, one of the child actors who took part in the film never got to see it released. Judith Barsi was the voice of Ducky, and was just 10 years old when her father murdered her. In July 1988, he shot her and her mother and then killed himself in a murder-suicide. The movie was not released until a few months later. Judith and her mother, Maria, were buried in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills in unmarked graves. He and his wife were Hungarian immigrants who had lived on welfare before Judith started acting, and her father had stopped her mother from working due to his possessive nature. His drinking did not help matters, and the more successful Judith became, the more abusive he was. This all culminated in his decision one day to end the lives of his wife and daughter, and then take his own. This tragedy overshadowed the success of the film’s release.
7. There Was Almost A Stage Musical
Once upon a time, there was talk that the film could be converted into a stage musical to wow kids around the world. “The time has come for dinosaurs on Broadway,” was the quote attributed to Irving Welzer in the New York Times. He had seen the success of Jurassic Park in 1996 and decided that it was time to turn back to a more family (and stage) friendly dinosaur film for adaptation. He thought that he might just be the man for the job, so there was a possibility that we would see Littlefoot and his pals on stage in the Big Apple. Just like The Lion King, it could conceivably have been a long-running classic show. But the idea faded, and for one reason or another, it never came to be. With the 30-year anniversary of the film coming up next year, maybe it’s time that someone in production reconsidered.
6. Rooter Was Added Later
The character of Rooter was not in the original vision, and actually ended up being added in later. The reason was that psychologists thought it would be too overwhelming for children to watch Littlefoot’s mother die without anything to soften the blow. Think about it: Bambi may see the death of a parent, but it happens off-screen, and may not distress children who don’t understand the reference. In this movie, however, it takes several agonizing minutes for the mother to die right in front of our eyes. It’s no wonder that people thought children would be upset. “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence,” said John Pomeroy. “Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be depicted.” That’s why Rooter offers his wise advice. Rooter was also voiced by the same actor who plays the narrator. This was done to give the impression that both characters were very wise and should be listened to.
5. Don Bluth Hates It
Alright, so he’s never said that he actually hates the film. But Don Bluth does credit The Land Before Time as kick-starting a weaker part of his career that he was not happy with. The director found that it was the first time his work had been interfered with greatly by the studio. You can see this in areas such as the changing of the original storyline, as well as the 19 scenes that were left on the cutting room floor. Still, it’s not as if it wasn’t a high point for him until that all happened. Bluth was actually a Disney employee earlier in his career, and had dreamed of working for the studio since childhood. He was brought on as a full-time animator in 1971, but found that he didn’t like the cost-cutting measures that the studio was employing. He resigned to start his own company, which is when he decided to make a film about dinosaurs.
4. The Theme Song Is A Karaoke Hit In Japan
Strangely enough, the theme song for this movie has gone on to have a real life of its own. It was sung by Diana Ross, and was called “If We Hold on Together”. While it enjoyed some success in other countries, it was notable for being an especially huge hit in Japan. Because of the rising popularity of karaoke bars around this time, it ended up becoming a classic choice to sing at karaoke. That’s why going in to a bar in Japan even today gives you a good chance of spotting the Land Before Time theme tune as one of the songs that you could sing if you wanted to. It’s pretty funny to think of so many people, particularly adults and probably quite often drunk ones, passionately singing along to a song that is, ultimately, about a group of cartoon dinosaurs and how they managed to survive together.
3. The Sequels Were Inaccurate
While the first movie tries hard to stay accurate (apart from the fact that such a diverse group of dinosaurs would not be likely to become “friends”), the succession of sequels have not been so faithful. For example, Petrie walks on all fours like pterosaurs would have, but in the sequels all of the “fliers” walk on two legs. Also Petrie’s diet was kept vague because there had not been enough research at the time to understand what pterosaurs ate, but in the sequels they just went right ahead and chose whatever they wanted instead of paying attention to the science. They also picked dinosaurs to star together that originated on different continents and would never in reality have managed to meet. In the third movie, the characters are from as diverse locations as the UK, North America, Australia, and so on. You could potentially argue that the main characters are from different eras too, although at least they were close enough to make it just about possible.
2. The Characters Started Out Different
The original plan for the movie was a lot different to how it turned out, and that includes the characters themselves. For example, they originally wanted to call Littlefoot “Thunderfoot” instead. That had to change when the filmmakers did some research and dug up a children’s book which featured a triceratops of the same name. Speaking of triceratops, Cera almost never came to be either. She was once a male character called Bambo who liked to fight with anyone and everyone (so kind of like Cera, but male). The budding friendship between the two would have had a completely different tone, and it might have made the film have less of an appeal for young girls. Still, it might have been nice to see more of a buddy comedy with the group of male characters. We’ll never know exactly how things would have worked out if Cera had stayed as Bambo through production.
1. It’s Not A Happy Ending
When you think about it, the ending to this film is not as happy as it seems. Ignoring the sequels and various spin-offs, let’s imagine that this is the last we see of the gang. They have managed to make it to Great Valley, where they will be safe and happy for all time. Well, except not. They have still lost parents, loved ones, and friends. They are also still facing the extinction of their kind. Rather than being their salvation, Great Valley is actually just a way of putting off the inevitable. What happens when their valley runs out of food? Or the carnivores find their way to it and discover all the meals on legs they could want, with nowhere else to run to? We know that the dinosaurs all died off in real life. We just didn’t realize the film would make it look this sad.