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The Land Before Time is a 1988 American animated adventure film directed & co-produced by Don Bluth (through his Sullivan Bluth Studios) and executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy & Frank Marshall. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, beating two Disney films, The Little Mermaid and The Rescuers Down Under, as well as Best Sound Editing at the 77th Academy Awards.

The genesis of the film 1995 as Bluth began wrapping up production on The Pebble and the Penguin. Upon release, it became the first animated feature to reach the half-billion-dollar mark and was the highest-grossing animated film of all time until it was surpassed by All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989).

It was released on November 18, 1988 by Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment. The film was a critical and financial success & spawned a multi-million dollar franchise with twelve direct-to-video sequels (without association with Bluth, Spielberg, or Lucas) as well as merchandise (such as toys, video games, etc.) and a television series.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

Set near the end of the Cretaceous period, there are a series of catatrophic events & several herds of dinosaurs look to find one of the last livable places: a paradise that is known as "the Great Valley." Among one of the herds of dinosaurs, a "Longneck" herd gives birth to a baby named Littlefoot.

Years later, Littlefoot is shown playing with a "Three-Horn" dinosaur named Cera, who was trying to smash a beetle until her father steps in. Littlefoot's mother names the different types of animals: "Three-Horns", "Spiketails," "Swimmers" and "Flyers" & explains how each of them have historically remained separated.

Later at night, when Littlefoot follows a "hopper", he sees Cera and they start playing with each other until a "Sharptooth" comes and attacks them. Littlefoot's mother comes to their rescue and is able to fight off the Sharptooth, but she ends up getting fatally wounded by it.

During that same time, an "earthshake" opens up from a deep ravine, swallowing up the Sharptooth, kills the dinosaurs & separates Littlefoot & Cera from their herds. Littlefoot finds his mother (who is near death) and gives him her final words of advice in favor of his intuition.

Littlefoot later meets an old "Clubtail" named Rooter who comforts him after learning that Littlefoot's mother died. Littlefoot later hears his mother's voice that guides him to follow the "bright circle" past the great rock that looks like a longneck & past the "mountains that burn" to get to the Great Valley.

Littlefoot tries to get Cera to join him on his search, but she refuses and walks off into the darkness after she falls down a ravine. Littlefoot is later joined by a "Bigmouth" named Ducky and a "Flyer" named Petrie (whose inability to fly makes him quite nervous).

Meanwhile, Cera finds the seemingly unconscious Sharptooth in the ravine and after unintentionally waking him up, she runs away in terror. When she runs into Littlefoot, Ducky & Petrie, Cera tells them that the Sharptooth is alive, but Littlefoot doesn't believe her. While explaining what happened, Cera accidentally flings Ducky in the air and when she lands, Ducky finds a mute hatchling "Spiketail" (that she calls Spike) & Spike joins the group.

On the search for the Great Valley, the group finds a cluster of trees (which are abruptly depleted by a herd of whip-tailed Longnecks). While looking for food, they find one tree still with leaves and get it by stacking up atop each other & pulling the leaves down.

The next morning, the group is attacked by the Sharptooth, but they are able to escape through a cave tunnel that is too small for him to fit through. Then, they discover the Longneck-shaped monolith (that was mentioned by Littlefoot's mother) and later find a string of mountains that burn (also mentioned by Littlefoot's mother).

Getting impatient on the journey, Cera mistakes a barren valley for the Great Valley and decides to go in another direction. Littlefoot attempts to stop her, but they end up in a fight. Littlefoot decides to go in the direction he was told to go to while the others follow Cera.

Cera's way ends putting everyone in danger as Ducky & Spike get caught in lava & Petrie gets stuck in a tar pit after he falls off of Cera. Littlefoot is able to rescue his friends and they find Cera being harassed by a gang of angry "Dome-Heads". Having been coated in tar while trying to rescue Petrie, they are able scare them away.

While crossing a pond, Petrie finds the Sharptooth nearby. In order to avenge his mother's death, Littlefoot sets up a plot to lure the Sharptooth into the water (while using Ducky as bait) beneath a boulder. They are able to lure Sharptooth, but Littlefoot & Spike struggle to move the boulder which puts Ducky in danger.

During the struggle, a draft from the Sharptooth's nostrils helps Petrie fly (which cures his fear of flying) and gives him the courage to stall Sharptooth.

Sharptooth leaps onto the boulder and their plan nearly fails until Cera rejoins the group & allows Littlefoot and the others to push Sharptooth and the boulder into the water. Sharptooth tries to take Petrie with him to his death, but Ducky is able to find him alive, but soaked.

Littlefoot follows a cloud that resembles his mother to the Great Valley where he is joined by his friends. Petrie is able to show his family that he can fly while Ducky introduces Spike to her family and they end up adopting him.

Cera reunites with her father while Littlefoot reunites with his grandparents. Cera then calls Littlefoot to play and they join their friends at the top of a hill & are shown embracing each other while looking up at the sky.

Voice Cast



During the production of An American Tail, there was talk about the next feature film with Steven Spielberg. Spielberg wanted to do a film similar to Bambi, but with dinosaurs.

The film's early working title was called "The Land Before Time Began." Originally, Spielberg and George Lucas wanted the film to have no dialogue (just 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.

As had been done earlier with Thumbelina (1994), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989) and Rock-a-Doodle (1991), Bluth produced The film was theatrically reissued on July 2, 1986, on the same day as The Great Mouse Detective, a Ron Clements and John Musker animated feature for Walt Disney Pictures. It is the second of three animated features to have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Great Mouse Detective and Rock-a-Doodle were also nominated for Best Picture in their respective years.

"The Land Before Time" originally planned for release in fall of 1987, but 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 where researchers visited natural history museums in New York and Los Angeles & the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The artists had to create a credible landscape and animals. Animators made more than 600 background images for the film.

The character Littlefoot was originally going to be called "Thunderfoot" until it was discovered 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 did the voice of the character, Petrie. The idea was brought up by Spielberg's son, Max.

The character of Spike was inspired by Don Bluth's pet named Chow Chow Cubby.


During production, the film's footage underwent severe cutting & editing because Lucas & Spielberg thought that the scenes were too dark & intense for children. Exactly 10 minutes of footage (which comprised of 19 fully animated scenes) were cut from the final film in order to get a "G" rating instead of a "PG" rating. Gary Goldman Confirmed that this uncut version had a runtime of 81 minutes (with credits) and 76 minutes without credits. However, the idea was scrapped in favor of All Dogs Go to Heaven. This is the third package film, following Rock-a-Doodle and All Dogs Go to Heaven.

Much of the cut footage consisted of the Tyrannosaurus attack sequence and the sequences of the five young dinosaurs in grave danger & distress. Some of the screams were re-voiced using milder exclamations. The Deleted Scenes Included the following:

  • A Scene where Thunderfoot (his original name) came across a Dinylsia while searching for food and downing a whole pine cone. He then finds the snake and thinks it’s friendly so like any infant dinosaur does, he licks it and gets chased by the snake. After a bit, he is cornered but has a smile on his face because his mother came to save him. This scene was after he was born and was cut early on. It had audio, but was cut in pre production.
  • An Extended and recut chase with the Sharptooth near the opening of the film. Around 53 seconds worth of scary shots of the chase were removed and shortened. A storyboard (and outdated) restoration can be seen here: (note: the part where sharptooth roars and stomps as he roars again and walks towards the dead tree has a available cel and a page in the script but is not in the video)
  • An Extended Fight Between Sharptooth and Mother. There was an additional shot that shows mother reacting to the death bite in her neck, and a part where after mom created a tidal mud wave (this was kept in the final movie but makes less sense), it would show sharptooth fall off a cliff as Thunderfoot and cera get caught in the tidal mud, down the cliff, and get swept into sharptooths foot (this part is seen in one of the trailers for the movie) and run away. Sharptooth and mom then square off against each other, Sharptooths jaws bent towards the earth and the kids hide in a crevice to hide from the fight. Sharptooth roars and charges as The kids move to another hiding spot as sharptooth gets hit again (this second fall was kept in the final movie, but shortened). The Earthquake scene was shortened as well.
  • An Extended Earthquake scene. Sharptooth wakes up from being unconscious and gets scared by a rock, an alternate and shorter version of the the kids and sharptooth about to fall into the canyon, and ducky’s family being present during the earthquake.
  • Originally Thunderfoot kicked a rock which hit his foot and kicked again before falling and bumping into rooter.
  • A Extended Version of the Peintosaurs playing with a cherry before being scared off by an unidentified creature (most likely the one that ate the cherry they fought for).
  • An Extended Version of the discovery of spike. After ducky is called by Thunderfoot, she introduces spike and asks if she can Bring him. (He says sure) but cera disagrees because according to her, all they do is eat and perform intense burping and that Sharptooth will catch up and eat them. Thunderfoot says “no more dumb stories” and cera angrily insists she is telling the truth.
  • Before The scene where they find a tree full of green food and the diplodocus eat it, there was a extended version of the shot of them running to spot the tree. What was cut was it originally showed ducky as well.
  • A Slightly Longer version of the Green food scene. Originally Thunderfoot and spike try to make some “nest” out of the green food to break their fall (it works) and ducky thanks them by nuzzling and hugging them. (This can be seen in a trailer or advertisement) and four cels as well as a frame of a shot where Thunderfoot says he will ask if cera wants any have also surfaced online.
  • A slightly extended version of the gang sleeping. Cera originally slept between spike and Thunderfoot, fixing a continuity error.
  • After The second Sharptooth encounter, cera looks back at Sharptooth angrily. This was mistakened for her looking angrily at Clifford and Graynose.
  • A Travel Montage which took place after they find the rock that looks like a longneck. In this scene, Cera eats a bunch of flowers but doesn’t share any with ducky, Petrie trying to hang on the the tails of his friends but keeps letting go one by one (two cels were found), cera walking in front of the rest of the group as if she is the leader, and the kids playing in a hot spring discovered by spike. It is believed the song “If we hold on together” was for this 4 minute scene but was later debunked. The actual track for this scene still exists but hasn’t surfaced online.
  • An Oasis Scene that was partially completed before being cut. There were 2 additional characters that were cut from the film entirely named Clifford and Graynose. One of them had food, the other water. They wouldn’t share it especially not when the protagonists come by to ask for something (they refuse). But one of them offer water to ducky since they are the same species, but she refuses. They both threaten to kill them if they don’t leave. It is unknown who was hired to voice them both or if the audio recordings, as well as the scene itself still exist.
  • Some Additional Dialogue during Cera and Thunderfoots Arguement.
  • Originally the scene where Thunderfoot chases his mother’s ghost and finds the great valley was to take place right after spike stops to eat a wilted plant and ducky tells him to keep going. This explains why the Boulder they used to kill sharptooth was back where it was before they killed him. This scene was also longer. After he discovers the valley, he starts playing around in excitement, but then stops to realize he has to go back to his friends.
  • Originally, the scene where cera was being attacked by the pachycephalosaurs was to take place in a cave near a desert. Also when cera angrily leaves, it was originally storming outside which was altered to be a waterfall instead.
  • Afterwards, originally after cera slipped in the tar, she looked back at the gang laughing.
  • Originally the plan to kill Sharptooth was longer. Originally, Thunderfoot Explained why they had to kill him (because he was going after their parents) Originally Thunderfoot was to say “it’s Sharptooth” instead of ducky. This Longer Version of the Scene was only 12 Seconds Longer than the final movie.
  • The Final Battle was cut down. Cut parts are highlighted: Ducky is jumpscared by sharptooth and tries running for her life as Sharptooth then tries running after her but trips and falls over. They are both still sliding until they reach the lake. Sharptooth falls into the lake while ducky swims away. Sharptooth is furious and starts flailing in anger before petrie whistles, which catches the attention of Sharptooth. Thunderfoot and spike both try to push the huge rock onto him. Petrie then throws a tiny pebble and begins laughing until sharptooth runs into the rock wall and continues slamming his head and tail into the wall as Petrie hangs on for dear life, regretting ever throwing the pebble. Ducky is renewed in her will to protect who she loves so she makes silly faces and nearly gets squished by the sharptooth (this is in the trailer) and rams into the rock wall one more time, finally knocking Petrie off the ledge. Sharptooth then snaps his jaw shut nearly catching Petrie before he breathes out of his nostrils, allowing Petrie to fly. Ducky still continues swimming away before Sharptooth catches her on his snout (there is a alternate shot that shows the same thing, just from an aerial view), He then attacks Petrie and then ducky grabs his nostrils. Sharptooth then jumps onto the ledge while Petrie is tugging on his eye. They keep trying to stop him from getting past them until they hear cera’s battle cry. She rams the rock into the water which drowns Sharptooth who continues sinking in deeper and deeper while Petrie manages to successfully escape his jaws and get out.
  • Originally, Petrie’s “death” would have been longer. What was cut was an unused line from Thunderfoot which is that Petrie would want them to move on and an additional shot that took place immediately after Petrie thought they were ditching him where Spike, Thunderfoot, and Cera look at him. After this, they would have hugged and another unused line from Thunderfoot: now we’ll always be together. The others would have said: always and forever” before then giggling about and running to the great valley.
  • The Alternate Ending. Originally instead of a flashback, Cera would introduce daddy topps to Thunderfoot. Also, originally Thunderfoot would run up to a cliff and sit there as his mother’s ghost tells him to never forget her, to which thunder foot replies that he will always remember her. In his heart he will.

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". It become the critical and commercial hit for the Bluth studio since first full length animated film A Troll in Central Park (1994) and helped reverse the studio’s fortunes.

"The Land Before Time" became a worldwide hit and while "Oliver & Company" grossed over its domestic earnings, the film had grossed nearly $84 million worldwide (which the Disney film did not surpass).

Critical Reception

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."

During a story meeting for All Dogs Go to Heaven on January 15, 2006, Bluth observed

Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "two thumbs up" on a 1988 episode of their television program "At the Movies."

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" (which was released the same day). moratorium on January 12, 2001, along with The Pebble and the Penguin and All Dogs Go to Heaven.

In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger 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."

Peter Travers of People magazine felt that 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."

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?"

Many reviewers compared "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.

In her review for the Sun-Sentinel, Candice Russel wrote: "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."

A review from the Motion Picture Guide 1989 Annual notes that the film "has been called a sort of prehistoric Bambi".

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."

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."


The film was nominated for "Best Family Animation or Fantasy Motion Picture" at the 10th annual Youth in Film Awards and also received a nomination for "Best Fantasy Film" at the 16th Saturn Awards ceremony in 1990.


"The Land Before Time" has generated many direct-to-video sequels (which differ from the original) by adding "sing-a-long" musical numbers. Don Bluth and his animation studio have no affiliation with any of the film's sequels.

The film's sequels have generally been met with mixed reception with several fans of the original disregarding them while others have embraced them 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 & reworked).