Reviews & Columns
International DVDs
In Theaters
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Savant
Horror DVDs
The M.O.D. Squad
Art House
HD Talk
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info


Land Before Time (Anniversary Edition), The

Universal // G // December 2, 2003
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted December 20, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The movie

I never actually saw The Land Before Time in the theater; when it came out I was too old for "kiddie" movies but not yet not old enough to realize that kids' movies can be fun for all ages. It's nonetheless been part of my life: Pizza Hut ran a promotion in which you a rubber Land Before Time puppet came with every purchase of breadsticks. (I can't believe I still remember about the breadsticks after all this time.) Well, I ended up with a "Spike" puppet... and the goofy little guy became my pal. He weathered high school with me, tagged along to college, survived a number of moves, and to this very day grins cheerily at me from a spot on a bookshelf. Well, to make a long story short, Spike and I were excited about actually seeing the movie that started our friendship.

Unfortunately, the movie that I imagined that The Land Before Time would be was better than the movie that it actually turned out to be. The synopsis is pretty straightforward. Set millions of years ago (in what's presumably the Jurassic period), The Land Before Time is the story of a "long-neck" dinosaur named Littlefoot, who follows his family as they migrate out of a barren landscape to the perhaps mythical Great Valley where food will be plentiful. Along the way, Littlefoot becomes separated from his herd, and along with other babies he meets along the way, must find the Great Valley on his own.

And that's really all there is to it. The movie is well suited for an audience of 4- to 5-year-olds. There are child-dinosaur characters; a tragedy that kids will identify with (loss of a mother); a straightforward story that has the characters striving to reach a clearly defined goal; a clearly defined threat figure to add some scares; a touch of little-kid humor; and a happy ending. What it doesn't have, however, is anything that makes it worthwhile for an adult to watch. The story is not just simple, but simplistic, and the emotional content is broadly but shallowly drawn.

Another reason why The Land Before Time doesn't weather adult viewing well is that it's sappy. Extremely sappy. In fact, if it were any sappier, it would have to carry a warning label for diabetics. We have touching exhortations from mother dinosaur to baby, we have the sad little baby dinosaur mourning his mother, and we have the mother's spirit guiding him on his journey. That sounds fairly sentimental, doesn't it? Well, imagine the sentiment being laid so thick you could cut it with a knife, and you've got The Land Before Time. I have a soft spot for cute movies, but here "cute" is being ladled on with a vengeance, so while it may be appealing for preschoolers, it's likely to cause a gag reflex in Mom and Dad.

So is there anything special about The Land Before Time (other than the fact that it spawned nine direct-to-video sequels)? I'll give it credit for a distinctive setting, one that allows for a fantastic feel while still working with real natural history. Dinosaurs and the prehistoric past are perennial favorites with kids, and while the main characters are heavily anthropomorphized, the overall setting is fairly consistent with what was known about dinosaurs in 1988. (The one faux pas that I noticed was the presence of fruit: you can't have fruit without flowers, and true flowers hadn't evolved yet.) It's interesting to note the solid reptilian hues of the dinosaur characters as well: it's only recently that people have realized that they could have been all sorts of colors and patterns.

I also appreciated the fact that The Land Before Time is an animated feature that doesn't have songs in it; the characters never break into song, and there are no cheesy pop songs shoehorned into the middle of the movie, as seems to happen all too often in otherwise well-done kids' movies.



There's bad news and there's not-so-bad news. The not-so-bad news is that while The Land Before Time appears in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, it appears to be an open matte transfer rather than pan-and-scan. There's no "formatted to fit your screen" message (not that that's proof positive) and as far as I could tell, the framing appears to be correct. There's none of the misframing or excessive close-ups of a pan-and-scan hack job, but there's plenty of open space in the top and bottom of the image most of the time. Personally, I would have preferred to see the film presented in its widescreen theatrical aspect ratio (1.85:1), or at least with both a widescreen and an open-matte transfer on the disc, but this is an acceptable option.

Now for the bad news. The image quality is very poor. It's been brutally edge-enhanced, which baffles me: this is animation! It already has sharp, well-defined edges for all the objects in the picture! Well, we get stuck with heavy edge enhancement that results in distinct haloes around all the edges, and ironically makes the picture much less sharp. The image is also very grainy.

I'd guess that the print was given minimal cleaning at best before the transfer was made. Dark scenes look murky and lack detail, print flaws appear at times, and the colors overall are drab and muddy. On top of that, there's frequent fluctuation in color values throughout the film; for instance, Littlefoot shifts between being purple, brown, and orange, Ducky is sometimes green, sometimes brown or yellow, Cera is alternately gray or yellow, and so on. It's really quite disconcerting. All in all, this is a visually quite unappealing transfer.


Surprisingly, given the shoddy video transfer, the audio quality here is excellent. We have a choice of a DTS 5.1 track or a Dolby 5.1 track (as well as Dolby 5.1 tracks in Spanish and French). The sound is clean and full, with excellent use of surround to create a believable atmosphere around the listener.

English closed captions and Spanish and French subtitles are also available.


The Land Before Time has the dubious distinction of having the most cloyingly cutesy and condescending special features I've had the misfortune of seeing in some time. Any kid with half a brain will be insulted by them, and parents will soon be rolling their eyes.

It's clear that the DVD is being targeted toward very young viewers; all the text that appears in the special features screens is also read out loud (in very patronizing tone, I might add). We also get two "how to" features: "How Do I Find Things?", which is a mini-tutorial in how to use the remote control, and "I Can Put This in My Computer?", which explains how to access the DVD-ROM features. If you think this sounds condescending, you are right: it is.

For actual content, we can go to "Littlefoot's Playhouse," which starts off with "Adventures in the Land Before Time." This is basically a set of trailers for the other DVDs in the Land Before Time series: we get 21 different clips highlighting "special places" that Littlefoot and company have explored. If your kids make you sit through all 21 of them, you will want to punch out the narrator woman. Or your kids might want to; she uses the cloying "talking to dumb kiddies" voice that I hated when I was a kid.

The next option in "Littlefoot's Playhouse" is "Sing-Along Songs From Your Favorite Land Before Time Adventures": "You Are One of Us Now," "It Takes All Sorts," "Friends for Dinner," and "The Lone Dinosaur," which are just as cheesy as their titles suggest. We also get a section called "Dino-Stars," which gives some information on the kinds of dinosaurs that appear in the movie, and "Dino Activity: Break the Code," which makes a game out of figuring out the meanings of the dinosaurs' scientific names.

There's also a link to DVD-ROM content and a short text blurb on the "Jurassic Park Institute" and its web site.

Final thoughts

If you have very young kids who like dinosaurs, and you don't mind a strong sappiness quotient, The Land Before Time makes for a passable rental. Its dismal image quality precludes any sort of purchase recommendation, though, even for fans of the film.

Buy from






Rent It

E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Popular Reviews

Sponsored Links
Sponsored Links