Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don Bluth Month: They have a word for "star" but not for "leaf"? Thoughts on "The Land Before Time"

First, hilarity from Netflix (I regret not sharing more of these. Sometimes I wonder just what movie they watched):

This is going to be another hard movie to write about. You see, while "The Secret of N.I.M.H." is my favorite movie of all time, "The Land Before Time" is no less than
The Movie That Changed My Life. It's going to be hard to talk about it subjectively, as it was my favorite childhood movie. I may even have to have this stretch over two posts. I have a LOT to say about "LBT".

Here we have Don Bluth and Steven Spielberg re-teaming after "An American Tail". This time, they brought a third friend along. And I am just going to direct you to Jollyjack's lovely one-panel comic over at DeviantArt, which needs no further comment really.

There is a minimum of "Lucasness" in this film, fortunately. Though watching it again for the first time in ages, there's one thing that strikes me about "The Land Before Time" and it strikes me hard: It's
*SHORT*. I mean, it's really short. It's barely an hour long and feels like it's over before you know it. This ends up working to the movie's advantage: there's simply no room to f*** anything up.

OK, seriously. The short, short running time of "The Land Before Time" means that the movie is tight as hell. There's not a moment wasted: everything goes towards character development or moving the plot forward, all set to what is arguably James Horner's very best movie score (this might even be my absolute favorite movie score of all time; too bad the prices on Amazon make me cry). And if that sounds like a dull experience, you'd be wrong. Because this movie has Don Bluth and his animators at the top of their game.

"The Land Before Time" is seventy minutes of nonstop amazing hand-drawn, hand-painted analog animation. This is still one of the most gorgeous movies I've ever seen and it includes some of the most astonishing sequences of character and effects animation I've had the pleasure of watching
to this day. I don't know if there's an actual record for this, but I think it's fair to say that this little film, pound for pound, has more hand-rendered special effects animation than any other. (I remember the wonderful Bob Thomas book, Disney's Art of Animation: From Mickey Mouse to Beauty and the Beast, in which one of the special effects animators bragged that "Beauty and the Beast" had "everything but volcanoes". Hey, guess what "Land Before Time" has? And there is a distinct lack of CAPs technology in their end credits. [Then again, "Beauty and the Beast" has a character who is a constantly moving and changing light source, so if you ignore the computer animation issue, the films are pretty even.])

And I'm just going to go ahead and say it: this is the very best fully animated film about dinosaurs. The production team went all out and made the most accurate dinosaur movie for it's time (EDIT: heavy emphasis on the "for it's time" part). And yes, I know how weird that sounds twenty-odd years later, but you have to remember that it was 1988, complete remains of some of the species depicted hadn't been discovered yet. Even so, about the only characters who really look bad are the hadrosaurs, the tyrannosaurs, and the... I wonder if that's meant to be an Oviraptor during the "even hatching was dangerous" scene? (It actually might be, as the only skull known at the time was crushed, so it was assumed they looked either a little less weird or a lot more conventional and ornithomimis-y.)

That's why this movie caused a sensation in my little ten-year-old universe. We were finally going to get to see a whole movie with dinosaurs in action. I know that doesn't sound like a big deal in today's post-"Walking With Dinosaurs" world, but you kids have to understand that back then, animated dinosaurs usually meant "Flintstones" reruns. And the
only other high-profile dinosaur movie from the 1980's was... yeah...

So this was the first-ever movie I became a total fangirl for. But we'll hold off on that story for the next post, which will include a lot of potentially embarrassing pictures...


Sketch of the Day!

Time to shut up and ride this sauropod!
6.29.10 Sketchbook Page 2


Zach said...

Accurate representations of dinosaurs? We've got Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurus living together, in one place, and even some Permian holdovers (Dimetrodon early in the film). The adult forms all look pretty decent, even the duckbils if you discount their bizarre "lips."

Hyper-aggressive, potentially carnivorous pachycephalosaurs? Where'd that come from?

Despite that,LBT is one of my favorite all-time movies, and I can't help but tear up when Littlefoot first sees the Great Valley. That scene is aided so much by the soundtrack which, as you've said, is excellent.

Trish said...

^ I get what you're saying, but it's fairly accurate *for the time*. Obviously things like the "Walking With Whatever" series beats this all to hell. But as I said, if you wanted animated dinosaurs in the 80's, your options were mostly "Flintstones" reruns. I can begrudge the film triceratops rubbing shoulders with... I'm going to say Mamechisaurus and a weirdly psycho pachyceph or two.