‘Let your heart guide you. It whispers so listen closely…’
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Never more so than with movies. Witness the internet’s hysterical reaction to a ‘classic’ being rebooted (Ghostbusters for example).
All of my favourite films come from a certain period in my life. Back to the Future, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride etc etc. I watched them all between the ages of 10 and 13 and I still watch them today. Partly because they are genuinely brilliant films but partly because they take me back to a simpler time. A time of Coco Pops and SEGA.
However, one thing I never do is return to my very first cinematic experiences. The films that I obsessed over in my proper formative years. Perhaps those memories are just too sacred to return to them. Perhaps I am worried that if I were to watch Robin Hood or The Sword in the Stone, then it would somehow sully the memories that I have of those films. It was with some trepidation then that I sat down on Christmas Eve to watch The Land Before Time, one of the first films I can remember watching and a movie that I watched over and over again when I was little. On VHS. Because I am old now.
A motley crew of dinosaurs, all from different species, are forced to unite in order reunite with their families in the Great Valley. God I love a one sentence plot. Also a film that is just over an hour long. The dream.
Deep breath… The Land Before Time is still just as compelling, poignant and beautiful as it was when I was a kid. Thank God for that. First off, the animation is gorgeous. For all the technological advances showcased by Pixar and Dreamworks, watching The Land Before Time made me ache for a time when animation could look this good. 600 landscapes were painted for the background shots and it shows, with every scene lush and colourful despite the absence of any greenery. Secondly, the script is simple but crushingly effective. The scene where Littlefoot mistakes his own shadow for his dead mother is a moment to rival anything in the Disney output, with shades of both Bambi and The Lion King. Lastly, the talented voice cast ensure that the different characters never become too one dimensional or generic. This last point is tinged with sadness as Judith Barsi, who so enthusiastically voiced Ducky, was murdered by her father before the film was released. A genuine Hollywood tragedy that seems to have been forgotten over the years.
Let’s not end on a sad note though. The message of The Land Before Time is a simple one. Despite our differences, if we all work together we can achieve happiness. Rather than being cloying or overly sentimental, director Don Bluth and joint producers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas ensure that The Land Before Time retains its sense of wonder and therefore remains a timeless classic.
I was scared to watch this movie because of the Pandora’s box of memories that it might open. In the end, I’m glad I did. The past is nothing to be scared of. A Sharptooth however… Those bastards are terrifying!