When it comes to children’s animated movies, The Land Before Time is the one that has always held a special place in my heart. It’s one of the few non-Disney kids' films that my family had in our VHS collection, and, like myself, it celebrates its 30th birthday this year.
Set during the prehistoric era of the dinosaurs, The Land Before Time follows the perilous journey of five leaf-eaters: Littlefoot the Long-Neck, Cera the Three-Horn, Ducky the Big Mouth, Spike the Spiketail, and Petrie the Flyer. These little dinos go through unimaginable struggles to reunite with their families in the Great Valley while constantly being stalked by the carnivorous Sharptooth.
It’s a film that left its mark because it teaches some of the most important values any child, or adult for that matter, could learn. Thirty years later, its messages are still just as relevant and if not more vital now considering the divisive social and political climate we find ourselves in.
So here is a reminder of some of the most valuable life lessons The Land Before Time gives us.
Coming to terms with death
More often than not the protagonists in children’s films are or become orphans and The Land Before Time is no exception. Littlefoot’s mother dies while protecting him from a Sharptooth, forcing him to find the Great Valley and reunite with his grandparents without her.
It’s in this moment, as she’s preparing her son for her earthly departure, that she reminds him that you don’t have to see something to know it’s there. That losing someone doesn’t mean they cease to exist. They live on in your mind and in your heart.
If that it isn’t a beautiful way to teach kids about death and how to get through it, then I don’t know what is.
When Littlefoot’s mother dies, he doesn’t believe he can find the Great Valley without her; he’s just a child up against a treacherous landscape and looming danger around every corner. But thanks to the dying words of his mother, and after being consoled by Rooter the Clubtail, he picks himself up and carries on.
There are times when Littlefoot starts to doubt himself but his mother is there with him in spirit, guiding him, giving him the strength to persevere and lead his friends to safety. Life is full of hardships that sometimes we have to face at a young age but that doesn’t mean we should let it continue without us being an active participant. The best way to celebrate loved ones who have died is to live, and Littlefoot does just that.
Accepting help is not a weakness
Cera isn’t the most obviously likable character but to me she is and the most relatable. Her species is meant to be tough and she tries to be, though it’s more of a front for how scared and rather sensitive she really is. It’s why she often doesn’t ask for help because to her its a sign of weakness and when her strong-willed attitude leads to a rather dangerous situation she lets her pride get the better of her.
We’ve all been there, making a mistake or doing something wrong and struggling to admit it or accept help. It takes Cera to suffer a rather embarrassing situation before she begins to change her attitude, but when she does she helps to save her friends.
Blood isn’t thicker than water
Ducky is the most loveable dinosaur in the movie thanks to her open heart and kind attitude that sees her take an orphaned Spike into her fold, despite not being related, or even the same species. She makes him her brother and when they finally make it to the Great Valley her family accepts him as a sibling and son too.
As someone with both a step-father and step-brother, I know too well that family love doesn’t just include those who share your DNA. More and more families are becoming blended because of changing relationships but that doesn’t mean you are any less of a family and members are any less important. Ducky loves Spike as much as she loves any one of her biological siblings, and that’s a wonderful thing for young viewers, especially those from blended homes, to see.
Don’t let our differences divide us
The most important message in The Land Before Time is the warning against the bigoted ideology of racism and segregation and stopping it be passed onto our children. No one is born racist or prejudice; these values are more often than not influenced by the people that raise us, and through the news and culture we are exposed to growing up. That’s why when Littlefoot first meets Cera and they begin to play he doesn’t understand why her father is adamantly against them interacting it.
His mother explains that species stick to their own species and when he asks why she says that’s just the way it has always been. That doesn’t stop her from protecting both Littlefoot and Cera from the Sharptooth though, and it doesn’t stop them from teaming up with dinosaurs from other breeds in order to find their way to the Great Valley.
Their individual differences give strength to their survival as a collective and, even though there are moments when certain little dinos perpetuate the bigoted attitude inherited from their parents, they soon realize the error of that bias.
Considering what’s going on in the world, it’s more vital than ever that our kids learn the importance of welcoming and accepting people from all backgrounds. It’s up to adult caregivers to teach the younger generation this so that we as a society get out of bad divisive habits. I know racism and prejudice isn’t going to end by making every person in the world watch The Land Before Time, but it’s certainly not a bad place to start.