Littlefoot, a bouncing Brontosaurus whose mother was mauled by a T-Rex, sets out to find the dino-Shangri-La that is the Great Valley, where food and drink and a generally nice time awaits. Joining forces with other dino-orphans, Littlefoot must pick his way through the plotted minefield of volcanoes and carnivores.
The tastes and preferences of small children continue to defy the best predictions of the modern entertainment baron.
For today's youngster hi-tech sits quite happily alongside prehistory and dinosaurs exert an extraordinary hold over the juvenile imagination. Which is where Don Bluth, graduate of the Disney school of classical animation and successful independent in Dublin, comes in with his follow-up to the 1987 full-length mouse saga An American Tail. It's the story of a young brontosaurus called Littlefoot who loses his mother in a scrap with a tyrannosaurus rex and sets off to find the Great Valley where there is food and water enough for all creatures and the earth doesn't keep throwing up unannounced volcanoes.
Linking up with an ill-assorted bunch of other orphans, ranging from a stroppy triceratops to Petrie, a pterodactyl whose desperate efforts to fly provide the majority of the movie's humour, he battles against fairly major odds and learns valuable moral lessons about fortitude and team work in his progress towards the promised land. Vividly animated and directed with just about as much restraint as it needs to avoid being terrifying for younger children, The Land Before Time had no trouble holding the attention of Empire's panel of two six-year olds and a comparatively sophisticated 10-year-old; adults are unlikely to find it too much of a strain either, although they may wonder why, for all his new-found independence, Don Bluth continues his former employer's outmoded tendency to superimpose the family values of a middle American never-never land on a bunch of creatures who walked the earth hundreds of thousands of years ago. Anthropomorphic we expect, but does it have to be monocultural as well?
Sharp animation and powerful visualisation of scale will enthrall a young audience but the clumsy cub-scout moralising feels, well, extinct.