U – 71mins – 1996
“Everywhere things are changing,” so warns the opening narration as we are re-introduced to our weather-wracked prehistoric planet where profuse precipitation is introducing new amphibious species into the dino-dominated eco-system. The earth now too soggy to be lived on, anxious herds are forced to migrate to the as-yet-untouched paradise of the Great Valley.
Yep, that’s right – with none of the calamitous climate-controlled changes yet to affect Littlefoot (Scott McAfee) and co., it is morally-virtuous business as usual for our reliable band of affectionate amigos in this fourth template-aligning Land Before Time adventure, which once more celebrates growth, embraces change and promotes teamwork through a mixture of colourful characters, fun adventures and sing-a-long songs.
Everyone has a part to play and a time to shine – even a not-so-silent Spike (“You talk-ted, yep, yep yep!”) and a furry micro-scamp christened Tickles – when Grandpa Longneck (Kenneth Mars) falls ill. It is up to our brave band of plucky plant-polishing protagonists to set off into the dangerous unknown to find and bring back the golden petal of the medicinal nightflower to save Littefoot’s beloved guardian.
Stubborn Cera (remaining original voice artist Candace Hutson in her final franchise appearance) is forced to overcome her jealousy when a new longneck playmate, Ali (Juliana Hansen), grabs Littefoot’s attention, while our innocent explorers must escape a bickering pair of dependant-yet-uncooperative famished foes in a treacherous overlong cavern setpiece which expands the backdrop but dissipates the pace from this short-but-sweet adventure where even the carnivorous critters are cute in the sunshine.
U – 70mins – 1995
“There is no ‘fair’ when it comes to survival”
When the Great Valley’s watering hole of Thundering Falls begins to run dry, even drinking the morning dew from the tree-stars and rationing the depleted remaining supply cannot stop infighting from causing clashes between the various dino-herds who had learnt to live harmoniously in this once verdant sharp tooth-secluded paradise.
“We don’t share with anyone!”
Can virtuous long neck Littlefoot (Scott McAfee) and his band of dynamic friends help find a new water source before the Valley is decimated, or will the increasing threat of fires engulfing the parched land become a dangerous reality?
Having already collaborated just 12 months prior on The Great Valley Adventure, the same creative team – headed by director Roy Allen Smith – really started to find their feet with this second saccharine-sweet sequel to Don Bluth’s classic original.
Watching these family-friendly films in such close proximity, the shared moral sentiments – prejudice is bad, teamwork is good – and stringent structural framework – grandiose evolutionary montage, opening narration, status quo disrupted, status quo restored, closing narration – are beginning to become eye-rollingly repetitive, but that doesn’t mean I am blind to the fast-growing franchise’s merits.
The Time of the Great Giving is actually a far more worthy, confident and cohesive Jurassic jaunt than its patchy predecessor. Michael Tavera’s edifying songs are still unsubtly twee, but they are catchier and more palatable this time around, while the animation is noticeably sharper and more adept than the flat and rushed efforts of 1994’s Valley.
There’s still a predictability to the characterisation and events – a bullying band of antagonists are insipidly goofy (“bigger is better”), while three horn Cera’s (Candace Hutson) stubborn father (John Ingle) is so unreasonable you just know he is bound to come unstuck eventually (“sometimes fear makes adults act differently”) – but this is still harmless and heart-warming fare which promotes propriety in a way which is not only appealing to hatchlings.
U – 72mins – 1994
ESCHEWING THE MYSTERIOUS BEYOND
“If this was a game I’d never want to play again.”
In the aftermath of the Jurassic Park dino-boom, and six years after the little foot with the big heart stomped to a brontosaurus-sized box office bow, the loveable long neck and his assorted leaf-licking playmates herded back to the screen for a second profound and plucky prehistoric romp.
The Land Before Time director Don Bluth, executive producers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and composer James Horner all stayed away from this cinema-skipping Great Valley Adventure (as did all but one of the voice cast), but some nauseatingly twee musical numbers attempt to inject some buoyancy into the competent-but-noticeably-flatter animation.
And yet, once you have lowered your expectations and conceded this is a cheaper affair in a lower league than the iconic original (the kidified modification of the Universal logo keys you in to this mind-set from the off), there are still the fossils of an endearing story to be unearthed beneath the superficial chaff.
Apatosaurus Littlefoot (Scott McAfee) and his friends all retain their distinctive and charming personalities as they learn that as hard as it is to be little, “acting grown up is hard. It is, it is.” Chasing down two egg-napping raptor-like foes (one of whom sounds a lot like Tim Curry), the brave band decide to hand-rear the rescued hatchling themselves – until it transpires to be a sharptooth whose parents are desperate to track it down!
There are astute allusions to peer pressure, and carry-overs from The Land Before Time of prejudice against other species (“a sharptooth can never be one of us!”), while the sundry life lessons converge in a climatic solution which overcomes the gang’s adversities and saves the day – hooray for teamwork!
In a film which bestows the virtues of enjoying your youth and not growing up too soon it seems somewhat miserly and incongruous for me to be too hard on this colourful and virtuous little scamp, which will undoubtedly delight the undemanding diddy-demographic it is aimed at.