Open the door, get on the floor, everybody walk the dinosaur.
Once upon a time, several million years ago (or at least during the Reagan administration), Don Bluth created an animated dinosaur movie called The Land Before Time. It was by most accounts a decent movie, a good one for the kiddies. It did moderately well at the box office and then disappeared. However, with the growing popularity of home video in the 1980s and 1990s, a new species arose: the direct-to-video sequel. Since 1994 sequels to the original The Land Before Time have hit the shelves at a rate of about one per year. The latest installment, The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire, is now available from Universal. It features the whole gang—Littlefoot, Cera, Petrie, Ducky, and Spike, back for another adventure.
Facts of the Case
Littlefoot awakes one night just in time to see a bright light streak across the sky and land on a distant mountain. He tries to tell his grandparents and friends about it, but to no avail. Soon the word spreads around the community. Two strange rainbow-faced dinosaurs spread theories that it may be a "stone of cold fire," rumored to have magical powers. This causes considerable turmoil among the dinosaurs.
The plot thickens (slightly) when Petrie's uncle Pterano shows up. Pterano has a shady past that no one wants to discuss. He gains the children's confidence in an attempt to find out where the stone of cold fire landed. He wants to find the stone so that he can assume what he feels is his rightful place as leader of the herd. He and his two shifty associates eventually wind up kidnapping Ducky and setting out to find the stone. Naturally, the rest of the kids set out after them without informing any of the adults.
All of this leads the dinosaur kids on a wild adventure that culminates in a climactic confrontation on top of a volcano. Along the way there are glimpses of the rainbow-faced dinosaurs in the shadows at every turn, which will lead viewers to wonder what they are up to. This is revealed in a bizarre twist that comes completely out of left field. It will leave most viewers scratching their heads and wondering just who in the world thinks up this stuff.
The Land Before Time VII appears to use a combination of CGI and "regular" animation. The use of CGI seems most apparent in an opening sequence in space (don't ask) and in backgrounds in various places in the movie. However, there is no mistaking the various characters for CGI. They are not badly drawn but are nothing special, on about the same level as an average Saturday morning cartoon. Backgrounds show a greater amount of detail but are static for the most part. The CGI backgrounds, in the few instances that they are used, tend to be overly sharp and make the characters look like cardboard cutouts by comparison.
Among the voice actors, only Anndi McAfee stands out in her role as Cera. She gives the character life and personality. McAfee also has a good singing voice, although it is wasted in a banal and pointless song.
The video presentation is basically good but unremarkable. Colors seem to be faithfully rendered, and I could detect no trace of digital flaws. The audio is Dolby 5.1, but does not make much use of the rear channels or discernible directional effects. The rear channels are used mainly for music and for annoying insect sounds that made me think there was something wrong with my furnace.
As might be expected, extra content is fairly limited. The main extra feature is a DVD-ROM educational adventure for preschoolers. The other extra feature is a section of movie recommendations, which includes trailers for Babe, Beethoven's 2nd, The Little Rascals, and the original The Land Before Time.
It is not my usual practice to comment on packaging, but I was pleasantly surprised by the new keep case design that Universal used for this release. It looks very much like the Universal Keep Case of Doom that we have all grown to despise. However, with just a push on the center hub the claws release the disc as easily as getting a CD out of a jewel case. It combines the security of the UKoD with a much easier release. I found it to be quite nifty. I liked it so well that the case now has the honor of housing my Conan the Barbarian—Collector's Edition disc. Here's hoping that Universal starts using this case for all future releases.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In case you couldn't tell, I was not terribly impressed with this movie. I am not a parent, but if I were I think I would find it frustrating that children's movies are so often poorly written and executed. A poorly written script, cute but bland characters, and indifferent animation does not make a good movie for anyone, let alone kids. They should have something that engages their mind and imagination, not 74 minutes of random situations with a lame attempt at grafting on moral lessons along the way. There is very little here that is entertaining, let alone stimulating, and most kids will not remember a single thing from this movie once they hit "stop."
One other complaint. We are all by now familiar with the "Universal Trailer" that appears before every one of their DVD titles. I don't mind this trailer in most cases, but I object to its placement before a children's feature. I'm not so sure that small children should be made to sit through violent footage from The Mummy, U-571, Jurassic Park, Jaws, or Pitch Black, nor should they be made to watch repeated leg and cleavage shots from Erin Brockovich. Let me be clear: I am not objecting to the content in those movies. I am not questioning Universal's right to hawk their products. I just think that they should consider whether the advertising they show is appropriate for the target audience. This is similar to the debate going on right now with regard to advertising before children's movies in theaters. To be fair, the trailer can be skipped with the chapter ahead button, but I am still bothered by the fact that it plays automatically.
The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire is a complete waste of the time and talents of a lot of good people. Don't let it be a waste of yours or your kids' time too.
Had the movie done anything that might have elicited a response from me, I would probably convict it. However, as it did nothing to either entertain or offend me, I am dismissing this case with prejudice.
Universal is quite another matter. I'll grant that the new keep case design is right up there with sliced bread. However, this whole The Land Before Time thing has gone on for far too long, and Universal must be stopped before they kill again. They are hereby placed on probation, and if they make another of these dreadful direct-to-video animated dinosaur flicks they will be facing a long, long time in the big house. While they are at it, they should create a more kid-friendly trailer to show before their children's titles.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• The Land Before Time Preschool Adventure (DVD-ROM)
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