Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure

Director: Roy Allen Smith
Writers: John Ludin, John Loy, Dev Ross
Producer: Roy Allen Smith
Cast: Scott McAfee, Candace Hutson, Kenneth Mars
Country: USA
Year of production: 1994
Reviewed from: UK VHS

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Don Bluth was pretty much the only viable alternative to Disney when it came to feature-length animation. From The Secret of NIMH in 1982 to Titan AE in 2000, he directed eleven animated features, including The Land Before Time for Universal/Amblin in 1988. This straight-to-video sequel was released six years later, a few months after The Return of Jafar became the first DTV sequel to a theatrically released animated feature. Bluth was not involved.

In the original (which I haven't seen) five baby dinosaurs led their respective herds into the Great Valley, somewhere where they would be safe from predators. This is of course an ecologically unsound move since without predation the populations of the herbivorous species would outgrow the capacity of the area to feed them, and without any means of escape from the isolated valley - the only pass is blocked off by rockfalls - the result would be mass starvation. But let's not worry about that because there are far bigger moral dilemmas in this film.

The little dinos are inquisitive brontosaurus Littlefoot, bossy triceratops Cera, nervous pterodactyl Petrie (Petrie speak ungrammatically and always refer to himself in the third person), cute anatasaurus Ducky and bulky stegosaurus Spike who never speaks and is the dinosaur equivalent of 'the fat kid.' For some reason which is probably explained in the first movie, Spike has been adopted by Ducky's family; similarly, Littlefoot is being raised by his grandparents.

In LBT2, the dinos get into trouble attempting to cross some quicksand and have to be rescued by their parents. Fed up with being treated like babies, when they spot two oviraptors (crafty Ozzy and thick Strut) stealing an egg from Ducky's parents' nest, they decide to apprehend the villains themselves. Chasing Ozzy and Strut causes a rockfall which opens a path to the outside. The egg gets passed from oviraptors to dino-babies and back, eventually disaappearing; what the little dinos recover and bring back to the valley is an egg which is the same colour but, when sneaked back into the nest, is clearly far, far too big.

Undaunted, Littlefoot and pals decide to incubate the egg themselves, which they somehow manage, but when it hatches - quelle surprise - they find themselves presented with a baby Tyrannosaurus rex. Initially frightened, they decide that they can look after him and name him Chomper (although it mostly sounds like 'Chopper' when characters say it). Herein lies the unsubtle and frankly not-very-well-handled attempt at morality in the film. Meat-eaters ('sharp-teeth' in dino-speak, which gives some idea of how anodyne the whole thing is) are banned from the Great Valley, but the dino-babies have brought one inside. But should they fear him? He's only a baby and he is dependent on them. On the other hand, what is he going to eat?

There is a story to be told about tolerance for those with a different lifestyle, but put into this situation it just doesn't work because the idea falls apart when that lifestyle specifically requires 'the other' to kill members of one's own group. The little dinos have every right to fear Chomper because in order for him to survive he will need to kill and eat their own kind. Other animated films which have dealt with the moral aspect of carnivores, such as the excellent Ice Age, have a character agreeing not eat his/her friends but remaining a carnivore. But the Great Valley is a self-contained ecosystem where all the herbivores live together as one big happy herd. The introduction of even a single carnivore threatens that ecosystem and all the individuals within it.

Littlefoot, Cera and pals should not fear Chomper because he is different, or because they assume that he will be dangerous, they should fear him because he is dangerous and has no other option but to be dangerous.

Anyway, a few life lessons are learned, there is some more comedy schtick involving the two oviraptors, including a scene where they are frightened of a giant T rex shadow which turns out to be Chomper. Then two adult T rex enter the valley, leading to some almost exciting fights. Well, of course they are Chomper's mum and dad and they eventually help Littlefoot and co to send the oviraptors packing. Then, having collected their son, they return to the outside and the adult herbivores engineer another rockfall to once again isolate the Great Valley. Where, as we have seen, they will all starve to death in a few years because there is a fixed amount of vegetation but nothing to stop their population increasing exponentially.

This is a weak film and I understand that the original is not so bad. Candace Hutson (Cera) is the only returning voice artist from the original and she stayed for the next two sequels, as did Scott McAfee (Littlefoot) and Heather Hogan (Ducky). Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo) as Petrie and Rob Paulsen (Pinky in Pinky and the Brain), who is credited as Spike though I don't recall the stegosaurus ever saying anything, continued on through all the sequels which at the last count had reached ten, meaning that there are more Land Before Time films than Star Trek movies!

In recent years, the US releases of the films have tended to drop the number which makes a certain kind of sense if there is no specific order to them or development from one to another, although the numbers remain on the UK releases. In order, the eleven movies are:

  • The Land Before Time (1988)
  • The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure (1994)
  • The Land Before Time III: The Time of the Great Giving (1995) - ie. the Christmas one!
  • The Land Before Time IV: Journey Through the Mists (1996)
  • The Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island (1997) - which brought back Chomper, resulting in a rather curious double-bill re-release of parts II and V...
  • The Land Before Time VI: The Secret of Saurus Rock (1998)
  • The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire (2000)
  • The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze (2001)
  • The Land Before Time IX: Journey to the Big Water (2002)
  • The Land Before Time X: The Great Longneck Migration (2003)
  • The Land Before Time XI: Invasion of the Tinysauruses (2004)

Bennett and Paulsen also voice the two oviraptors and Paulsen provides Chomper's baby gurgles. Linda Gary (Aunt May in the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon and its spin-off DTV feature Sins of the Fathers, also in Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night) is Littlefoot's grandmother and no less than Kenneth Mars (Young Frankenstein) is his grandfather; Mars continues in the role to this day but Gary is only in parts II-IV, though in her case it's because she died in 1995. John Ingle (Skeeter, RoboCop 2) and Tress MacNeille are also in the cast (MacNeille does voices for The Simpsons and played Lucille Ball in the video for 'Weird Al' Yankovic's early hit 'Ricky'!).

Director/producer Roy Allen Smith and co-producer Zahra Dowlatabadi were also responsible for Part III and Part IV which probably explains why these three films are some sort of loose trilogy, at least in terms of cast and crew. Of the credited writers, John Ludin worked on LBT II and III, Dev Ross worked on LBT II, III and IV as well as The Return of Jafar, and John Loy worked on LBT II, III, V, VI, VIII and X plus the Hercules/Xena animated movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks meet Frankenstein and Alvin and the Chipmunks meet the Wolfman!

Although there were (I understand) no songs in the original, this film has a few, mostly written by sisterly singing trio The Roches. And not to put to fine a point on it, they are awful (although to be fair, they were the only parts of the film when my guest reviewer, 18-month-old TF Simpson, actually paid attention). The rest of the music is by Michael Tavera (Honey We Shrunk Ourselves, Cinderella II, Beethoven). Most of the other names in the credits are Korean as the (thoroughly unremarkable) animation was all done by Akom Productions Co Ltd (which also does animation for The Simpsons). Akom’s President Nelson Shin is credited as ‘animation producer’; he directed Transformers: The Movie and allegedly designed the lightsabre effects in Star Wars!

MJS rating: C-
review originally posted 16th June 2005

No comments:

Post a Comment