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10 Timeless Facts About The Land Before Time

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Five years before Jurassic Park roared into theaters, a gentler, more meditative dinosaur film endeared itself to audiences of all ages. Initially met with mixed reviews, The Land Before Time is now regarded as an animated classic. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Steven Spielberg-produced film.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A DIALOGUE-FREE MOVIE.

In the mid-1980s, executive producer Steven Spielberg began toying with the idea of a Bambi-esque dinosaur film. “Basically,” he later said, “I wanted to do a soft picture … about five little dinosaurs and how they grow up and work together as a group.” Inspiration came from the “Rite of Spring” sequence from Disney’s Fantasia (1940)—a scene in which prehistoric beasts wordlessly go about their business. At first, Spielberg wanted his own dinosaur characters to follow suit and remain mum. Ultimately, however, it was feared that a non-verbal approach might bore or confuse the film’s intended audience. As such, the animals were given lines.

2. DIRECTOR DON BLUTH WAS AN EX-DISNEY EMPLOYEE.

Don Bluth grew up idolizing Disney’s work, and began working for the studio in 1955. Over the next two decades, he did various odd jobs until he was brought on as a full-time animator in 1971. Once on the inside, Bluth got to peek behind the magician’s curtain—and disliked what he found there. “I think [Walt Disney] would’ve seen that the pictures were losing their luster,” Bluth said. Frustrated by the studio’s cost-cutting measures, he resigned in 1979. Joining him were fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Together the trio launched their own company, Sullivan Bluth Studios, and began working on The Land Before Time in 1986.

3. OVER 600 BACKGROUND PAINTINGS WERE MADE FOR THE FILM.

Most of these depicted beautiful but barren wastelands, which presented a real challenge for the creative team. As one studio press release put it, “The artists had to create a believable environment in which there was almost no foliage.” Whenever possible, Bluth’s illustrators emphasized vibrant colors. This kept their backdrops from looking too drab or monotonous—despite the desolate setting.

4. LITTLEFOOT’S ORIGINAL NAME WAS “THUNDERFOOT.”

This was changed when the filmmakers learned that there was a triceratops in a popular children’s book called Thunderfoot. Speaking of three-horned dinosaurs: Cera evolved from a pugnacious male character called Bambo.

5. THE FILMMAKERS HAD TO CUT ABOUT 10 MINUTES OF FOOTAGE.

“We compromised a lot with The Land Before Time,” admitted Gary Goldman. Nowhere was this fact more apparent than on the cutting room floor. Spielberg and his fellow executive producer George Lucas deemed 19 individual scenes “too scary.” “We’ll have kids crying in the lobby, and angry parents,” Spielberg warned. “You don’t want that.”

6. “ROOTER” WAS INTRODUCED AT THE URGING OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS.

In Bambi, the title character’s mom dies off-screen. The same cannot be said for Littlefoot’s mother, whose slow demise goes on for several agonizing minutes. Naturally, there was some concern about how children would react to this. “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence,” said John Pomeroy. “Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be depicted.” Thus, Rooter was born.

One scene after Littlefoot’s mom passes, the wise reptile consoles him, saying “You’ll always miss her, but she’ll always be with you as long as you remember the things she taught you.” Sharp-eared fans might recognize Rooter’s voice as that of Pat Hingle, who also narrates the movie.

7. JAMES HORNER DID THE SOUNDTRACK.

The late, Oscar-winning composer behind Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009) put together a soaring score. Along with lyricist Will Jennings, he also penned the original song “If We Hold On Together,” which Diana Ross sings as the end credits roll.

8. THE ACTRESS BEHIND DUCKY PASSED AWAY BEFORE THE MOVIE’S RELEASE.

Judith Barsi’s career was off to a great start. By age 10, this daughter of Hungarian immigrants had already appeared in 70 commercials and voiced the leading lady in Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). For The Land Before Time, Barsi voiced the ever-optimistic Ducky, which was reportedly her favorite role. Then tragedy struck: In July of 1988, Barsi’s father József murdered both her and her mother before taking his own life.

9. IT HAD A RECORD-SETTING OPENING WEEKEND.

From the get-go, The Land Before Time had some stiff competition. Universal released it on November 18, 1988—the same day that Disney’s Oliver & Company hit theaters. Yet, for a solid month, Bluth gave Oliver a box office beating. The Land Before Time enjoyed the highest-grossing opening weekend that any animated film had ever seen, pulling in $7.5 million to Oliver & Company’s $4 million. Since then, of course, The Land Before Time has long been dethroned; today, Shrek the Third (2007) holds this coveted distinction with a $121.6 million first-weekend showing.

10. THERE ONCE WAS TALK OF A LAND BEFORE TIME STAGE MUSICAL.

“The time has come for dinosaurs on Broadway,” the late theatrical producer Irving Welzer told The New York Times in 1997. Emboldened by the recent cinematic success of Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1996), Welzer expressed an interest helping Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, and the rest of the gang make their Big Apple debut. Soon, however, the idea faded.

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Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight
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9 The Shining References Buried in Pixar Films
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining: Not the most kid-friendly movie! But, as circumstance would have it, it’s a favorite film of Pixar regular Lee Unkrich, who has directed or co-directed five Pixar features—including Toy Story 2 and 3; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; and Coco—in addition to doing editing work on several others. As such, it’s no surprise (or maybe it is) that several references to The Shining, from the obvious to the obscure, have snuck into Pixar’s lineup over the years. Here are nine of them.

1. SID'S DISTINCTIVE CARPET // TOY STORY (1995)

One of the most iconic images from Stanley Kubrick’s filmography is of Danny (Danny Lloyd) cycling through the halls of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel. That same iconic carpet can be found in Toy Story, where it adorns the home of the toy-torturer Sid. Unkrich, who was one of the editors on the film, credits that particular Easter Egg to production designer Ralph Eggleston.

2. THE NUMBER 237 // TOY STORY 3 (2010)

The number 237 makes an appearance in 'Toy Story 3' (2010)
Pixar

Unkrich worked several references to the number 237—the room in the Overlook Hotel where some particularly trippy things go down for Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson)—into Toy Story 3, which he directed. The license plate on a garbage truck in one scene reads RM237; Woody instant messages a toy whose code name is Velocistar237; and the model number of a security camera in Sunnyside Daycare is Overlook R237.

3. THE SUNNYSIDE INTERCOM // TOY STORY 3 (2010)

Speaking of Sunnyside Daycare’s security system: It features an intercom that’s an exact (albeit animated) duplicate of the one used by Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) in The Shining. Several feet away from the intercom is a tissue box, the pattern of which resembles that aforementioned carpet pattern in the Overlook Hotel.

4. THE "KALINGA" TECHNIQUE // FINDING NEMO (2003) & TOY STORY 3 (2010)

For both Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo, Unkrich asked his composers—Randy Newman and Thomas Newman, respectively—to utilize the “kalinga” technique at particular moments where the audience was meant to feel unsettled. Favored by Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, whose music was featured in The Shining, the “kalinga,” per Unkrich, “is when the violin players tap their bows against the strings rather than strumming. It's almost a plucky sound. If everybody does that throughout the orchestra you get a crazy, almost insecty sound, it's so unsettling.”

5. “HEEEEERE’S JOHNNY!” // FINDING NEMO (2003)

This one’s easy: In Finding Nemo, Bruce the shark echoes Jack Nicholson’s most famous line from The Shining when he snarls “Heeeere’s Brucey!”

6. JACK TORRANCE’S AXE // COCO (2017)

    Early in Coco, there’s a scene where Dante the dog abruptly wakes up from a nap. In the background, we see a normal-looking axe stuck into a tree trunk. An axe could just be an axe ... were Unkrich not sitting in the director's chair. Earlier this year, in an interview with Cinema Blend, he confirmed that the axe is in fact modeled after “one of the axes from The Shining.”

    7. REDRUM // COCO (2017)

    There are two 'The Shining' references in this one scene from 'Coco' (2017)
    Disney/Pixar

      In that same shot, right behind the axe, is a red metal storage drum, a reference to REDRUM, Danny Torrance’s favorite phrase and (er, spoilers for The Shining?) “murder” spelled backwards.

      8. THE GRADY TWINS // COCO (2017)

        As Coco’s Miguel runs through Frida Kahlo’s underworld art studio, he passes a painting of two girls who, per Unkrich, represent a “Día de los Muertos-inspired version of the twin girls from The Shining.”

        9. APOLLO 11 // TOY STORY (1995)

          Stick with us for a moment on this one, as it's not as straightforward as the other ones: Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear was named after Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was the second man to set foot on the moon. Apollo 11 looms large as part of the mythology of The Shining, as there are famously some conspiracy theorists who believe that Kubrick faked the moon landing and used The Shining as a quasi-confession. (At one point Danny Torrance wears an Apollo 11 sweater, which Lee Unkrich now owns.) This is very likely a coincidence, not an outright nod to The Shining, but given the level of The Shining appreciation in the halls of Pixar, it’s not a stretch to believe that someone at least got a chuckle out of it.

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          anthodomi, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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          Take a Look at What Studio Ghibli's Theme Park Will Look Like When It Opens in 2022
          A recreation of the house in My Neighbor Totoro built for the 2005 World's Fair.
          A recreation of the house in My Neighbor Totoro built for the 2005 World's Fair.
          anthodomi, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

          Miyazaki mega-fans may want to start planning their next trip to Japan. The much-anticipated Studio Ghibli theme park is now set to open in 2022, The Japan Times reports. The animated film studio just released several new images that show what the park (originally projected to open in 2020) will look like.

          Ghibli Park will be built on the site of the 2005 World's Fair in Nagakute, a city about 90 miles east of Kyoto in central Japan. The park's creators envision it as a place where the fantastical films of director Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, are brought to life. The mysterious forest in My Neighbor Totoro—one of Miyazaki’s most iconic films—will be reimagined in an area of the park called Dondoko Forest. The park property already features a recreation of the house from that same film, originally built there for the World’s Fair.

          Other famous films by Studio Ghibli will be represented in the park as well. There will be a Princess Mononoke Village and antique shops modeled after the one in Whisper of the Heart. The main gate to the park will be built in a 19th-century style reminiscent of Howl’s Moving Castle.

          Witch Valley will feature attractions inspired by Howl’s Moving Castle and Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the Big Ghibli Warehouse will contain exhibition areas, a theater, and play spaces. The Japan Times reports that the park will also have giant installations of spiders and “boar-shaped spirits”—recurring motifs in Miyazaki’s movies. And if the concept art is anything to go by, Ghibli Park will be filled with beautiful walking paths surrounded by lush greenery.

          Miyazaki fans have more of the legendary director's work to look forward to in the next few years. He recently came out of retirement to make one last film, which will be released by 2020, Forbes reports. The 77-year-old filmmaker said he wanted to leave something for his grandson to remember him by after he dies.

          [h/t The Japan Times]

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