“The Land Before Time” series: an odd cultural phenomenon

The Land Before Time
So many “Land Before Time” films, so little relevance. What drives the production of these films?

The Land Before Time was not supposed to be a series. It was originally a 1988 film directed by the acclaimed animator Don Bluth and produced by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. The film was a box office hit and received high acclaim. Then, six years later, in 1994 helmed by other creators, The Land Before Time transformed into one of the most long-winded animated film series of all time. Today, the original film is probably so well-known because of its 12 (soon to be 13) sequels. Later this year, The Land Before Time XIV: Journey of the Heart will be released on home video.

The series has a unique place in our culture and in the industry, being one of the few American (or any other nation’s) animated film series to boast such an oddly prolific sequel count. However, unlike long animated film series like Japan’s Dragon Ball film series (19 since 1986) which has a very high fan base, The Land Before Time lacks a visible and relevant fandom.

Clearly, with titles such as The Wisdom of Friends (number XIV) and The Time of the Great Giving (III), the films are geared more towards children than the adults who grew up with the original and its early sequels. However, most young children today probably are not initially attracted to the series, due to its lack of advertising and modern relevancy. What 6-8 year old (or their parents) wants to buy a movie based off a 1988 film in which the last chapter was released eight years ago?

Surprisingly, after doing more research on Amazon, it seems there is an audience for these films. Here’s a chart of the average Amazon reviews for the Land Before Time films.

lbt chart

 

Although the sequels are rated highly, there are very few reviewers compared to the original film, which boasts 799 reviews. So, the people watching these movies are probably part of a small, devoted fan base who love the series. Drawing from the data, it can interpreted that those who aren’t interested in the series (most likely the majority of the population) do not review the films; maybe they don’t even watch them.

There is an audience, albeit not a Frozen-level one (The Frozen DVD has 15,622 reviews on Amazon) or even a The Tale of Princess Kaguya-level one (an artsy anime with 162 reviews), but the product will continue to sell. However, the fact that film number XIV is coming out after an eight year hiatus might indicate that the series is fading. But for now, this rare thing in our culture and in the industry, a 14 film animated series, lives on. Apparently, nothing killed the dinosaurs.

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