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The Land Before Time
Album Cover Art
1988 MCA
2020 Intrada
Album 2 Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:

Performed by:
The London Symphony Orchestra and The King's College Choir, Wimbledon

Orchestrated by:
Greig McRitchie

Song Lyrics by:
Will Jennings

Song Performed by:
Diana Ross
Labels Icon
MCA Records
(November 21st, 1988)

Intrada Records
(October 27th, 2020)
Availability Icon
The 1988 MCA album was a regular U.S. release, easily available at discounted clearance prices in the 1990's, selling for about $10. As these products sold out, however, the lack of subsequent pressings caused copies to become scarce, with some fetching as much as $100. The 2020 Intrada album is limited to an unknown quantity and available initially for $22 through soundtrack specialty outlets.
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you're enamored with James Horner's classically lyrical orchestral work for the animated children's film genre, because The Land Before Time is the gold standard by which all his other related scores would be compared.

Avoid it... if you expect the melodies and comparatively few action cues in this score to rival the rambunctious intensity of Horner's concurrent work for Willow.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 7/14/98, REVISED 4/28/21
The Land Before Time: (James Horner) In the decade before Walt Disney reclaimed its domination over the animated film genre, Steven Spielberg and Don Bluth provided several noteworthy hits for Universal that were so financially successful that most of them would spawn several sequels, both on the big screen and straight to video. While The Secret of N.I.M.H. and An American Tail both merit more critical recognition than The Land Before Time, the 1988 tale about persevering dinosaurs would by itself inspire a franchise of no less than thirteen sequels aimed directly at the video market, a television series, and more than a dozen video games. One would think that there's only a finite number of adversarial situations that a group of misfit dinosaurs could encounter, but natural disasters, species prejudices, and nasty carnivores exist in abundance in this realm, so onward the main characters go. The migrating dinosaur story has always been insufferable in its cuteness at times, the original cinematic entry of The Land Before Time accentuated by James Horner's effervescent music and all of the sequels scored by Michael Tavera, who more often than not finds a place for Horner's themes to live on. Horner had been widely recognized for his score and song work for An American Tail and by 1988 had established himself as an Oscar contender of mainstream status. That year in particular would prove to be among the best in the composer's career, with The Land Before Time and Willow serving as sister scores sharing many of the characteristics that have garnered them similar acclaim through the years. While Willow is superior in its more melodramatic statements of melody, undeniable intensity, and rowdy action sequences, The Land Before Time is the softer, more consistently lyrical companion piece. Detractors of Horner's tendency to plunder classical inspiration have always enjoyed a field day with this work, for the composer clearly pulls pieces of Sergei Prokofiev's music in somewhat distracting ways, though the result no less effective.

One of the more interesting overarching aspects of The Land Before Time is Horner's consistency of tone throughout; animated film scores, especially those with romping characters in the animal kingdom, typically maneuver at such high speeds that it's difficult for a composer to provide significant lengths of flowing development. This despite a rough schedule that gave the composer only five weeks to complete his work. Horner not only minimizes his interruptions for comedy or action, he composes extremely long cues for The Land Before Time that in many regards emulate the style of concert suites. This was a very intentional choice, the composer preferring to tackle the general mood of scenes and record countless takes of his long passages and assemble the best pieces of each take into the final cue. Despite slight changes in mood throughout the score's 70 minutes of total recorded length, there really are only a handful of full action pieces and questionable comedy romps. Otherwise, The Land Before Time is both a delightfully consistent listening experience and, for those who have sought music akin to Willow for years, an extremely relevant addition to the collection. The performances by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of King's College offer vintage Horner melodrama at its finest, the soundscape always impressively robust. Three primary themes exist in The Land Before Time, with several surrounding character motifs shared between them. A few singular moments of melodic exploration not reprised anywhere else in the score are also treats along the way. While Horner does supply motific ideas for several members of the troop of lovable characters, he tends to apply them to represent broader situations. Among the major identities, Horner opens with a rousing and noble theme for the dinosaurs as a whole. Secondly, a bright and spirited set of character ideas dance to softer rhythmic tones. Finally, the primary theme of the film is introduced last, and serves as the inspiration for the plight of the migrating dinosaurs; it's the "feel good" romantic melody that doubles as the construct of the typical Diana Ross song for the film.

Sadly, the most interesting theme in The Land Before Time is the one best promised by Horner but least utilized thereafter. After a respectful choral prelude, Horner unleashes the dinosaurs' general theme with remarkable majesty at 1:56 into "The Great Migration." A choral crescendo in the style of Willow leads to a rolling string and piano rhythm of resounding power, accompanying the powerful theme as it is passed around the brass and woodwind sections. Several aspects of this portion of "The Great Migration" are noteworthy. The theme itself is an intelligent combination of both prowess of strength and the clumsiness of size; the first three-quarters of its progression are particularly bold, and yet Horner tacks on four rather lazy notes after a natural conclusion that, along with some rolling timpani, perfectly embody the lumbering movement of a large animal. The transitions between the instruments carrying the melody is also creative in that the French horns, trumpets, trombones, and what sounds like a flugelhorn could very well each represent a different kind of dinosaur in the migration. A careful mix of the score allows the woodwinds, all in unison, to carry a portion of this theme. Although it's almost lost under the action, the piano sets its own elegant rhythm in this portion of the cue, playing a role that Horner would expand upon in The New World. The cue transitions to a light mid-range drum rhythm over which various woodwinds offer the cute comedy idea for the Ducky character that would be fleshed out further in later cues. A beautiful, rising string and choral interlude to this theme later emerges an identity for Tree Star. A lilting melody for the Lightfoot character follows, its progressions and entire interlude later informing the score's main journeying theme still to come. The Lightfoot materials seems to include an intentional statement of a theme from Horner's obscure score for The Journey of Natty Gann on an exuberant flute. These ideas recur regularly throughout the rest of the score, their choral sequences serving to foreshadow the delicate touch of Casper, and it is out of these passages that Horner finally explores the main theme of the film at the outset of "Sharptooth and the Earthquake."

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.07 Stars
***** 2,118 5 Stars
**** 1,312 4 Stars
*** 538 3 Stars
** 290 2 Stars
* 225 1 Stars
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FVSR Reviews The Land Before Time
Brendan Cochran - July 30, 2016, at 10:07 a.m.
1 comment  (957 views)
Classical Inspiration?   Expand >>
ssquared - October 23, 2008, at 11:18 p.m.
4 comments  (6260 views)
Newest: September 29, 2010, at 4:28 p.m. by
Weepy Adults
Colorscheme - April 2, 2008, at 3:40 p.m.
1 comment  (3221 views)
Sheridan - October 14, 2006, at 11:19 a.m.
1 comment  (3150 views)
rare and out of print   Expand >>
Nick - July 27, 2006, at 10:31 a.m.
3 comments  (5363 views)
Newest: March 1, 2014, at 1:04 a.m. by
Mr. Big
one of horner's best!   Expand >>
jeroen - April 26, 2006, at 1:58 a.m.
2 comments  (4221 views)
Newest: July 8, 2006, at 8:54 p.m. by

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1988 MCA Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 58:10
• 1. The Great Migration (7:49)
• 2. Sharptooth and the Earthquake (10:33)
• 3. Whispering Winds (9:00)
• 4. "If We Hold On Together"* (4:07)
• 5. Foraging for Food (7:15)
• 6. The Rescue/Discovery of the Great Valley (12:43)
• 7. End Credits (6:22)
* performed by Diana Ross
(Horner's score time total: 54:01)
2020 Intrada Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 73:57

Notes Icon
The insert of the 1988 MCA album contains no information about the score or film. That of the 2020 Intrada product contains extensive details about both.
Copyright © 1998-2021, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from The Land Before Time are Copyright © 1988, 2020, MCA Records, Intrada Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 7/14/98 and last updated 4/28/21.
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