The Feast in Visual Arts and Cinema

Released in 1988 by Universal Pictures, The Land Before Time is a classic animated children’s film that tells the story of Littlefoot, an orphaned brontosaurus who befriends other young dinosaurs as they join together after a devastating earthquake to journey to the Great Valley, where they reunite with their families. Over the course of twenty-eight years and thirteen sequels, it has become a beloved classic, playing a significant role as one of the most prominent motifs and themes in the collective group of dinosaurs, especially for Littlefoot.

The concept that either dinosaurs were predators or prey certainly contributes to the idea that animals in the wild must either eat or be eaten.

However, in the realm of realism, which is often overlooked, the movie capitalizes on our fundamental requirement for sustenance as a living species, utilizing that necessity to create tension and a driving force for migration and a quest, in a children’s film. From a survival perspective, this approach is logical. The implication is that our lives are governed by food and our ability to obtain it. However, what is even more intriguing to consider is that from a narrative standpoint, food becomes a formidable and influential entity that exerts control over the minds and bodies of the characters. Not only does food influence their decision-making, but it becomes an indispensable requirement for their survival. In the film, a narrator declares, “Then it happened that the leaf began to die. Mighty beasts who seemed to dominate the world were actually controlled by the leaf, their nourishment” (4 min). By making the search for a new food source the central conflict in the movie, the dinosaurs migrate to the legendary Great Valley as the food supply they rely on starts to diminish and eventually vanishes completely after a prolonged drought. As previously mentioned, the second vital role of food to the dinosaur population is its more apparent function as a vital necessity for their survival.

In the Valley, Littlefoot discovers a “star tree,” a rare star-shaped leaf that he sees as a symbol of his mother’s guidance and a promise of what he will find in the Great Valley. This tree becomes a representation of his mother’s memory after she dies, symbolizing perseverance, faith, and hope for Littlefoot. The film also explores the emotional capacity of food through Littlefoot’s character, delving into its survival-based applications.

Littlefoot’s closest tangible object to stand-in for a cherished person is a memory, a physical connection to his mother. While the sight of food arouses Littlefoot’s memories, it is the taste that evokes Proust’s memories. In the same way that Proust’s cookie stirs up his childhood memories of a specific image of a house he ate madeleines in, Littlefoot’s memories of his mother are aroused by the taste of the piece of madeleine he recognizes. As soon as he tastes it, he recognizes it and is accompanied by his mother’s voice calling his name and giving him instructions. The return of the star tree is accompanied by his mother’s voice calling his name, providing instructions on how to reach the Great Valley. This technique of voiceover crystallizes the connection between Littlefoot and his mother for the younger audience, symbolically acting as a substitute physical presence. Even after his mother is gone, the film intentionally connects Littlefoot’s memory of her to the star tree by having it float down and symbolize her presence.