How Steven Spielberg Scrapped Scary Scenes from Classic Don Bluth Movie

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Summary

  • Steven Spielberg requested some scenes from Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time be removal for being too scary for children.
  • Many classic children’s movies, including Disney’s The Black Cauldron and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, have included dark and scary elements to balance out the fun.
  • Don Bluth believes that a good children’s story should have a good villain and a scare moment.


Don Bluth is an icon in the world of animated feature films of the 1980s and beyond. From The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail to Anastasia and Titan AE, the filmmaker and animator has been instrumental in Hollywood across his career – even if that sometimes meant him going against the grain. One of those occasions led to Steven Spielberg stepping in to remove some scenes from the classic movie The Land Before Time, which were subsequently destroyed for being “too scary for children.”

The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time

Release Date
November 18, 1988
Cast
Pat Hingle , Gabriel Damon , Helen Shaver , Candace Hutson , Will Ryan , Judith Barsi

Runtime
1hr 9min

Writers
Stu Krieger , Judy Freudberg , Tony Geiss

Studio
Lucasfilm, Universal Pictures, Sullivan Bluth Studios

Tagline
The adventure that started it all!

Having previously worked for Disney, animating movies such as The Fox and the Hound, Robin Hood, and The Rescuers, creative differences saw Don Bluth resign from the studio to set up his own company, Don Bluth Productions, with the help of several former Disney artists. After the company’s several smaller initial projects, their debut feature in The Secret of NIMH, and creating the classic arcade game Dragon’s Lair, Bluth’s path crossed with Spielberg, leading to An American Tail – the highest grossing non-Disney animated movie at the time of its release.

The pair then collaborated on the 1988 movie The Land Before Time, a prehistoric adventure that included some very Disney-esque storytelling moments, but some scary moments involving a particularly vicious depiction of a Tyrannosaur. As Bluth recalled during a “History of Animation with Don Bluth” panel at Mega-Con (via Comicbook.com), Spielberg ultimately removed some scenes from the movie which were then destroyed, never to be seen again.He said:

“My theory is that every good story that’s a good story has a good villain, a good scare moment. However, when we made The Land Before Time, we took it to London to show Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. And Steven said, ‘You know what? It’s too scary, Don.’ He says ‘I’m going to have mothers holding their crying children in the lobby. We can’t have that.’ I said, ‘Okay, what are we going to take out?’ With the T-Rex they took out some of it that was so, so scary. We tried to make it scary, animators are nuts. We tried to make it scary and amazing, scary things that make people and move people a little bit.”

“So they went in and took it out, never put it back in, and they destroyed it. And it was incredible. It’s too bad because if you’re going to go through all the business of drawing the film, first of all, drawing the sketches and finally animating it and finally bringing it to life, and finding when you see them in color, it takes your breath away, something you’ve been working on. It’s like you created something that was really, really beautiful. And so, they’re like your children.”


Related
Why The Land Before Time Is a Perfect Kids Movie

We’re taking a look at how The Land Before Time is a perfect movie for kids and why it should be added to your family night line-up.

Many Classic Children’s Movies Have Included Scary Moments

Anjelica Houston as the Grand High Witch in The Witches

In modern children’s entertainment, there is almost an unwritten rule that movies and TV shows cannot tap into fears and traumatic moments for their young audiences. However, many of the greatest children’s authors and filmmakers of decades gone by did not necessarily agree with only giving children rose-tinted view of the world.

One of Disney’s biggest flops, The Black Cauldron, received heavy criticism for its horror-orientated story, which involved reanimated corpses, witches and demons, and caused a huge lull in Disney’s fortunes before they made their big comeback with The Little Mermaid. However, not all dark children’s movies have been received the same way. Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, Roald Dahl’s The Witches and the Wizard of Oz Sequel Return to Oz all included elements that could give youngsters nightmares, and that is exactly what their creators intended. The same can be said for animated movies like The Brave Little Toaster, Coraline and Pinocchio, which all have moments that can haunt young minds for some time.

Don Bluth’s comments on The Land Before Time emphasize why it is sometimes necessary to deliver a balance of dark moments with fun ones, even if that means a few sleepless nights. Bluth’s movies all contain those darker elements that Disney, and indeed Spielberg, would usually shy away from in their family-friendly offerings. The Land Before Time’s scarier moments may have been purged from the final movie, but what remains delivers enough of a darker tone to still achieve the balance that the filmmaker set out to put on screen.

The Land Before Time is available to rent on Apple TV+

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