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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Land Before Time: The Big Freeze (2001)

"I do not like being mad. No, no, no."
- Ducky (voice of Aria Noelle Curzon)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: November 26, 2001

Stars: Robert Guillaume, Aria Noelle Curzon
Other Stars: Kenneth Mars, Thomas Dekker
Director: Charles Grosvenor

Manufacturer: MUMS
MPAA Rating: G for (mildly scary moments)
Run Time: 01h:15m:43s
Release Date: December 04, 2001
UPC: 025192126529
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C+ B-A-C C+

DVD Review

The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze continues the adventures of Littlefoot (voiced by Thomas Dekker) and his friends, living with their fellow dinosaurs in the Great Valley. The youngsters are bored with the lessons delivered by Mr. Thicknose (Robert Guillaume), a wise, ancient triceratops, until the novelty of falling snow brings excitement to the valley. Meanwhile, Ducky (Aria Noelle Curzon), upset with her adopted brother Spike (Rob Paulsen), blames herself when he is taken in by a passing herd of spiketail dinosaurs and goes off to be with his own species. As the snow continues, the weather grows colder, and green food becomes scarce, the dinosaur community becomes desperate. Together, Littlefoot, Ducky, Mr. Thicknose and friends set out into the Mysterious Beyond to find a solution.

Those familiar with the original The Land Before Time, the 1988 animated feature produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Don Bluth, will recognize the characters, if not the tone, of this seventh direct-to-video sequel in the now-long-running series. The movies have grown more juvenile over the years, emphasizing cutesy characters, slapstick humor and an all's-well-that-ends-well ending. Adults may find the script's affected dino-speak annoying—leaves are "tree stars," the sun is the "Great Circle," and footprints are "footholes." The science of dinosaur behavior as depicted here is questionable—the good guys are invariably herbivorous and cheerfully co-existent, the bad guys carnivorous loners. And, despite some recent evidence that suggests the thunder lizards may not have been as cold-blooded as our contemporary reptiles, it's still odd to see them frolicking in the wintry landscape—whenever the scene fades in on a herd of snow-covered dinosaurs, one half expects them just to lie there, dead and frozen. Fortunately for the characters, The Big Freeze refers only to the Great Valley's first winter, not the onslaught of the Ice Age.

There's some sloppiness in the production—the whites of Spike's eyes in one scene flash briefly and unintentionally to red, and poor Robert Guillaume, who is apparently not a singer, gamely tries and fails to sell one of the film's three saccharine musical numbers. Some special effects are handled digitally, with convincing water and snow animation, while others are hand-drawn with varying degrees of success; the film's low budget is most evident in the near-total lack of environmental animation in the backgrounds. Characters are nicely shaded, but movement is limited in the style of most television animation, with awkward timing and occasionally "off-model" looks.

Still, The Big Freeze does a few things right. The voice characterizations are credible, simply stated and heartfelt, with supporting contributions by veterans Kenneth Mars and Tress MacNeille, and the plot does manage to touch on a few more complex themes of value to youngsters. The genuinely emotional subplot concerning Spike's "adoption" explores the notion of family and diversity in terms children can understand. Mr. Thicknose is a dignified but befuddled character, given to fibbing to enhance his self-image, something that kids are prone to do themselves. There are some funny moments, and a few briefly scary ones as well. Children who have enjoyed the earlier Land Before Time releases will find that The Big Freeze delivers more of the same; parents may be less enthusiastic, but that's probably beside the point.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Universal's The Big Freeze DVD retains the direct-to-video production's intended 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The film was animated at 24 frames per second, but mastered at 30 fps for VHS and DVD, introducing interlacing artifacts that might have been avoided (only a concern for progressive scan displays). The transfer is otherwise clean and bright, with solid colors and no analog noise or print damage, and the digital compression is free of ringing and edge enhancement. A solid transfer overall.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchno


Audio Transfer Review: The Land Before Time: The Big Freeze was produced in Dolby Surround, but is presented on DVD with an enhanced Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (in French and English). As expected given its matrixed origins, the track is heavily front-oriented, with occasional subtle atmospheric and musical effects in the surrounds. Bass is weak, possibly constrained for the sake of little ones' hearing, and it's a bit disconcerting when a Tyrannosaurus footfall merely produces a mild thump; frequency range is otherwise competent, though dynamic range is very limited. Front soundstage imaging is effective, with subtle use of split surrounds here and there. It's cleaner than a Dolby 2.0 Surround mix would be, though some limitations of the older technology persist, and this is a competent but unimpressive audio presentation. (The French and English 5.1 tracks cannot be switched "on the fly," due to alternate opening and closing credits sequences tied to the language selection.)

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Land Before Time
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Littlefoot's Puzzles
  2. Seek and Find Game
  3. Sing-Along Songs
  4. DVD Remote Instructions
  5. DVD-ROM Features
Extras Review: The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze on DVD includes 18 picture-menu chapters, optional English subtitles, and a number of kid-oriented extra features, though some of them aren't executed very well.

Universal provides a couple of instructional segments, something more discs need as DVD begins to replace VHS for youngsters' unsupervised use. How Do I Find Things? walks children through the DVD remote control's basic arrow keys and ENTER button, for use in navigating the menus; it's an effective, brief tutorial, with a "select an animal" exercise at the end to provide a bit of practice. A second selection, I Can Put This In My Computer?, promotes the disc's DVD-ROM features, but it's not as effective—it fails to mention that "your" computer may not have DVD-ROM support, and leaves it to the grownups to deal with any technical snafus and potential disappointment.

A couple of simple games supply some interactive content. Littlefoot's Puzzles promises 4 picture puzzles, to be assembled by selecting on-screen pieces, but the approach is too simplistic—the pieces are fit into the puzzle in the same sequence as they appear onscreen, and, worse, all four puzzles are laid out in exactly the same way. A Seek and Find game uses a similar interface to locate specific images within a larger picture, but it's clumsily designed and not much fun to play—the first image presented is the hardest one to match, violating the cardinal rule of game design. There's little challenge to either of these games beyond figuring out the interface, and most kids will not spend much time with them.

Two Sing-Along Songs reproduce sequences from the film with karaoke-style lyrics superimposed onscreen for family sing-along fun. (I would prefer the bouncing ball approach, which communicates rhythm as well as the words themselves, but nobody in the DVD sing-along industry appears to agree with me.) The songs featured here include Family and The Lesson, both of which may grate on adult ears if they become too popular around the house.

A Characters and Director feature provides pictures and biographies of six of the animated characters, as well as producer/director Charles Grosvenor. It's an interesting feature, though its focus on the fictional characters comes at the expense of the humans involved in creating them.

The on-disc features conclude with a couple of promotional items. A 42-second promotion for JumpStart educational software is available on the "bonus" menu, and a screen of Recommendations for other Universal kid-vid titles promotes three Beethoven movies and two of the Land Before Time films, the original and number seven, The Stone of Cold Fire. This page also links to the theatrical trailer for The Land Before Time—it's a 1.33:1 pan-and-scan, monaural presentation, apparently drawn from a videotape master with a murky, dark look.

(I was not able to test the included DVD-ROM features, and the keepcase and set-top placeholder screen don't provide any detail as to what they might be beyond a generic "may include" statement.)

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

The Land Before Time VIII: The Big Freeze continues the kid-friendly adventures of the popular dinosaur characters, touching on themes of family and dignity. The quality is passable by direct-to-video standards, and Universal's DVD presents the film with a good transfer and some game-oriented extras. Fans of the series will not be disappointed, though the darker aspects of the original 1988 Don Bluth feature have been diluted considerably over the years.

 


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