Lucas & Spielberg Created a Dinosaur Universe Long Before ‘Jurassic Park’

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jurassic park t rex

Credit: Universal

If you were a child of the late 1980s or early 1990s, you probably grew up watching one of the most popular children’s franchises of the era — The Land Before Time.

land before time group
Credit: Universal

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The animated movie franchise began with The Land Before Time (1988) and introduced American kids to a loveable band of dinosaur friends, Brontosaurus Littlefoot (Gabriel Damon), Triceratops Cera (Candace Hutson), Saurolophus Ducky (Judith Barsi), Stegosaurus Spike (Frank Welker, uncredited), and Pterodactyl Petrie (Will Ryan).

land before time littlefoot shocked
Credit: Universal

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The group — who lives in the Great Valley, a peaceful place where many herbivore dinosaur species live harmoniously — goes on a series of adventures over the course of 14 films. They befriend a tiny Sharptooth (their word for any carnivore) — a Tyrannosaurus Rex named Chomper — and experience the beginning of an ice age, journey to the Great Beyond, and even venture into the mysterious Land of Mists to save Littlefoot’s grandpa’s life when he falls ill.

(l-r) littlefoot, petrie, ducky, and chomper in land before time
Credit: Universal

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The movie franchise was directed by Don Bluth, whose name is somewhat synonymous with The Land Before Time films. But, there were two more major players involved in the series, and you’re probably going to recognize them. Star Wars creator George Lucas and Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg served as executive producers.

steven spielberg (left) and george lucas (right)
Credit: Disney

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Lucas and Spielberg, of course, have a long friendship. Lucasfilm, Ltd. even has rights to Spielberg’s Indiana Jones franchise starring Harrison Ford as famed archaeologist Henry Jones, Jr.

After both Hollywood icons had made their marks on science fiction, they turned to the (very distant) past to make their mark on Bluth’s Land Before Time series.

star wars a new hope (l-r han solo, leia organa, luke skywalker)
Credit: Lucasfilm

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Although these animated films were a far cry from the adventures of E.T. in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) or the galaxy far, far away inhabited by Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in a Star Wars original trilogy (1977-1983), the duo’s foray into kids’ dinosaur movies strangely set them both on their future paths.

Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Jurassic World 

Spielberg, of course, launched the now-legendary Jurassic film franchise with Jurassic Park (1993). Characters like Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Dr. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), and the precocious Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) transported moviegoers to Isla Nublar where dinosaurs reigned supreme.

JURASSIC PARK, 1993. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection
Credit: Universal

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The movie was unlike anything that had been done before, with more realistic T-Rex and Velociraptor renditions than dinosaur buffs had ever seen, and that JELL-O scene still haunts you, right? As it turns out, though, even though many fans don’t realize Spielberg had previously built an animated dinosaur empire, Jurassic Park wasn’t his first foray into a prehistoric universe.

(l-r) tim, ellie, and grant with triceratops in jurassic park
Credit: Universal

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The original Jurassic Park trilogy, which also included The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) — yes, I still have my poster — and Jurassic Park III (2001), proved to be so popular that Universal Pictures revived the franchise in 2015 with Jurassic World.

jurassic world owen and claire hiding
Credit: Universal

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In addition to introducing moviegoers to Indominus Rex, the film gave us Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard).

The successful film launched its own trilogy, with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) and the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion (2022). At the end of Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs are unleashed on society — imagine seeing a Brontosaurus sauntering beside the freeway on your daily Starbucks run — so Dominion is sure to introduce us to a wildly different world than we’ve ever seen in the Jurassic franchise before.

jurassic world fallen kingdom post credits
Credit: Universal

Lucas’s Success With Animation

Prior to The Land Before Time, George Lucas had been a serious filmmaker, with projects like American Graffiti (1973) and, of course, Star Wars – Episode IV – A New Hope (1997), Star Wars – Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).

Credit: Lucasfilm

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Then, however, with the help of showrunner Dave Filoni (The Mandalorian, Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars: The Bad Batch), Lucas successfully created an animated Star Wars series — Star Wars: The Clone Wars — that became so popular it is now bleeding into the live-action Star Wars canon by way of characters like Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein/Rosario Dawson).

Credit: Lucasfilm

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Although it cannot be said for certain if Lucas would have had such success with animation if he hadn’t worked on The Land Before Time, it certainly seems likely that it influenced him in some way.

Now, Lucasfilm has multiple animated series, such as Star Wars: A Droid Story, in development for the Disney+ streaming platform.

Full List of The Land Before Time Movies

land before time characters
Credit: Universal

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The full list of The Land Before Time movies is as follows:

  • The Land Before Time (1988)
  • The Great Valley Adventure (1994)
  • The Time of the Great Giving (1995)
  • Journey Through the Mists (1996)
  • The Mysterious Island (1997)
  • The Secret of Saurus Rock (1998)
  • The Stone of Cold Fire (2000)
  • The Big Freeze (2001)
  • Journey to Big Water (2002)
  • The Great Longneck Migration (2003)
  • Invasion of the Tinysauruses (2005)
  • The Great Day of the Flyers (2006)
  • The Wisdom of Friends (2007)
  • Journey of the Brave (2016)

Did you know George Lucas and Steven Spielberg helped to bring The Land Before Time world to life?

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