1 of 25: The Land Before Time

I thought I’d kick off this creative challenge with the film which most influenced me as a child – Don Bluth’s 1988 classic, The Land Before Time.

Now, to put this into context: I love dinosaurs. Not ‘loved’ – there is no past tense here, I love dinosaurs. I was one or those kids who never grew out of their dinosaur phase and I still haven’t. Whenever I am in London, I will try to visit the Natural History Museum just to see the dinosaurs. In fact, before I wanted to be an actor I wanted to be a palaeontologist; someone who studies prehistoric life. My internal struggle as to whether I chose acting or palaeontology as a career carried on right up until A-Levels, where I took Biology and Geography as well as English and Theatre Studies. Acting won out in the end, but I have never stopped loving the terrible lizards of the Mesozoic Era.

So it’s no surprise, then, that an animated film about five dinosaur friends was one of my favourite films growing up. But The Land Before Time not only had the power of dinosaurs on its side when it came to capturing my heart; it had the power of beautiful animation and wonderful storytelling too. The Land Before Time is, first and foremost, a story about friendship. It is a coming-of-age story about loss and discovery. It touches upon subjects such as non-traditional family units, jealousy, bigotry, grief and the loss of a parent, which is a potent cocktail for a youngster to take in. But Don Bluth films have a knack for dealing with big subject matters in masterfully approachable ways. Another one of his classics, An American Tail, was also a childhood favourite, and examined the migrant experience in America in the 19th Century. These films got the balance between real life anguish and captivating adventure just right, making what often seems like heavy subject matter into something palatable for younger audiences. It is important, after all, for children to learn about experiences outside of their own, for how else can we develop empathy and compassion?

The Land Before Time taught me a lot about narrative when I was little. It awakened my young imagination, inspiring me to create my own little make-believe, prehistoric worlds, and imagine new adventures for myself – which often involved me crawling around on the living room floor pretending I was a triceratops. People often asked me whether I was lonely growing up as an only child, but in truth, I never was – I would always create my own fun, often inspired by films like The Land Before Time. I suppose, in a way, The Land Before Time was what first got me into acting, just instead of pretending to be another person, I was pretending to be an ancient reptile. It takes all sorts to make a world, I suppose.

The Land Before Time is, quite appropriately, a timeless tale, and if you’re even at a loss as to how to entertain a bored little one, or you just fancy admiring some beautiful traditional animation, bung it on the TV. It really is a treat!