• The Land Before Time established itself as the saddest animated film of the ’80s, with the death of Littlefoot’s mother being one of the most heartbreaking scenes.
  • Despite its sad moments, The Land Before Time became a popular franchise by delivering a compelling narrative focused on lovable dinosaur characters and themes of friendship and life.
  • The saddest scene in The Land Before Time may be difficult to watch, but it serves a purpose by showcasing the cycle of life and inspiring audience members, especially children, to persevere through tough times.

The most heart-wrenching moment of any ’80s animated movie can be found in a 3-minute-long scene in Don Bluth’s The Land Before Time. Almost every decade, an animated children’s classic comes along that is driven by an incredibly heartbreaking moment cleverly set in place for the animation’s protagonist(s) to persevere through. These instances serve as compelling components of the most iconic stories and are there to encourage animation lovers to forge on even through the toughest of times, but they also never fail to traumatize audience members of every generation.

Animation has famously evoked shock and grief across the ages – the early ’40s witnessed Bambi’s mother’s death, Charlotte wasted away in Charlotte’s Web in the seventies, 1994’s The Lion King saw Mufasa fall to his demise, and even select contemporary animations, like Inside Out (2015), feature deeply distressing scenes established for maximum emotional impact. While the ’80s era is chock-full of notable animations, The Land Before Time is the most likely to be burned into the memories of audience members. Before viewers are able to root for The Land Before Time’s Littlefoot, they are witness to one of the most heartbreaking kid movie moments to come out of the decade.

The Land Before Time Littlefoot's mother death

In under three minutes, The Land Before Time established itself as the saddest, most gripping animation of the ’80s. Surely, some could consider Tweed abandoning Tod in the woods in The Fox and the Hound (1981) or Charlie bidding Anne-Marie goodbye in All Dogs Go Too Heaven (1989) as comparable animation events to come out of that decade, yet The Land Before Time takes the cake with the harrowing death of Littlefoot’s mother. The death of Littlefoot’s mom was rendered in a dark and rattling scene that even today has the power to bring tears to the eyes of audience members.

Audiences can recall The Land Before Time was most distressing when Littlefoot’s mother intercedes as the dinosaur herd is attacked by a “Sharptooth” (Tyrannosaurus). The battle for the herd’s survival is worsened by massive tectonic shifts in the land, and with danger on all sides, Littlefoot’s mother is swallowed up in the commotion. Littlefoot frantically searches for his mother, but when the dust settles, he finds her dying, severely injured, and unable to move; the scene is made even sadder by Littlefoot’s innocent confusion and his mother’s dying wishes for him to go on without her.

The characters of The Land Before Time movie

Despite being what is the saddest dinosaur-centered movie out there, The Land Before Time spawned a popular and thriving franchise that ran through the 2010s. The Land Before Time’s premiere film had a compelling and deeply emotional narrative focused on the lovable, young dinosaurs Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Petrie, and Spike, and because its premise was fun but relatable to audiences of all ages, a franchise was born. Following the ragtag group of friends as they embarked upon adventures while learning about life and friendship spurred the making of thirteen The Land Before Time musical sequels, a TV series, video games, music soundtracks, and more.

It’s fair to say like other distinctly heartbreaking animation moments that The Land Before Time’s saddest scene was not made in vain. These moments in animation may seem counterintuitive to the genre, but they endure to emulate the cycle of life and to encourage audience members, children especially, to persist and forge their own stories. Littlefoot’s mother’s death is tragic – and definitely the stuff of nightmares – but it worked in giving The Land Before Time a relatable and popular premise that’s seen Littlefoot persevere since the 1980s.

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