Dinosaur Ethics

I’m in a visit, and I just watched the craziest most morally conflicted Land Before Time movie ever.

Get this—Littlefoot and the other kids make friends with a Sharptooth! It’s a baby Sharptooth, and apparently when they’re young, Sharptooths are still anthropomorphized, so they have big eyes and are capable of love and hugs. But of course, the ever-bitchy Cera does not approve of this, saying that they have to get rid of him because Sharptooths (Sharpteeth?) are “different”. Littlefoot argues that just because they’re “different” doesn’t mean they shouldn’t accept him.

Ok, I see the morals at play here. Pretty basic stuff.

But oh, it’s not so simple!

Because pretty soon they’re all being chased by REAL Sharptooths, the grownup kind with the red eyes and the roaring and the biting… So then we have to wonder—is Cera right? Are Sharptooths innately evil? Will cute little baby Chomper grow up to be a devouring villain no
matter how much love the kids show him? Is evil based on nature or nurture?

(spectacles on)

(tweed jacket on)


While The Land Before Time films have always been rich in symbolism and social commentary, the Sharptooths present a particularly complex moral dilemma. For, despite the series' recurrent themes of tolerance, kindness, and accepting "Otherness", the Sharptooths are presented as irredeemable. No lesson about prejudice here--the Sharptooths ARE, in fact, BAD. The introduction of Chomper as an example of Sharptooths being capable of goodness is unconvincing, because since his parents are non-anthropomorphic monsters bent on murdering and eating Littlefoot and Co, it's implied that sooner or later Chomper will become just like them, whether through nature or nurture. This film is clearly unprepared to deal with the social and racial issues this raises, leaving one to wonder if, perhaps, with the introduction of Chomper, The Land Before Time may have bitten off more than it can chew.


  1. AH! I used to be obsessed with Land Before Time...

    I'm pretty sure that Chomper actually does reappear in the next one, or a later one...I don't actually remember anymore. But you've sparked me to go home and get them from my parents house.....

    Oh, and I pretty much am so excited now that you watched this and wrote about it!

  2. haha, Mel, glad to see you're enjoying Burning Building as much as I do.

    You stole my comment. I'd like to elaborate on the moral commentary Land Before Time presents for us here - if I remember correctly, the place where Littlefoot & Co find Chomper is known as the "Mysterious Beyond," where the Sharptooths/teeth are found. Is the use of 'mysterious' in the name of this dangerous land afar indicative of an implication that 'others' - for example, sharpteeth - are merely misunderstood? Obviously, Land Before Time is abound with moral issues and messages as conflicted as nature/nurture and as deep and moving as tolerance and acceptance. Profound.

  3. Perhaps, setting aside the racial and other social implications - I'm in agreement that LBT seems to have ventured into a realm it seems hitherto unable to successfully navigate - of the 'Sharptooth' idea, LBT has meant to comment on the inevitability of humans to corrupt. Or perhaps LBT intends to comment on the injustice of suffering: Chomper, obviously (being anthropomorphic and adorable) is representative of all that is good and innocent in the world. Is he doomed to suffer the fate of Sharpteeth everywhere - that is, evilness and speechlessness?

    Now, I'm really just floundering here. I'm sure someone else will be able to make more sense of all these conflicting messages. However, unlike you, Isaac, I'm less apt to believe that the Chomper character/thread is one that LBT was unable to develop correctly or thoroughly. I think we just need to dig deeper.

  4. The plot to this is similar to the plot of the Fox and The Hound. They, too, are enemies. At the end of the movie the hound is hunting the fox, but at the last moment decides to let him go (because the fox tried to save his life). So maybe the point is that you can be friends, even if you are programmed to be enemies, and that you are able to go against your nature...even if you are inclined to be 'bad'.
    Just a thought...