The Land Before Time movies are well-known for their “How life began” opening sequences, though many of them just give you a quick and very, very, very basic summary of what dinosaurs are (occasionally throwing in the very inaccurate “giant lizard” moniker, which is bound to make any paleo-buff cry), but those that also focus on how the first tetrapods arose in this primordial world that is nowadays known as planet Earth will also feature some far more ancient, non-dinosaur creatures, albeit very rarely. You won’t see a gorgonopsid or a dicynodont in one of these sequences, let alone giant arthropods. I personally always enjoyed these sequences, especially as a kid. They always gave me goosebumps and didn’t waste too much time before the plot began, plus, I guess I’m just a sucker for these “How life began” visualized summaries XD
I went back and checked out the opening sequences of the first four sequels, which still sported traditionally drawn animation and the best atmosphere, hence the most engaging “How life began” sequences. Just for fun, I did a little “I spay with my little eye” and picked out some creatures featured in these sequences that otherwise have no role in the movies, sometimes not even as background creatures.
The third movie has one of the full-fledged “How life began” openings, where we life start off with tiny fish in the dark, murky waters of Paleozoic Earth, and the little fish quickly scatter as an Ichthyostega appears and, take a wild guess? It crawls onto land and starts exploring it. Ichthyostega was a basal stem-tetrapod from the Late Devonian (365-360 mya) and is known from fairly good fossil remains, which were unearthed in Greenland of all places back in 1932.
Because of its well-preserved fossil material, Ichthyostega quickly became the posterchild for evolution, the iconic “transitional form” between land and sea, and served as a model for the similarly-aged Hynerpeton from Walking with Monsters, who unfortunately, has much more meager fossil material. Naturally, like many iconic fossils from the first half of the 20th century, the popularity of Ichthyostega started to wane as we started finding more and more four-limbed, air-breathing, amphibious stem-tetrapods that were just as old or even older than it was, especially with the discovery of the even more basal “missing link” Tiktaalik (375 mya), who was found on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. What’s with the Arctic and finding the best fossils of our earliest stem-tetrapod ancestors? Nonetheless, Ichthyostega, along with Tiktaalik, remains one of the most important finds for the study of early tetrapod evolution.
The second movie features a much briefer intro, focusing only on the dinosaurs. There we see some familiar saurians munching on leaves and ferns. Among them is a basal sauropodomorph, likely either Plateosaurus or Massospondylus, along with a nodosaurid likely meant to be Edmontonian. Plateosaurus and Massospondylus both represent an early lineage of bipedal, herbivorous dinosaurs, commonly called the plateosaurs, that eventually gave rise to the titanic, quadrupedal sauropods. Plateosaurus is one of the most iconic Triassic dinosaurs, with multiple specimens having been found in German quarries such as the Löwenstein Formation and the overlying Trossingen Formation (215-205 mya) and was one of the biggest of the Triassic dinos, reaching up to 10 meters in length and 4 tons in weight. Meanwhile, Massospondylus was smaller, at only 6 meters and lived right after the great Triassic-Jurassic extinction that wiped out most of Earth’s non-dinosaur megafauna, with its fossils coming from South Africa’s Elliot Formation (200-195 mya).
By contrast, Edmontonia (75-70 mya) is a much more recent and derived animal, being the most iconic representative of the nodosaurid anylosaurs, who lacked clubs but made up for it with sharp spikes jutting from their body-armor. Fossils of this rhino-sized walking tank have been found in the Horseshoe Canyon Formation and the geologically older Dinosaur Park Formation, as well as possibly several other similarly-aged formations from Alberta and Montana, along with a skull belonging to it or a close relative from the Matanuska Formation of Alaska, making it the only other evidence of a polar ankylosaur besides the similarly-aged Antarctopelta from James Ross Island.
So yeah, having an Edmontonia and a plateosaur browsing alongside each other, in literally the same shot, is some next level anachronism XD Even worse than having a T. rex fight a Stegosaurus.
Back to the third movie’s opening sequence, we also get a glimpse of a Chasmosaurus confronting a pair of sharpteeth. Chasmosaurus is one of the many large dinosaurs found in the Dinosaur Park Formation (76.5-75 mya), known for its towering, vaguely heart-shaped frill and is the type genus of a large group of horned dinosaurs known as the chasmosaurines, which includes many well-known taxa, such as Pentaceratops, Regaliceratops and even Triceratops itself, though Chasmosaurus was far smaller than its colossal successors, being only the size of a rhino.
The two predators it’s fighting are…….I honestly don’t know what they are meant to be? They are a pair of small, lanky theropods, teal in color (one being darker than the other, suggesting they are mated pair like Chomper’s color-coded parents) and sport some kind of crest on their heads, which, given that this was made in 1995, are obviously not feathers and can only be keratinous in nature. They also appear to possess, very poorly drawn and weakly defined, sickle claws, so are they meant to be Deinonychus? This doesn’t make much sense, since the climax of the movie has a pack of far more accurate-looking (for the time) Deinonychus as the antagonists. Are they meant to be a different type of dromaeosaur, like Velociraptor or Dromaeosaurus, or is it just an example of the animators not paying attention? Eh, likely the latter XD
Speaking of unidentifiable creatures, another one of these appears in the opening sequence of the following movie, except here it’s a marine reptile! We see this behemoth chasing a school of fish and I honestly have no clue on what animal it was based on. We first see a close-up of its head as it zeroes in on the fish and the shape of the head is not only clearly based on a pliosaur, but is very clearly based on the 9-11 meter Australian pliosaur Kronosaurus queenslandicus (110-105 mya), with its distinct domed head and elongated snout, which adds up, as back then, Kronosaurus was the most famous of the pliosaurs, before Walking with Dinosaurs elevated the European Liopleurodon (165-155 mya) into the public eye by making us think that it was a 25-meter leviathan, when in reality, it was maybe a quarter the size of Kronosaurus.
But in the next shot, we see this thing leaping out of the water and its changes appearance completely (a definitive sign that the animators were not paying attention XD) and it looks like some kind of cross between an eel and a porpoise, with two pairs of small flippers (more in line with a mosasaur than a pliosaur, which used their massive flippers for propulsion) and most strangely of all, a short but very fatty tail, akin to certain extant lizards that store a lot of their body-fat in their tails (www.deviantart.com/wdghk/art/P…). Whether this was a poorly drawn pliosaur or a poorly drawn mosasaur, who knows? Ironically, the ninth movie would give us a more accurate pliosaur with their Liopleurodon, and somehow made it much closer to its actual size than the Walking with Dinosaurs depiction. The again, you could have your Liopleurodon be 20 meters long and still technically be closer to reality than Walking with Dinosaurs XD
The opening sequence to the fifth movie features some much more familiar faces, including a herd of Brachiosaurus, who have actually appeared in most of the opening sequence but weirdly enough, have been entirely absent from any background scenes until the sixth movie had a mother and child appear in Grandpa Longneck’s story about the Lone Dinosaur, before the tenth movie finally introduced a Brachiosaurus character in the form of Shorty, Bron’s replacement goldfish, later becoming Littlefoot’s adoptive brother XD Brachiosaurus is, of course, one of many giant sauropods found in North America’s Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation (155-148 mya) and was actually a contemporary of Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus, meaning, yeah, if an Apatosaurus in real-life did an interspecies adoption, he could have adopted a Brachiosaurus. Brachiosaurus was the biggest of the Morrison sauropods, standing over 12 meters tall and weighing up to 50 tons, which made it popular throughout most of the 20th century as “the biggest dinosaur ever”, but nowadays, with the discovery of many 70-80 ton Cretaceous titanosaurs, that notion is downright laughable XD
Like most media depictions of Brachiosaurus, The Land Before Time depicts it with its distinct head-crest, which is actually made up of nasal bones, but nowadays, it is believed that its head would have been encased in a lot more flesh, giving it a rounder and more generic appearance. The fifths movie also shows one of them having a prehensile tongue used to grab and strip vegetation, much like a modern giraffe’s.
That same sequence also shows two Corythosaurus squabbling over food. Corythosaurus is one of the most famous hadrosaurs, being part of the lambeosaurs, along with Parasaurolophus and Lambeosaurus itself, known for its distinct round head-crest. It’s known from the Campanian-aged Oldman Formation and the lower layers of the overlying Dinosaur Park Formation (77-75.5 mya) and it would have coexisted with Parasaurolophus, who would last until the end of the Campanian (73 mya), while Corythosaurus got replaced by Lambeosaurus and the similar-looking Hypacrosaurus, the latter of which survived into the mid Maastrichtian (68 mya) as the last lambeosaur to be properly documented in North America. All three of those regularly appear in crowd shots in the Great Valley, though none of them are Ducky’s species, as she’s very clearly a Saurolophus, which was a saurolophine hadrosaur, not a lambeosaur one.
In a darkly hilarious twist, the squabble between the two Corythosaurus gets cut short as they are confronted by a hungry T. rex (who looks just like Chomper’s mother), who slaughters both of them off-screen as we fade to the Great Valley XD
Just on a somewhat related matter, in your opinion do you think the nasal structure of Brachiosaurus/Giraffatitan would have been noticeable on the live animal ? like not so much a tall crest as we're used to seeing, but more like a slight, concave protuberance atop it's head ?