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<I>Land Before Time</I> Series Celebrates 15th Year

29 Aug, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

As usual, the fourth-quarter release slate is jam-packed with theatrical blockbusters.

But -- again as usual -- one of the most anticipated new releases at Tower Records and Video is the new direct-to-video “Land Before Time” release, starring a cast of animated dinosaurs facing yet another battle for survival.

The Land Before Time IX: Journey to Big Water streets Dec. 10 (prebook Oct. 29) on VHS ($19.98) and DVD ($24.98). It's the eighth direct-to-video sequel to the 1988 theatrical original.

Mark Lowery, Tower's video product manager, said anticipation is so high that some of the chain's 98 stores are already getting calls from parents asking when it will be available.

“It's an evergreen franchise,” Lowery said. “People know it comes out every December, and they look for it. It's been a perennial seller for us for years, and I expect the new one to sell as well as, or better than, some theatricals.”

Indeed, since the first direct-to-video sequel to The Land Before Time was released in 1994, Universal Studios Home Video has sold upwards of 50 million videos in the franchise, said Louis Feola, president of Universal Cartoon Studios and Universal Franchise Development.

He credits the series' success to well-developed characters and story lines.

“It's kind of an old-fashioned approach: compelling characters and compelling stories, with ordinary people taking on extraordinary risks,” he said.

The release of Journey to Big Water also marks the start of a year-long promotion celebrating the 15th anniversary of the franchise -- culminating with the December 2003 release of The Land Before Time X: the Great Migration, which will feature voice talent from Kiefer Sutherland, James Garner and Bernadette Peters.

In the meantime, Universal will have released the entire “Land Before Time” line on DVD. The original and two of the sequels are already available on disc, with two more bowing on DVD Dec. 10, the same day as the new installment. The DVD of Journey to Big Water includes several games, two sing-alongs, coloring sheets, character descriptions and animated anecdotes comparing real dinosaurs to the animated dinosaurs.

Tower's Lowery predicts 70 percent of the chain's Journey sales will be on DVD.

Universal will give the franchise a renewed promotional push around Easter 2003, with Journey to Big Water repackaged with a plush. And the studio's parent company will support the videos with various events and initiatives, including costumed characters at theme parks and the appearance of a Land Before Time IX soundtrack song on the new Donny Osmond album.

It was four years after the original theatrical release that Feola pitched studio management on a proposal to produce six direct-to-video sequels -- two to Dark Man, two to Tremors and two to The Land Before Time.

It was decided to time the video release of the first Land Before Time sequel to that of Jurassic Park, which was debuting theatrically. The studio was so pleasantly surprised by sales that it continued producing direct-to-video Land Before Time sequels every year, with the release dates pegged to the holiday sellthrough season.

Since then, Feola said, the franchise has generated nearly $1 billion in consumer spending -- and work has already begun on installments 10 and 11, with No. 12 in the conceptual stage.

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