Jim Henson Productions/Michael Jacobs Productions (1992), Buena Vista Home Entertainment (May 1, 2007), 4 discs, 835 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Not Rated in US, Rated PG in Canada, Retail: $39.99
Those prehistoric Muppets are back for more social satire and family-based situation comedy with a reptilian twist.
The Sweatbox Review:
I lost track of Dinosaurs early in the third season, probably due to coming towards the end of my university program, so this is a DVD set that I had really been looking forward to. I loved the show from the beginning, thanks to its blend of social commentary and absurd but heartfelt storylines, and always wondered how the last two seasons faired. In particular, the fourth and final season remained shrouded in some mystery, as only the first seven episodes actually aired back in the day. The final seven episodes of that abbreviated season were shelved for the time being, with ABC cancelling the show, and Touchstone Television apparently happy just to have enough episodes in the can to take to syndication, without bothering to give them all proper network runs. It wasn’t that the ratings for Dinosaurs were all that bad, it was just a pretty expensive program to produce, as well as being a show terminally behind schedule. As has been stated repeatedly, the logistics behind shooting the show, complete with sophisticated animatronics and fully hand-built sets and props, was akin to doing a massive special effects film every week.
You could read our review of Dinosaurs: The Complete First And Second Seasons for more on the show, but here’s the quick summary: Dinosaurs came from an idea by Muppet master Jim Henson, and features the Sinclair family of dinos. Earl, the dad, is a staunch traditionalist, and never questions the dogma of his society. His wife Fran is a little more progressive. Son Robbie is viewed by his father as a radical, daughter Charlene is basically flighty (but is given more depth as the series progresses), and the Baby is simply a force to be reckoned with. Fran’s mother Ethyl also lives with the Sinclairs, and imparts wisdom to the kids while always being critical of Earl. Earl works for the Wesayso Corporation as a tree-pusher, along with his friend Roy. Their boss, Mr. Richfield, represents the desires of the corporation to push progress on the world regardless of the consequences. The show aims to satirize our own culture’s institutions and ways. Few subjects go uncovered on the show; and, while not always subtle, the points it makes cover all sides of the political spectrum.
I do remember watching Nature Calls, and seeing it again now I still am impressed with how they managed to craft such a funny episode about potty training. That’s one thing I love about Dinosaurs— they continually did stories that could not be done in other sitcoms, and always made the most out of the show’s unique settings and situations. The focus stays on Baby in Baby Talk, where Baby gleefully says a dirty word, much to the chagrin of his parents. Next, Earl discovers that he is a Network Genius, but the shows he chooses for the TV network make for stupid dinosaurs. The Discovery sees Earl finding a new land, one inhabited by the primitive creatures known as humans. Little Boy Boo is the season’s Halloween episode, where Robbie and Baby try to outdo each other with scary stories.
Baby gets sick in Germ Warfare, and older brother Robbie dangerously finds love with Mr. Richfield’s daughter in Hungry For Love. Earl and Fran face losing their License To Parent, then Charlene is tried for heresy for saying the world is round in Charlene’s Flat World.
The second disc begins with the males on the show going on a risky Wilderness Weekend. They evidently didn’t bond enough, as Earl and Robbie battle for supremacy in the family next in The Son Also Rises. In Getting To Know You, Charlene has a lousy birthday party then joins a student exchange program. Four-legged dinosaurs become outlawed in Green Card, forcing Roy to marry Fran’s friend Monica in order for her to be allowed to stay in Pangaea. Baby becomes a TV sensation for his hitting-dad-with-a-frying-pan antics in Out Of The Frying Pan. Next, Robbie begins to use help to bulk up and get stronger in Steroids To Heaven, but finds that life is never meant to be so easy. Honey, I Miss The Kids recycles an old plot when Fran decides to take another job outside the home. Robbie discovers mammalian Swamp Music, and then feels the urge to do the mating dance in Dirty Dancin’. The second disc ends with a bizarre show even for Dinosaurs, when Earl and a tree switch places (in a fairy tale told by Ethyl to Baby) in If You Were A Tree.
The third disc finishes off the third season of the show, offering the last three episodes. We Are Not Alone has Robbie posing as an alien in order to get Earl to change his life, with naturally disastrous consequences. I was always glad that the show never over-used humans, but Charlene And Her Amazing Humans does make them feature players. The third season ends with that necessary evil known as the clip show in The Clip Show II.
We then move on to Season Four with the kids hiding from the Monster Under The Bed. You know a show may be on its last legs when it does a superhero episode, which is what happens when Earl gains powers and flies around in a costume in Earl, Don’t Be A Hero. Robbie questions the Elder’s new philosophy of “Potatoism” in The Greatest Story Ever Sold. Next, Earl finds himself Driving Miss Ethyl to her high school reunion. Earl tries suing his employer, the Wesayso Corporation, when he is injured in Earl’s Big Jackpot. Then Baby reaches hisTerrible Twos, becoming a monster on his second birthday.
Brian Henson claims that the arc of the show was always planned to include a finale that featured the end of the dinosaurs, with the creatures finally succumbing to the results of their abusing the planet for so long. So, Changing Nature finds the Sinclairs facing death as the dinosaur apocalypse approaches, thanks to the short-sightedness of Earl and his Wesayso employer. It is a dark way to end a series, but then Dinosaurs was never all that conventional.
The last disc in the set could be seen as having exclusively bonus material, as it includes all the episodes that never aired on network television. Thus, we find here seven more episodes of the aborted final season of Dinosaurs. The first of these delves into favorite territory for the writers, that of strange dinosaur rituals, as Baby is brought Into The Woods to enter into a rite of passage. Charlene develops the Scent Of A Reptile, an adolescent reptile that is, and must decide if she will give in to her apparent destiny or chart her own path. Charlene’s newfound moxie sees her wanting to become a Working Girl next, which turns Dinosaur civilization on its ear (and gets Earl into trouble with Mr. Richfield). Variations On A Theme Park is the notorious episode where Disneyland is mercilessly spoofed, as the Sinclairs find out that the new Wesaysoland park is not all it promises to be. Life In The Faust Lane sees Earl making a deal with the devil, then the Sinclair patriarch is bitterly reunited with his sister in Earl And Pearl. Finally, Barney the dinosaur is given the spoofing treatment in an episode that I heartily agree with, Georgie Must Die!
The episodes are fairly consistent in their entertainment value, though I generally find episodes about the male characters more interesting than those about the female ones. Earl’s buffoonery, Robbie’s rebelling, and Baby’s outrageousness always seemed more interesting to me than Fran’s efforts to get a job or Charlene’s… well, anything to do with Charlene. I think the male characters were just conceived better. When looking at the merits of the final two seasons, there is little to separate the latter two seasons from the first two, with a few minor exceptions. The fog effects used on Season One never returned, lighting improved at the same time, and as time went on the directors seemed to learn how to block their shots better while accommodating all the costumes and effects. One may note that the sculpts used for the costumes saw some changes as the series progressed— Roy’s neck got thicker, and Charlene’s nose ridges became more defined. The characters do also age a bit, as Baby turns two in this set, and Charlene is noted to be fifteen by the end of the series. Generally, the quality of the show remained quite consistent, even if the novelty maybe wore off just a bit after three and a half years on the air.
By the time the series ended in summer 1994, 1993’s Jurassic Park had already revolutionized how people could see dinosaurs come to life. Not only was CGI changing creature effects forever, many of the special effects challenges seen in the productions of the Dinosaurs TV show would from now on be met with the use of computers. A show like Dinosaurs would never again be done the same way, so the show serves as a unique entity in the history of television and Jim Henson productions. The Henson company first showcased CGI in a feature in 1994’s Muppet Treasure Island, and probably their next major technical challenge on television would be on Farscape, which began in 1999. By then, Jim Henson Productions had become quite adept at matching puppetry with CGI, while continuing their tradition of telling great stories.
So, treasure these DVDs of Dinosaurs. It’s a very fun show, and unlike anything else that has been done by the Henson company or anyone else.
Is This Thing Loaded?
This DVD set does include a few nice extras in addition to the unaired episodes. Audio Commentaries appear on two episodes (Nature Calls and Into The Woods), featuring director Brian Henson, writer/character designer Kirk Thatcher, and co-stars Kevin Clash (Baby performer) and Bill Baretta (he wore the Earl suit). The amiable discussions give one a good idea of how an episode typically came together and the sheer effort that was needed to carry it off.
Creatures With A Cause: The Issues Of Dinosaurs (9:20) sees the creators revisiting a number of episodes while discussing the show’s unique ability to remark on subjects that would have been taboo on typical live action shows. Included in the discussion is the final episode, which brought the series to a somewhat grim close. I’m The Baby, Gotta Love Me (5:46) is a close look at the Sinclair’s youngest child, certainly the breakout character for the show. While the on-camera interviews with people like Kevin Clash and Brian Henson are great, I also loved the brief glimpses at some neat behind-the-scenes material.
Like the last set, viewers are encouraged to look for a number of Dino Eggs, the Dinosaurs version of Easter eggs, those hidden nuggets of goodness kept in clever places on a DVD menu. I found most on the final disc, with Brian Henson discussing the lifespan of foam latex, some ABC promos, some fun behind-the-scenes clips, and my favorite bit— a great, touching reminiscence of Kevin Clash about his first meeting with the great Jim Henson. (My admiration for Mr. Henson is so great, my newborn son’s middle name became James in his honor.)
There are also some Sneak Peeks on the first disc, including looks at the new Jungle Book DVD, a trailer for Ratatouille, and promos for Scrubs: Season Five and (yay!) The Muppet Show: Season Two.
Disney stayed fairly consistent with the packaging on this show, keeping the book-style digipack with overlapping discs. The only thing they changed was using a more conventional slipcase rather than the vertically opening one of the previous set. I still would have loved a booklet with a more detailed episode guide and maybe some “fun facts” (I’m afraid that companies like BCI have raised the bar so high in this area that anything less now disappoints.) Instead, all we get for an insert is a sheet advertising the Disney Movie Rewards program.
Ink And Paint:
The 4:3 image looks brighter and sharper in this set, especially compared to the smoky Season One episodes from the previous set. Minimal grain is seen at times but is generally invisible. The prints are quite clean, and the compression work is solid, so it seems that we got the best presentation we could for these episodes, being just a little softer than the image one might expect on a DVD for recent theatrical release.
The stereo sound is just okay, serving the show well enough without ever striving to truly impress. No doubt that if the show were produced today, more effort would have been made to give it a snazzier audio mix. Maybe I should mention here that I do love the voice work done for the show. In particular, Stuart Pankin’s Earl is loveable in much the same way as Alan Reed’s Fred Flintstone was, and Kevin (Elmo) Clash makes Baby as endearing as he is terrifying. Sherman Hemsley (The Jeffersons) also does a great turn in the recurring role of Earl’s boss B.P. Richfield. When watching Dinosaurs, it is tough to decide just who brought each character to life the most— the actor in the suit, the puppeteer doing the facial expressions, or the voice actor. The results of their teamwork is usually quite marvellous.
If you’ve been collecting the show on DVD, don’t stop now. While not every episode in this set is an absolute gem, the show is consistently entertaining and has many, many memorable episodes. Whether considering the sharp writing, the strong satire, or the outstanding special effects and puppeteering, this show deserves strong consideration for your DVD library. A good technical presentation and some nice special features, including seven episodes not seen during the original broadcast run, make this an easy recommend.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?