Hanna-Barbera (1974), Warner Archive (March 22, 2011 ), 2 discs, 344 mins, 1.33:1 ratio, Dolby Digital 1.0, Not Rated, Retail: $29.95
Members of a typical American family find themselves in a land of dinosaurs. They are befriended by a caveman family, and learn numerous life lessons while coping with the notion of whether or not they will ever find a way home.
The Sweatbox Review:
The 1970s version of Hanna-Barbera is often thought of as the Scooby Doo era, with numerous sequel series and knock-offs being requested by the American networks. However, there was a great amount of diversity to be found once you moved past those mystery-solving-teens-with-a pet shows. Some of those shows came courtesy of being adaptations from other media (Godzilla, Super Friends, etc), but then there were also a slew of other shows that charted their own paths. In 1974, those H-B shows included Hong Kong Phooey, Wheelie And The Chopper Bunch, Devlin, These Are The Days, and Valley Of The Dinosaurs.
Hanna-Barbera and CBS likely felt that they had a hit on their hands with Valley Of The Dinosaurs. After all, what kid doesn’t love dinosaurs, right? Unfortunately, a live action show with an amazingly similar premise debuted in the very same time slot that year on NBC. Land Of The Lost ended up being the hit of the season, while Valley Of The Dinosaurs was relegated to history. (More trivia: H-B also found themselves competing with one of their own shows, with Devlin being run at the same time on ABC. Meanwhile, H-B’s prehistoric live action show Korg, 70,000 BC failed to click with audiences a half-hour later.) Of course, ratings failure does not always reflect quality. Valley Of The Dinosaurs was as good or better than any other Hanna-Barbera show of the era.
The premise was outlined in the show’s opening, narrated by Don Messick, which told of how science teacher John Butler took his family on a rafting trip (on the Amazon River, no less), but their raft capsized and they were then swallowed up by a whirlpool. They later emerged into a land of dinosaurs and cavemen, with no means of returning home. Fortunately, John and his wife Kim were very clever and resourceful, and showed good instincts in befriending a local family, whose patriarch is named Gorok and was voiced by Allan Oppenheimer. The Butler kids, Katie and Greg (the future “Rorschach” from Watchmen, Jackie Earle Haley!), didn’t always show the best judgment, and their dog Digger also tended to get them into trouble. As a result, the family often found themselves running from dinosaurs or evading other dangers inherent to the environment. This prehistoric land was rife with volcanoes, quicksand, unfriendly tribes, and fierce insects.
On that level alone, this show is full of fun and adventure. Even better, it makes a point of using science to not only help the Butlers, but also educate the audience. Scripts make good use out of Mr. Butler’s science teacher background, while the rest of the family also proves to be pretty bright when it comes to applying science to help them out of danger. On the surface, this looks and feels much like any other H-B program, but as a viewer I appreciated the attempt to be just a little more academic than other shows. Of course, the emphasis on science and dialog may have doomed the show, with kids preferring more excitement and dino action. As an adult viewer, though, it hits the spot.
For a 1974 Hanna-Barbera production, the show looks really good. Other shows of that era often look sadly cheap, but this one harkens back to the 1960s, with more detailed backgrounds and decent drawing. An intermittent lack of detail in the backgrounds makes them verge on abstract at times, but even then the backgrounds still seem more artistic and colourful than the rush jobs seen on other 1970s cartoons. The opening is more than a little reminiscent of a particular Fantasia sequence, and while the show never quite reaches those heights again, it does manage to do extremely well for its budget. As a result, it carries a pretty solid Jonny Quest type of vibe, making it a relatively little-known gem in the H-B canon.
Is This Thing Loaded?
There are no extra features on this set. The menu is very simple, with a main menu simply listing episode numbers and no titles. Some Warner Archive sets use title cards as menu images, which make it easier to identify episodes; but these episodes don’t have title cards, and no extra effort was given for more elaborate menus.
The two DVD-R discs come in a clear case with a swinging tray to hold one of the discs. Episode titles do appear on the discs.
Ink And Paint:
There is some minor print damage to be sure, but for an unrestored series, it looks pretty decent to me. That is inconsistent, though, with skin tones sometimes tending towards orange, or instances of the picture going soft. For the most part, though, the picture remains relatively sharp and devoid of fading.
Generally, the mono sound is as good as it would have been on its initial broadcast. One glaring example of the audio failing, though, is on the fifth episode of the second disc, Fire!, which has audio that sounds distant and in bad need of restoration. As a Warner Archive release, do not expect other languages or subtitles.
This new 2-disc DVD set from Warner Archive contains all sixteen episodes of the show. Small ones will initially appreciate the appearances of dinosaurs, until they realize that they are often only part of the scenery or featured in non-plot-oriented visuals that simply set a scene. Older viewers will likely get into the stories just as the younger ones begin to get bored, as the promise of prehistoric monsters gives way to tales that focus on a more basic struggle for survival in a hostile land. Video and audio quality is not consistent, but overall is decent enough for being unrestored. Of the Hanna-Barbera shows coming out from Warner Archive, I consider this series to be one of your better bets.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?
Valley Of The Dinosaurs may be ordered directly from Warner Archive.