If you took Cars, added Transformers, mixed it up with Jurassic Park and sprinkled it with Bob the Builder, you might have something that resembles Dinotrux, DreamWorks Animation’s first original TV series since 2004’s Father of the Pride. Featuring dinosaurs that are made out of construction vehicles (or is it the other way around?), the show centers around Ty Rux, a “Tyrannosaurus Trux” who’s quite friendly despite everyone being afraid of him. After his cave is destroyed by a volcano eruption (which literally happens immediately after we’re introduced to him), he goes searching for a new place to live, eventually coming across a “great valley” that seems perfectly suited for his needs. There’s plenty of “ore” (some sort of…rock that he eats?), and he quickly befriends the tiny but intelligent Revvit the lizard (or “Reptool”) who’s great at repairing him whenever part of him breaks. Unfortunately, the valley is also home to D-Structs, a massive dinosaur truck (or truck dinosaur?) who hates sharing, and will stop at nothing to stop Ty Rux and anyone else who tries to enter from living there. Can Ty Rux get the other dinosaurs/trucks to set aside their differences and work together for a greater goal?
Here’s the most shocking thing about Dinotrux: It’s not terrible. And, given how stupid I felt even typing the plot summary above, that’s probably something of a small miracle. Everything about Dinotrux–from the frankly insane concept to the often outspoken messages about sharing and teamwork–says that it should be unwatchable. And yet, it’s somehow painless. I’m not sure if that makes it “good” per se, but it’s far from awful, and for its target audience of little kids, it should be a harmless distraction.
The most appealing thing about Dinotrux is the animation. While the series doesn’t look nearly as impressive as DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon show, the animators do find a way to make the dinosaur trucks work. They actually look pretty cool, and have a real weight behind them. When you watch them move, you feel like they weigh several tons, especially when they go into battle with each other in fight scenes that are honestly way better than they deserve to be. Having said that, the backgrounds are all rather generic-looking, implying that all of the show’s budget went into the character animation, at least for the pilot. But that doesn’t stop it from being a really slick-looking series overall.
Still, Dinotrux can’t completely overcome the frankly dumb idea behind it, and it’s hard to tell if it’s really going to have anywhere to go. The difficulty in reviewing a pilot is that it’s usually an example of a series still figuring itself out, but if the ending of this 24-minute episode is any indication, it appears that the narrative arc of the show is going to consist of Ty Rux and his friends trying to build nice things for themselves while D-Structs tries to destroy what they’ve created for the simple reason that he is a jerk. I would normally fault a show centered around dinosaurs for including a scene in which its villain literally growls the line “I don’t share,” but Disney’s much more intense Dinosaur, sadly, didn’t have much better dialogue. But even when keeping in mind that the series is intended for those under ten, it’s hard to get over the fact that Dinotrux doesn’t make much sense, offering even more plot holes than the Cars movies do. Where on earth did these dinosaur/construction vehicle hybrids come from? Are the “ore” rocks that they eat made out of gasoline? If they’re made of sophisticated gears and whatever which they can understand and repair when needed, then how come its taken them this long to figure out how to build something as simple as a bridge? Kids, of course, won’t be asking any of these questions, but adults will probably be unable to stop themselves from scratching their heads.
At the end of the day, Dinotrux is what it is: A cute enough show for children that manages to not be obnoxious for adults. At the same time, though, it doesn’t really offer much for “grown-ups,” as the series is without the sly humor and clever writing that have become DreamWorks Animation’s trademark. Still, I’m not rooting for it to become extinct, and considering how much I was fully expecting to loathe Dinotrux, that has to count for something.
Available only on Netflix Streaming starting August 14th
Created by Ron Birch and David Kidd