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DINOSAURS
The Complete First and Second Seasons

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Stuart Pankin, Jessica Walter, Jason Willinger, Sally Struthers, Florence Stanley, Sam McMurray, Sherman Hemsley
Creator:  Jim Henson
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  29 Episodes
Release Date:  May 2, 2006

“How do you know that egg isn’t a dud?  It happens all the time!  We had THREE duds before we had Charlene!”

“No…we had two duds and Robbie.”

“I’m saying!”

Shows ***1/2

Dinosaurs was one of the last creations to spring from the fertile imagination of Jim Henson.  Sadly, he passed before he could see it come to fruition.  But with his son Brian following in his footsteps alongside producer Michael Jacobs, his last dream would become a reality, running for four years on ABC before meeting with an untimely extinction.

I always loved the show, but I’m not sure audiences ever really knew what to make of it.  It was populated by costumed animatronic performers, but it wasn’t quite a kids’ show.  Instead, the creators saw their characters as a means to make social commentary and satire on big issues in a safe way.  After all, these were dinosaurs, not people.

It depicted the Sinclair family as domesticated dinos not long after the prehistoric beasts first began experimenting with civilization.  The first episode “The Mighty Megalosaurus” showed father Earl (voiced by Pankin) explaining this recent development to his new baby.

Along with wife Fran (Walter), son Robbie (Willinger) and daughter Charlene (Struthers), Earl quickly joined the ranks of lovably inept sitcom father figures…part Ralph Kramden, part Fred Flintstone, Earl was frequently in over his head with the pressures of work, family, and societal life.  But that’s why we loved him.

The first season ran a quick five episodes, but the second season ran a full 24, and all of them are here in this set.  Most all of them are comical classics.  My personal favorite, “I Never Ate For My Father”, demonstrated the show’s approach beautifully, as Earl and Fran confront the fact that their dear son might just be…shudder…a herbivore.  Other plant eaters view Earl as “herbi-phobic”, and a Dylan-esque dinosaur leads them in a rousing rendition of “Give Peas a Chance” before an unexpected twist teaches both Earl and Robbie about the true nature of the food chain.

“A New Leaf” is another favorite of mine, as the family discovers a plant that has a bizarre intoxicating effect on all who eat it.  It threatens their livelihood and their bonds with one another before they realize giving up everything real for a cheap high might have a down side.  It leads to a brilliantly funny conclusion that’s deliberately short on subtlety.

“Hurling Day” deals with how we treat our elderly, as an age-old tradition of hurling dinosaurs who turn 72 into a tar pit is challenged on the day  Earl has been dreaming of…the day he finally gets to toss his troublesome mother-in-law Ethyl (Stanley) into the goo.  And “Endangered Species” teaches the Sinclairs a lesson or two about what could happen if they eat a delicious species into oblivion.

I also loved the episode when Monica, the lovely brontosaurus, gets a job pushing trees with Earl at the Wesayso company, only to fall victim to sleazy advances by the team foreman Sexual Harris, a master of the double entendre.  It all leads to a big hearing in order to determine “What Sexual Harris Meant” (get it?).

Other episodes were less socially astute, but just as funny, as when the mother-in-law has a near death experience in “The Last Temptation of Ethyl”, or when Earl gets challenged by a gigantic brute for Fran’s affection in “High Noon”.  “The Golden Child” has Baby Sinclair sprouting a golden horn from a sugar high which makes all the land believe he’s the new king…he’s the baby, gotta love him.  And “Unmarried With Children” leads Earl to appreciate his wife a little more after he loses her…because they forgot to renew their marriage license!

And what sitcom season would be complete without a holiday special?  In “Refrigerator Day”, the Sinclairs learn heartwarming messages as they celebrate the most important day in dinosaurs’ lives…the invention of the refrigerator, which allowed them to store food so they could live in homes instead of constantly wandering after prey!

There were only two down points in the first two years…one was “Nuts to War”, a two-part episode that could have been a clever spoof on those bombastic miniseries of the late 80s, but instead turned into a rather hostile perversion of the then-current first Gulf War.  In it, quadrupeds invade the land of the bipeds, and the show proceeds to argue that nothing should be done when an outside force storms into your country.  The elder (think: president) is first determined to fight back, but immediately cuts and runs when the first dinosaur dies in the war.  And, of course, fifteen years later, Hollywood still fantasizes about cutting and running.  There are funny moments, such as Earl dressing as a USO girl to try and get to Robbie on the front lines.  But the overall mockery of the notion that one’s country is worth fighting for just leaves far too bad a taste in ones mouth.  Even their take on Bob Hope was curiously mean-spirited.

The other was “The Clip Show”…only the 21st episode overall, but already, the producers had given in to the idea of a “greatest hits” airing.  At the time it was broadcast, it seemed too soon for such an indulgence, but on DVD, it works even less…after all, you will have JUST seen the first twenty episodes shortly before.

Still, there was much fun to be had in those early years.  The characters were great, the scripts were sharp and rarely missed the funny bone, and the production values were quite astute.  The creatures, which involved real actors in costume with prosthetic heads that could be manipulated by an operator, were quite astounding in their ability to convey real performances on camera.  I haven’t even mentioned my personal favorite, which was the legendary Sherman Hemsley voicing Earl’s gruff and abusive boss Mr. Richfield.  What other actor could have embodied that role so perfectly, I ask you?

It may not have ended as such, but it definitely began as one of the 90's best television comedies.  This four disc set is a great way to remember the show at its best, and hopefully a new generation who never saw it when it originally aired will discover these loveable lizards anew.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Listen for the voice of Michael “Mr. Worf” Dorn as one of the elders, and the spokesman in several Wesayso ads.  “Wesayso…we really DON’T like having our feelings hurt.”

Video **1/2

“If this is the year sixty-million-and-three, why is next year sixty-million-and-TWO?  Why are we counting backwards?”

The video presentations aren’t bad, but not quite exemplary either.  For television shows, they look fine, with good coloring and details.  But some of them seemed to have been transferred from a video source, and I noticed in some darker sequences a little bit of slight rolling in the background, as well as bits of noticeable grain.  No real complaints; just calling it like it is.

Audio **1/2

“AGAIN!!”

The stereo mixes are a little better than average because they do boast some dynamic range here and there from the music and the occasional roaring of a predator here and there.  Spoken words are clear and well balanced in the mix throughout.

Features **

“Dad, I’m BEGGING you to understand…I HAVE no potential.”

Disc One includes two featurettes:  one on the making of the show, and one a look at the original sketches that would become the characters.  But the menu starts with the egg in the word “Dinosaurs” highlighted.  Pick it, and you’ll see an intro from Brian Henson telling you to look for more hidden eggs throughout.  These show other bits, including trivia, behind-the-scenes photos and more.

Summary:

Dinosaurs was a truly funny and imaginative show that served as a fitting farewell to the genius of Jim Henson.  The first two seasons especially were golden, and this four disc set deserves to win the early 90s sitcom a new legion of dino-fans.

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