Film Length: 670 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English DD 2.0
Subtitles: Optional English subtitles
US Release Date: May 1, 2007
The Show - out of
‘Dinosaurs’ is an odd creation. On one hand, it is often a slickly written, self-referential and liberally conscious sitcom filled with an undercurrent of savvy satire, pointed witticisms and jabs that adeptly tear into subject matter that American sitcoms have covered well and some they have shied away from. On the other hand, it is a colourful, playful and child-friendly family oriented show that relies handily on sight gags and slapstick to achieve a satisfying level of laughs for the kids. These seemingly disparate ends can co-exist, (the best of recent animated films has more than proven that case), but here, with the social and political satire mixed with the benign farce apparent in oh-so-many patriarchal based family sitcoms, it often feels like the show is never quite sure who to write for, who to provide for and who the show ultimately should exist for.
The basic premise is a family of domesticated dinosaurs, representing the typical American family of then (early 90’s) and today, living in houses, holding jobs and filled with all the social and familial trials and triumphs we see littering the sitcom landscape as they go about their lives day to day. The head of this household is Earl Sinclair, a blue collar working dinosaur (a tree pusher by trade), voiced by Stuart Pankin. Much like Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin of ‘Family Guy’, Earl is a lovable oaf, replete with outdated and simplistic thinking topped off with an abundance of chauvinism. Grounding his thinking and clumsy nature is his wife, Fran (Jessica Walter), a stay at home housewife that is so often the voice of reason. They have three children, two teenagers, Robbie and Charlene (voiced by Jason Willinger and Sally Struthers) and a little baby, voiced by the man behind Elmo, Kevin Clash. Also in the house is the grouchy mother-in-law, Ethyl (Florence Stanley). The teenagers are fairly bland characters, especially Charlene, who is given little to do and suffers from an obvious lack of female staff writers. The miserly mother-in-law has some good lines, mostly sarcastic quips about Earl, and is doled up in just the right amount through the show. The real treasure is Baby, a character that walks the line of annoying but manages to keep it at a perfect level, a character that really should grate the nerves, but magically manages to keep a constant smirk on your face.
‘Dinosaurs’ was a complicated show to put on; each scene requiring the then ‘state-of-the-art’ animatronics performance of multiple people to bring each character to life. Inside each Dinosaur is an actor and nearby, teams working with radio-controlled devices that meticulously animate these prehistoric family members and friends.
This highly original family show is just as impressive today as it was when it aired during the first part of the 1990’s. And watching it now, it comes as no surprise that a show that requires such effort; that is filled with as much complexity to bring even the simplest of scenes to life, didn’t survive. But what we have with seasons three and four is a collection of episodes that dance between social concerns and standard family issues, at times beating you over the head, and others, subversively tearing away at familial norms in genuinely clever ways. The show is creatively at its best during the many scenes when the characters are watching TV, with many parodies of TV clichés (Tricera-Cops being one of my favourites). It also happily takes jabs at censorship; gender roles and mindless children's TV programming (Take THAT, Barney!).
This DVD set comes with each episode from the final two seasons, and includes the 7 episodes that only aired once ‘Dinosaurs’ reached its syndicated lifespan.
Disc One: Season Three - 1. Nature Calls, 2. Baby Talk. 3. Network Genius. 4. The Discovery. 5. Little Boy Boo, 6. Germ Warefare. 7. Hungry for Love. 8. License to Parent. 9. Charlene's Flat World
Disc Two: 10. Wilderness Weekend. 11. The Son also Rises. 12. Getting to Know You. 13. Green Card. 14. Out of the Frying Pan. 15. Steroids to Heaven. 16. Honey, I Miss the Kids. 17. Swamp Music. 18. Dirty Dancin'. 19. If I Were a Tree.
Disc Three: Season Three Cont…20. We Are Not Alone. 21. Charlene and Her Amazing Humans. 22. The Clip Show II. Season Four - 1. Monster Under the Bed. 2. Earl, Don't Be a Hero. 3. The Greatest Story Ever Sold. 4. Driving Miss Ethyl. 5. Earl's Big Jackpot. 6. Terrible Twos. 7. Changing Nature.
Disc Four: Season Four Cont…8. Scent of a Reptile. 9. Earl and Pearl. 10. Life in the Faust Lane. 11. Variations on a Theme Park. 12. Working Girl. 13. Into the Woods. 14. Georgie Must Die.
The Video - out of
‘Dinosaurs’ is presented in its original broadcast ‘Full Screen’ ratio, 1.33:1.
For a show originally broadcast in the early 90’s, the video quite frankly should have been better that what we have presented here. Sufferening, no doubt, from compression (36 episodes on 4 discs doesn't leave a lot of room) there is a great amount of inconsistency in the quality. Some episodes are overly soft while others suffer from a great deal colour saturation, almost bleeding off the screen (especially from Charlene and her less than fashionable, overly-bright wardrobe).
There are some episodes, mostly in the season four that actually look pretty good. The finest example being ‘Monster under the Bed’, that in addition to being a fun and well written episode, also has the distinction of perhaps being the best quality looking episode of this set.
All in all, despite being a little disappointing, the moderate to okay looking picture quality rarely diminishes the show at hand.
The Sound - out of
This DVD set contains a 2.0 Dolby Digital track. While not the most effective or dynamic sound, it suits the show and, for a series where most of what you are hearing is added in after the scenes are shot (via the voice-over actors), most of the information comes from the center channel. The sound is clean, clear and, from what I could tell, devoid of any distortions or distractions.
The Extra’s - out of
‘Dinosaurs is light on extras, which is a shame, because the technical triumph and often clever writing could have easily been explored and showcased with this DVD that completes the ‘Dinosaurs’ series.
What is included is worth the time to explore.
‘I’m The Baby, Gotta Love Me’– This 5+ minute featurette covers the character of Baby, through interviews with Brian Henson and Kevin Clash, the voice of the pink ball of selfish, smart mouthed joy.
Creatures With A Cause: The Issues Of Dinosaurs – Discussing an element of the show that, at times, garners complaints for its ‘heavy-handedness’, this short featurette remembers the social conscience of the series, from it’s several environmentally friendly episodes to where it treads on more political ground. You will find some good insight here.
Audio Commentaries for ‘Natures Call’ & ‘Into the Woods’.
Featuring Brian Henson, Kevin Clash and others, these are energetic and enjoyable commentaries. They may not feature the most explicit insight into the production and, at times, are filled with too many people talking at the same time, but the love they have for the production and the lasting characters is evident. Their love for the show is contagious.
There are also a few easter eggs. I found them all on disc four and they range from a dated promo spot for the series premiere to an interesting behind the scenes clip of the actors playing around in the Dino-suits.
Dinosaurs is an odd dichotomy, an earnest attempt to blend writing that moves from clever adult sardonic insight to a more standard, slapstick sitcom affair, it both succeeds and fails on the same level. Taking broad and political themes, from the environment to bigotry, and exploring them in less than subtle ways works as entertainment to a point, but it tiptoes in the realm of preaching and even the most socially conscious adult can tire of being fed viewpoints with such simplicity.
The consistent technical marvels and innovations are, at times, outpaced by gags that are themselves prehistoric, or would work better if you knew whose laughter they were truly aiming for. The balance between entertainment for the kids and for adults is shaky at times but, the effort to find that balance is worthy.
In the end, ‘Dinosaurs’ holds up pretty well, touching on topics that seem to mean more today than back when it originally aired. It boasts a proliferation of great vocal and technical talent and manages to score extremely notable guest actors, like David Warner, Jason Alexander, Jeffrey Tambor and Tim Curry.
Fans of the show will delight in recapturing these last episodes of a brave experiment in family entertainment. Even if you have yet to unearth this prehistoric gem, I can genuinely recommend giving it a spin.
Overall Score - out of