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Thursday, July 30, 2020

"Dinosaurs": My Favorite Prehistoric 90’s Family by Nicholas Napoli

Even to this day, the opening sequence with Earl walking through the forest, tearing down trees on his way home, ignites my Muppet passion the same way as when I watch Gobo making his way through the tunnels leading into Fraggle Rock. Dinosaurs is the mature version of Fraggle Rock in my eyes, teaching more adult topics to an eldering Fraggle Rock fan base. In my child-mind these two shows always coexisted in the same world, when Roy eats Gunge in the episode “The Howling”, that both scarred me for life and confirmed my theory to be true in my mind. Both shows stand the test of time, one created whilst Jim Henson was alive, the other once he had passed, based on his own original ideas. This show felt very much like a The Jim Henson Company production and felt like a great continuation to Jim Henson’s legacy. I was six-years-old when I first watched Dinosaurs, I’m now thirty-three but every so often I’ll sit down and watch the whole series again, and each time I realize there is more behind the actual story than I understood each time I’ve watched it prior, this is brilliant writing. At age six I obsessively sat down and watched my six VHS tapes repeatedly, then The Disney Channel began airing Dinosaurs at 22:30, and that followed by Home Improvement at 23:00, this is how I went to bed for years. 

One cold Saturday morning, dating back all the way to March 1992, my five-month pregnant mother, my little sister and myself went to Main Street. Right at the middle of this street there used to be a toy store, which had now also began selling VHS tapes. In the middle of the toy store there was a unit, which displayed all these tapes, at the very top they always displayed the newer releases. That day I still remember spotting a VHS case that was shocking green and on closer inspection it featured a daddy Dinosaur and a baby Dinosaur on the cover. I asked my Mom to pick it up for me and immediately felt that these were Muppets, they resembled Gorg-type-Muppets to me, although at this time I didn’t even know it was connected to Jim Henson. My Mom bought it for me and then we all went to a little restaurant inside a shopping centre for lunch, where I sat obsessively looking over my new Dinosaurs VHS cover. My Mom was the one who pointed out to me that it said “Jim Henson Productions” on the cover, now I was really excited to get home and watch this. These were Muppets as my brain had told me, this was Jim Henson’s idea, I wanted to watch this right now, especially since I now assumed Kermit would be interacting and playing with Dinosaurs. That always happened to me as a child, thanks to The Christmas Toy, Follow That Bird, Emmet Otters Jug Band Christmas, I always assumed if it was made by Jim Henson, Kermit would at least cameo. Kermit was never lost in the Labyrinth, living amongst Podlings or being hunted down by Dinosaurs. 

Eventually we got home, I watched the two episodes on my new VHS with my parents and my sister, and we all enjoyed it, we wanted more, this is a perfect example of family entertainment. My Mom had made the comment earlier that if she had a baby girl we would be just like The Simpsons and if she had a baby boy we would become this family of Dinosaurs. This became a running joke in my family every time we watched Dinosaurs or The Simpsons, a few months later we became The Simpsons. The day I walked out the shop with my Dinosaurs Volume 1 VHS, I was already pestering my Mom to buy me Dinosaurs Volume 2 and 3 which we had left behind in the shop. Eventually on another trip to Main Street, my Dad bought Volume 2 and 3 for me, I think my parents really enjoyed the show as much as my sister and me did. Eventually once my second sister was born, a second wave of Dinosaurs VHS tapes were released, volumes 4-6 and eventually I now had twelve Dinosaurs episodes to watch repeatedly. Four more videos were eventually released, but without internet at the time, I was unaware of their existence, my collection only ever consisted of six volumes, twelve episodes. By 2007 The whole series had been released on two separated DVD sets and I got the chance to make sure I had never missed out on an episode of Dinosaurs when it aired on The Disney Channel. I’m happy to report that I had seen them all, but now having them all together in DVD quality, I’m so glad these were released, now if we could only get a complete series special edition release. 

This show is so clever, the writing is outstanding, the performances are amazing and as I grow older, I just appreciate it more and more. I love this show, so do my sisters, my parents, my whole family, I remember staying to sleep at my grandparents’ house one night and taking my Dinosaurs videos to their house. We watched Volume 4, episode “The Last Temptation of Ethyl” where Ethyl dies briefly. My grandparents could not stop laughing, especially when all the Dinosaurs appeared singing in the choir, my grandmother especially loves that part. Out of the twelve episodes I had to watch, one of my least favourite ones as a kid was “The Mating Dance” episode, it was to slow for me but my Mom loved it, it was her favourite one. I asked her why and I still remember her answer to me when I was only six years old. My Mom likes that Earl did the mating dance for Fran and I asked if she liked the actual dance Earl did, my Mom told me it was the meaning behind the dance that she enjoyed. I had no idea what the meaning was, even though Fran actually spells it out for Earl at the end of the episode, but still as a child I loved watching all my Dinosaurs episodes repeatedly. Even though I had no idea most of the time what the true meaning of the episode was about, I was just having fun being entertained, perfect writing balance on this show. In the breakfast scene at the very beginning of that particular episode, as a child I had no idea why Fran snapped so suddenly at Earl just because he wanted a new button on his shirt. Now as an adult I think it is so human and realistically clever in how Fran as a character is developed to her breaking point within those first few minutes of the episode. I now also really appreciate Earl and Roy’s conversations, which lasts for days, where they try to figure out why Fran is so unhappy. My Dad’s favourite episode is “Nature Calls” when Earl believes he’s flushed the Baby down the toilet, my Dad always laughed so hard at those scenes. For some reason, another of his favourite episodes was “Hurling Day”, actually both my parents enjoyed this one very much, they’d laugh so hard, me and my sister had no idea why, I just remember having a lot of respect for Robbie. As for my sisters, our favourite episode to watch together is “When Food Goes Bad”, it actually scared us a little whilst growing up, I think that’s what we liked so much about it, as well as “Monster Under The Bed”. 

Watching Dinosaurs as a child, these are the things I remember that stood out to me the most. Why were the same background Dinosaurs being repeatedly used with minor costume changes as if we wouldn’t notice? Now I completely understand why, the same reason there were only three Gorgs left in the universe, full-body animatronic puppets are expensive. Now I absolutely love the creativity and hilariously funny running gag of recycling Dinosaurs. “We’re going to need another Timmy”, why did the Baby sound like Elmo and what was so exciting about Thursday nights? I was also obsessed with why Robbie was the only one to wear shoes, it was just the next step in evolution for these Dinosaurs and Robbie was ahead of the curve but as I child I didn’t know this and it drove me crazy. And then we come to the toys, I was obsessed with the toys, I still am, there’s never been much Dinosaurs merchandise to collect though. I was only aware of the Dinosaurs figures and Baby Sinclair Talking Plush, I also had a Dinosaur sticker book and spent so much money on stickers, I managed to complete the book, sadly I have no idea what happened to it, I wish I still had it. There were also a set of McDonalds Dinosaurs toys released which included Grandma Ethyl, I never knew about those when I was younger. The figures I owned only included the main five family members plus B.P Richfield, I always wanted Roy and Ethyl to add to my collection. I was the kid who would buy an old grandmother Dinosaur on a wheelchair figure if I had the chance. This year Dinosaurs merchandise made a come back in the form of Funko Pops, hopefully we’ll get more characters to add to this collection soon. 

As a kid growing up watching the pilot episode “The Mighty Megalosaurus” repeatedly, I found it very enjoyable and funny, especially the Baby, “Am I in the story yet? I’m going to bite you now”. As an adult I now find this pilot episode to be one of the cleverest best written introductions to a TV family, it works so well on so many levels. The show shows its cleverness and how well these characters are already understood right from the very first scene of the series. Earl is sitting down at home watching the news, its reported that a meteor is coming straight to earth, Earl looks worried. Then the reporter corrects himself and Earl lets out a sigh of relief. Fran wants pots and pans to cook Earl’s dinner and he believes this to be the same as Charlene wanting money for new cloths. Robbie suggests that the new going to school concept is not going to work and the Baby just wants to be in the story. What a great pilot establishing all its characters so well right from the very start. “Getting married, having a wife and kids, not eating them, this is all experimental stuff”, wise words spoken by Roy Hess, which alone goes to show how clever this show is. And when asking B.P Richfield for a raise, his boss informs Earl that “you don’t need more money, you need less family”. Earl spends his whole life pushing down trees for a living, I’m glad we humans have advanced and live more fulling work lives… or do we? Earl comes home depressed from work, his dinner has eaten the vegetables and run off, Fran has news, she laid an egg and Earl has an anxiety attack. Earl is 43 years old and still hasn’t even been to Europe, I’m sure so many 43 years olds can relate to this. It relates so well to the working class, its so real and such a clever way to talk about important topics in entertaining ways just as Fraggle Rock had accomplished before it. Earl goes back to the wilderness and comes across his runaway dinner, who is also going through his own problems, they are the same, they have a discussion which as a child was nothing more than a discussion, now as an adult, I consider it such a wise conversation and piece of entertainment making the most of its medium. Earl’s long-lost dinner informs him that his family is all that listens to him, this get Earl thinking for himself. At the end of the episode Earl does get the pay rise he wanted thanks to his new little non-eaten friend. What was once supposed to be Earl’s dinner is now his boss’s assistant, this show is so relatable. And then the Baby finally hatches, I still remember I was so young the first time I watched it that when he fell to the floor, I found it worrying and I could not understand why it was taking so long for the family to react and pick him up. Why did none of them seem worried that the Baby had fallen to the ground, and how does he know how to talk right from the start? It’s interesting to me what parts stood out for me as a child and which ones as an adult when discussing the same episode. 

One of the reasons I have such a fond attachment to The Muppets and everything Jim Henson is because as a child, anything to do with them made such an impact on me that until this day I still remember every detail and emotions centred around those experiences. I would have never remembered having lunch with my Mom and sister in a small restaurant in a shopping centre when I was six years old. I’d never remember asking my dad to pull his car over every time we drove past the cinema back in 1992 when they had a giant poster for The Muppets Christmas Carol displayed on their door. Where I would analyse all the characters and the picture in its entirely until one day my Mom took a picture for me and developed it and then we could drive past the cinema without having to stop each time. Or when my Dad woke me up in the middle of the night because his friend who worked at the cinema was able to give him that very Muppet poster that displayed the doors to the cinema. Or when… so many memories from my childhood, all which I can remember because of its Muppet impact. Dinosaurs is no different and one of my fondest memories, after watching twelve episodes repeatedly for over a year my whole family were overjoyed when Dinosaurs began airing nightly on The Disney Channel. I remember all five of us would sit on the sofa in our Livingroom and watch Dinosaurs together, that is a nice recurring memory in my life. Sometimes I’d watch it in my bedroom with my sisters as we fell asleep for school the next day but most of the time, the five of us would sit together and watch it in the Livingroom. Dinosaurs can now be found on Disney Plus and I hope more and more families discover this show and watch it together, new young adults learn lessons from it but most importantly of all, everyone just having a good time watching top-notch quality entertainment. There are so many episodes to discover such as “Endangered Species, What Sexual Harris Meant, Power Erupts, Nuts To War, A New Leaf, Leader Of The Pack, WESAYSO Knows Best, Network Genius, Baby Talk, Honey I Miss The Kids, The Discovery, Steroids To Heaven, If I Was A Tree, Changing Nature, Into The Woods, just add all the episodes to this list, they are all so clever, they deserve to be reviewed individually. It’s now been 30 years since Dinosaurs first premiered and to celebrate that fact The Barretta Brothers hosted a special online reunion. After properly getting to meet the people behind these characters, this entire show, you just appreciate it even more. 


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