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Dinosaurs on DVD: Seasons 1 & 2 Seasons 3 & 4

"Dinosaurs" The Complete First and Second Seasons DVD Review

Buy Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Seasons from Amazon.com Dinosaurs: Seasons One and Two (1991-92)
Show & DVD Details
Creators / Producers: Michael Jacobs, Bob Young / Producer: Brian Henson
Regular Directors: Tom Trbovich, Bruce Bilson, Jay Dubin, Reza Badiyi
Regular Writers: Rob Ulin, Dava Savel, David A. Caplan, Brian Lapan, Tim Doyle

Voice Cast: Stuart Pankin (Earl Sinclair), Jessica Walter (Fran Sinclair), Jason Willinger (Robbie Sinclair), Sally Struthers (Charlene Sinclair), Kevin Clash (Baby Sinclair), Sam McMurray (Roy Hess), Florence Stanley (Ethyl Phillips), Sherman Hemsley (B.P. Richfield), Christopher Meloni (Spike), Suzie Plakson (Monica)

Notable Guest Voices: Jason Alexander (The Job Wizard, Gus Molehill, Al "Sexual" Harris, General H. Norman Conquest), Michael Dorn (Elders, Solomon the Great), Tim Curry (Fox Jacket, Pterodactyl), Sam McMurray (Wesayso Interviewer, The Doctor, Buddy Glimmer, Scabby, Andre), Thom Sharp (Richard, Frank), Brian Henson (Arthur Rizzie), Richard Portnow (Mel Luster), Harold Gould (Dinosaur Chief), Tim Doyle (General Chow), David Wohl (Bob the DMV Worker), Mimi Kennedy (Glenda Molehill), David Leisure (Mr. Teddy Wolfe), Tony Shalhoub (Jerry), John Vernon (Mr. Ashland), Edie McClurg (Shopper), William Schallert (Wesayso Scientist), Buddy Hackett (Louie), George Gaynes (Elder in Chief), G.W. Bailey (Sarge), John Glover (Lucius), Gary Owens (Narrator), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Heather), Jessica Lundy (Mindy), Ken Hudson Campbell (Crazy Lou), Michael Richards (Director) / Guest Cast: Hanna Cutrona (Sparky), Paxton Whitehead (Sir David Tushingham), Michelan Sisti (Mr. Ugh, Caveperson), Paula Marshall (Caveperson)

Puppeteers: Dave Goelz (Earl Sinclair), Bill Barretta (Earl Sinclair), Mak Wilson (Earl Sinclair), Allan Trautman (Fran Sinclair), Tony Sabin Prince (Fran Sinclair), Mitchel Young Evans (Fran Sinclair), Steve Whitmire (Robbie Sinclair, B.P. Richfield), Leif Tilden (Robbie Sinclair), Bruce Lanoil (Charlene Sinclair), Michelan Sisti (Charlene Sinclair), John Kennedy (Baby), Kevin Clash (Ethyl), David Greenaway (Roy Hess, Ethyl, Spike), Pons Maar (Roy Hess, Fran Sinclair), Brian Henson (Ethyl), Julianne Buescher (Monica), Bruce Lanoil, Jack Tate, Michelan Sisti (Assorted)

Running Time: 677 Minutes (29 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-PG equivalent)
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: May 2, 2006 / Airdates: April 26, 1991 - May 8, 1992
Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $39.99 $29.99
Four-sided fold-out Digipak with pull-off cardboard slipcover

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Page 1: Show Discussion, Disc 1, Disc 2, and Disc 3
Page 2: Disc 4, Video/Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Dino-Eggs, Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

Episode synopses continue below. A star () denotes my ten favorite episodes in the set.

Both father and son are high as a kite in "A New Leaf." "Dinosaurs" parodies its chief Season 2 competiton. Fran bids farewell to Robbie in the misfire two-parter "Nuts to War."

Disc 4

17. A New Leaf (23:33) (Originally aired February 5, 1992)
A typical father/son dispute between leads Robbie to wander into the woods with his friend Spike, where they discover a plant which makes them inexplicably and extremely happy. Robbie takes it home to his family and Earl takes a liking to it. Bringing it to work gets him blissfully fired and his co-workers and boss hooked on the potent plant.
The family's munchies and uncharacteristic tendencies leads Fran to seek intervention in this episode, which clearly speaks of the highs and lows of drugs, complete with a very funny message on preachy sitcom endings delivered straight at the camera by Robbie.

18. The Last Temptation of Ethel (23:19) (Originally aired February 12, 1992)
No one wants to spend time with Ethyl and she ends up dying and being buried by Earl and Roy. Laughing about death is never easy to swallow, and that's especially the case here, even when Ethyl is told in the afterlife that she is not yet expected, leaving her not really dead and having to dig her way up. The incident soon winds up on "Mysteries That Haven't Been Solved Yet" (an obvious allusion to "Unsolved Mysteries", NBC's direct Wednesday night competition to "Dinosaurs", which takes several clear potshots), which leads to Ethyl getting her own series, "The Afterlife Show" and nearly dying yet again. The listed title appears to be a typo; everywhere else, the character is identified as "Ethyl" including several times in on-screen text in this very episode.

19. Nuts to War - Part 1 (23:11) (Originally aired February 26, 1992)
When the world's supply of pistachio nuts comes into question, Earl is troubled and so are all as war quickly breaks out. "Dinosaurs" takes on the air of "sweeping miniseries", with an interesting set of dramatic, sky-backed character credits leading into civil war between two-legged and four-legged dinosaurs. A fair amount of the episode offers anti-war commentary (that would seem to hark to the recent Gulf War) and tongue-in-cheek observations of modern warfare from television commercials selling the fight to selective news reporting. Some may find this especially relevant today; others may prefer politics left out of their comedy. Either way, here you learn the origins of "war" (it stems from the slogan "We Are Right") and see how the Sinclairs are in the middle of things, as Robbie ships off and Charlene is called upon to entertain the troops.

20. Nuts to War - Part 2 (23:37) (Originally aired March 4, 1992)
After a sped-up recap, the series continues its civil war miniseries motif, beginning with a stage act in which Earl and Roy (in drag) join Charlene to entertain the soldiers. When one boy dies, Earl stands up against the war, with repercussions. Baby even finds himself in combat, as things get a little dumb. Furthering the miniseries idea, this episode is divided into "Part Three: Nuts at the Front" and "Part Four: The Price of War" (the preceding episode offered "Part One: Nuts in Jeopardy" and "Part Two: Nuts in Contention").

Earl runs for chief elder in "And The Winner Is..." Robbie is the Scavengers' new leader. Something's not right here.

21. And The Winner Is... (23:04) (Originally aired March 27, 1992)
Earl and Fran finally take the baby to get named by the chief elder, who declares the tot "Augh Augh I'm Dying You Idiot" Sinclair and, well, you can guess what happens. B.P. Richfield seeks to become the new chief elder and gets Earl to run as an unthreatening competitor whose feeble campaign he will provide. But somewhere along the line, Earl decides he'd like to win. He invokes his family and flag and instantly finds himself ahead in the polls. Baby eventually does get a new name in this episode, in which the political comedy is gladly less biting and more entertaining.

22. Slave to Fashion (23:28) (Originally aired March 30, 1992)
Charlene longs for a $500 fox coat and when neither her mother nor father will dish out the dough, Ethyl dips into the girl's college fund to help out. But once the coat opens its mouth (thanks to Tim Curry), it hurts things for Charlene's lone friend introduced only moments earlier and does not win over those with the status she seeks, like Heather (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

23. Leader of the Pack (23:19) (Originally aired April 24, 1992)
After a wild pack beats him up, Robbie wants to join Spike's gang, the Scavengers. Once inside, they bully him until he gets drunk and they suspect he has eaten their leader Andre. By default, Robbie becomes the gang's new leader and while he tries to introduce change to their bullying ways, he soon learns this is not a goal easily achieved and that his new position is not one that can simply be stepped down from.

24. WESAYSO Knows Best (23:15) (Originally aired May 8, 1992)
In order to improve the public's perception of the Wesayso Corporation, B.P. Richfield teams up with a director to film a number of "perfect family" commercials. The Sinclairs cancel their picnic plans to audition for the ads and they get the part under the condition that Roy stands in for Earl. To prevent the truth from coming out, Richfield insists that Roy actually moves in with the Sinclairs, leaving alone and depressed Earl to mope at the bar.

Earl tries to keep Robbie a carnovaur with a colorful swamp hunt. The Sinclairs' home as seen in plenty an establishing shot.

VIDEO and AUDIO

In what will come as a surprise only to the most aloof, "Dinosaurs" is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen, matching the dimensions of its original airings. The picture is a little grainy and murky at times (especially in the first few episodes), but the element is largely untroubled outside of a few very minor but noticeable video flaws. Sharpness and detail are not what you'd expect for a present-day creation but are pretty good for a 15-year-old program, allowing the DVD to excel beyond the initial broadcast quality. The show's palette -- orange-heavy and often fairly dark -- is not the most aesthetically pleasing, but lighting seems to improve as the series moves on.
Colors seem a little overbright or hazy on occasion, though this is usually limited to the opening title sequence, where one can spot a bit of bleeding. To quickly sum up, the video falls short of perfection, but not enough so to consider problematic and it's still quite a bit better than the left-to-chance transfers of the Disney TV shows released to DVD last November.

Sound comes by way of a Dolby Surround track, which just barely distinguishes itself from two-channel stereo. The few ambient noises in outdoor sequences (such as Earl and Robbie's father/son hunt) are noticeable, complimentary to the on-screen action, and appreciated. Only music (like the opening theme and end credits tune) and a handful of effects make their way to the rear speakers channel. Otherwise, the steady flow of dialogue emanates clearly from the front. The volume levels are a little inconsistent; the opening and closing sequences are a bit louder than the rest of the show, and even these will require turning the dynamics a little above norms. On the other hand, the menu soundtrack is quite a bit louder than all parts of the program, leaving episode-by-episode viewers to get slightly blasted after each show. All in all, though, while this lone audio offering is anything but a house-rocker, it's quite sufficient and slightly better than expected of an early '90s sitcom.

Co-executive producer Brian Henson reflects on the series in "Pre-Hysterical Times." Remote puppeteer Allan Trautman demonstrates how he governs Fran's facial movements. Kirk Thatcher demonstrates the original design of Ethyl as a pterodactyl.

BONUS FEATURES

Though there are only two labeled bonus features, "Dinosaurs"' DVD debut still fares better than a number of Buena Vista's sitcoms, as both are newly-created and worthwhile. (Not that archival footage should be hard-to-produce or disappointing.) Both features are found on Disc 1.

First, there is the featurette "Pre-Hysterical Times: The Making of Dinosaurs" (13:25), which relies upon a few clips from the show and more so new interview footage with key creative members:
producer Brian Henson, creator/producer Bob Young, creator/producer Michael Jacobs, designer/co-producer/writer Kirk Thatcher, puppeteers Bill Barretta and Allan Trautman, sculptor Peter Brooke, and machinist John Criswell. They cover most of the bases you would expect, from the project's origins with Jim Henson to the ambitious (and expensive) nature of the series to its ability to tackle contemporary issues. Barretta and Trautman discuss how two puppeteers collaborated together and Trautman demonstrates the remote controlling side of it. From the number of participants, you'd probably expect an extended and more comprehensive retrospective (especially in the absence of audio commentaries), but even though certain aspects are neglected (like the voice cast), this is a very good and fairly encompassing piece. Something of this nature should be a minimal requirement for all shows popular enough to come to DVD.

Next up is "Creating Dinosaurs: The Sketches That Started It All" (4:00), in which character designer Kirk Thatcher talks about the evolution of the "Dinosaurs" cast and illustrates the sometimes extreme differences between initial designs and final looks. For instance, Ethyl was envisioned as an eternally upside-down pterodactyl before the limitations of such a concept were realized. There is a little overlap with the general featurette's development discussion, which is sort of surprising since you'd think there would be a lot to say on such an elaborate, demanding series. Still, though brief, this is a neat little supplement.

Previews appear at the start of Disc 1 to promote Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, "Scrubs": The Complete Third Season, "The Golden Girls": The Complete Fifth Season, and "The Muppet Show": Season 1. The Sneak Peeks Menu's offerings also skew more towards the second name on the cover (Jim Henson Productions) than the first (Michael Jacobs Productions), thus promos are found for The Muppets' Wizard of Oz and the Kermit's 50th Anniversary reissues, but not for any "Boy Meets World" season. Additional spots tout Leroy & Stitch and the Shadows in the Sun/Everything You Want combo that few seem to care about, outside of BVHE.

Some people like to discover Easter eggs on their own. If you believe part of the pleasure from these unannounced, unlabeled bonus features comes from uncovering them all on your own, feel free to skip this next section. Otherwise, you can proceed, but know that while the page in question will be revealed, the specific egg location won't be, keeping some of the mystery (and explorative fun) alive.

Michael Jacobs, of (soothing guitar chord) Michael Jacobs Productions explains what all the characters' names have in common in this Disc 1 Easter Egg. "Not the Mama" answers a couple of questions in separate Easter Eggs. Bill Barretta shows off the three parts of Earl in this hidden scrapbook supplement.

MENUS and DINO-EGGS (a.k.a. Easter Eggs)

The Main Menu on each disc takes you into a prehistoric cave featuring a picture of one of the Sinclairs. The free-spirited second half of the theme song accompanies the main menu, while the dramatic opening joins the episode selection pages. As mentioned earlier, the music on the menus is a bit louder than the show soundtrack itself.

When Disc 1's selection screens first load, the cursor is highlighted on an egg in the title "Dinosaurs" (the O, in case that's not apparent), which alerts you to the presence of Easter Eggs, or "Dino-Eggs", as they're called here. This first one is merely a 20-second introduction from producer Brian Henson who tells you there are more to be found. The next one that shows up on Disc 1's Main Menu is a little talk by Bill Barretta (2:22) about what it was like to be inside of Earl, with limited visibility and mobility. The default cursor position helps make this first platter's Dino-Eggs more accessible than others.

Also on Disc 1, in the Set Up Menu, one can cover a 40-second clip with creator/executive producer Michael Jacobs, who points out something that all the character names have in common.

From Disc 2's Set Up Menu, there is the first of two "Ask Earl" archive clips on the set. This one (0:25) lets the paterfamilias answer the question "What's your favorite kind of dinosaur?" On the same disc,
the second page of the Episode Selection menu (hint: close to "Endangered Species") yields a goofy 23-second clip of Bill Barretta and Allan Trautman explaining the significance of the series.

Moving onto Disc 3, we find the second "Ask Earl" clip (0:20), in which the flannel-clad megalosaurus answers "What's the message behind 'Dinosaurs'?" Also on Disc 3, from the Set Up Menu, there is another short clip (0:15) with Barretta and Trautman, who share a trouser size factoid as well as joking directions to other Easter eggs on the DVD. The platter's longest extra (1:50) can be found on the first page of the Episode Selection menu (by "Refrigerator Day"). In it, Baretta explains how Baby was operated by taking us inside the actual puppet.

On Disc 4, in what is perhaps the most interesting Easter egg, Bill Barretta shares some behind-the-scenes photos (1:22) from a scrapbook his wife made for him. I can't help but feel that this was a bit over-edited, but there are still some interesting stills to be seen. Finally, the first Episode Selection menu page on the last platter also holds an 10-second clip in which suit designer Peter Brooke reveals three of the characters' middle or maiden names.

Disc 1's Main Menu is matched by the subsequent discs; a cave, a fire, and a Sinclair on the wall. Look at Baby with an egg on his chin! The "Dinosaurs" slipcover does not merely duplicate inside artwork.

PACKAGING and DESIGN

Packaging is a little different from the Buena Vista sitcom norm in that it has been condensed. The outer slipcover opens up about a third of the way down to reveal a four-sided Digipak inside. The four discs are held in an overlapping fashion on two sides, while the final two provide a clever front cover reveal (Baby's hatching), episode listings, and a note from Brian Henson, Michael Jacobs, and Bob Young. Each disc (which is in the semi-holographic style of all the studio's 2006 DVDs) features a different member of the Sinclair family. No booklet or insert of any other kind is found.

As seems to be the norm, each episode is divided into chapter stops but offers no dedicated scene menu. There are four breaks per episode; one after the one-minute opening title sequence (fully preserved on each episode, with one intentional, comic exception) and the rest timed to commercial break fadeouts. The first episode retains a memorial tribute to Jim Henson at its beginning; Henson passed away from bacterial pneumonia less than a year before "Dinosaurs" debuted. Like most modern television series, each episode ends with its share of closing credit graphics. The "Michael Jacobs Productions" logo changes from Season 1 to Season 2, and then again after the sophomore season's third episode to match the logo that most (and by "most", I mean "I") associate with "Boy Meets World" (sans the soothing guitar chords). A few episodes are oddly missing the two "Disney" logos at the very end, though the end credits music proceeds as if they are there.

The Sinclairs watch television just like families watched them on television. Bizarre! Baby and Earl duel for the title of "Most Popular 'Dinosaurs' Character."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Technically ambitious and thematically familiar, "Dinosaurs" never got the high ratings or long life that the family sitcoms it resembled did. Still, while it doesn't represent the best work of most of the parties involved, it does succeed quite well as entertainment on its own merits. The years that have passed since the show ended have not rendered the contemporary comedy too dated, but have enabled plenty to develop a fondness for the program and a longing to revisit it. This 4-disc DVD, housing The Complete First and Second Seasons, serves that end dutifully, presenting nearly half of the series with sufficient picture and sound plus a handful of decent bonuses. Very reasonably priced and with no legal alternative, this collection will be a no-brainer purchase for anyone with good memories of this early '90s comedy. It also merits a fair recommendation for the unacquainted. It's not quite the grand slam you'd expect from the makers of The Muppets and "Boy Meets World" and it's sometimes edgy for something bearing the Disney name, but it's funny and clever enough to easily overlook its shortcomings and enjoy at face value.

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Page 1: Show Discussion, Disc 1, Disc 2, and Disc 3
Page 2: Disc 4, Video/Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Dino-Eggs, Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

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Reviewed May 3, 2006.