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

"Dinosaurs" The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons DVD Review

Buy Dinosaurs: The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons from Amazon.com Dinosaurs: Seasons Three and Four (1992-94)
Show & DVD Details

Producers: Michael Jacobs, Bob Young, Mark Brull, Brian Henson
Regular Directors: Tom Trbovich, Bruce Bilson, Mark Brull, Jeff McCracken, Brian Henson / Regular Writers: Tim Doyle, Peter Ocko, Adam Barr, Andy Goodman, David A Caplan, Brian LaPan, Mark Drop, Kirk Thatcher, Dava Savel, Jane Espenson

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), Sherman Hemsley (B.P. Richfield), Florence Stanley (Ethyl Phillips), Christopher Meloni (Spike), Suzie Plakson (Monica)

Notable Guest Voices: Jessica Lundy (Mindy, Caroline Foxworth, More), Michael McKean (Bettleheim, Guy in Lab Coat, Myman, Dr. Herder, Inspector, Assorted), Tim Curry (Henri, Chief Elder, Winston, Devil, Jean-Claude), Jason Alexander (Stu, Grown Baby, UFO! Host/Announcer), Robert Picardo (Ted, Muse, Clerk), John Glover (Prosecutor, Babysitter), Thom Sharp (Assorted), Joe Flaherty (Chief Elder), Glenn Shadix (Ray, Monster), Richard Simmons (Richard Simmons Dinosaur), Sally Kellerman (Pternadon), Conchata Ferrell (Shelly), Charles Kimbrough (Dr. Ficus), Dan Castellaneta (Zabar), Wendy (Wendie Jo Sperber), Jon Polito (Ty Warner), Julius Carry (Mudbelly), David Warner (Spirit of the Tree), Jeffrey Tambor (Hank Hibler), Edward Asner (Evil Georgie), Steve Whitmire (Assorted), Joyce Kurtz (Assorted) / Guest Cast: Paxton Whitehead (Sir David Tushingham, voice of Judge), Bill Barretta (Rabid Caveman, Nick), Michelan Sisti (Elder Caveman)

Puppeteers: Mak Wilson (Earl), Bill Barretta (Earl), Allan Trautman (Fran), Tony Sabin Prince (Fran), Steve Whitmire (Robbie, B.P. Richfield), Leif Tilden (Robbie), Bruce Lanoil (Charlene), Michelan Sisti (Charlene), John Kennedy (Baby), Rickey Boyd (Baby), Kevin Clash (Ethyl), David Greenaway (Roy, Ethyl, Spike), Pons Maar (Roy), Julianne Buescher (Monica, Mindy), Jack Tate, Star Townshend, Terri Hardin

Running Time: 835 Minutes (36 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 1, 2007 / Airdates: September 18, 1992 - July 20, 1994
Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $29.99 (Was $39.99)
Four-sided fold-out Digipak with cardboard slipcover

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

It's Charlene Sinclair and her amazing climbing human! Sir David Tushingham (Paxton Whitehead) has an offer you can't refuse in "Dinosaurs"'s second clip show. This "Monster Under the Bed" is preparing a feast with the three swinging Sinclair siblings in the background on the menu!

Disc 3

20. We Are Not Alone (23:08) (Originally aired May 2, 1993)
While burying toxic wastes for Wesayso, Earl is visited by an alien who stresses the importance of protecting the environment. Earl spreads the word, quits his job, and quickly devotes himself to his new cause.

21. Charlene and Her Amazing Humans (23:10) (Originally aired May 9, 1993)
Charlene gets some of the attention she's been lacking with a talent show act involving three gymnastically-skilled "cavelings." Her training of the human kids leads to a gig at the State Fair, where she must be willing to push her stars far to maintain her success. Yep, it's an animal rights episode.

22. The Clip Show II (23:06) (Originally aired July 2, 1993)
Oxford Community College's Sir David Tushingham (Paxton Whitehead) returns to host another "Dinosaurs" highlights show, this one covering the thirty-one episodes since last time. This compilation is set at the "Royal Museum of Natural History" and presented as an infomercial for a paleontologists' home study course, complete with complimentary headwear.

SEASON FOUR

1. Monster Under the Bed (22:54) (Originally aired June 1, 1994)
Earl and Fran blame a streak of sleepless nights on Baby's viewing of a scary movie on TV. In fact, there really is a monster under the bed...

2. Earl, Don't Be a Hero (23:26) (Originally aired June 8, 1994)
A jump into toxic waste gives Earl superpowers. With newfound X-ray vision, flight, and weight-guessing abilities, Earl secretly assumes the role of Captain Impressive, Pangaean superhero. For once, the object of the satire -- over-the-top commercialism -- is something all viewers can appreciate.

Ethyl expects to catch up with her old friends in her high school reunion. The Baby's unbearable behavior is blamed on the "Terrible Twos." Charlene and her new friend (the last of his kind) are shocked to find the bunch beetles' mating ground replaced by a wax fruit factory.

3. The Greatest Story Ever Sold (23:24) (Originally aired June 22, 1994)
Baby's curiosity leads to all of Pangaea being crippled in existential quandary. The Council of Elders comes up with some quick and surprising answers to all of life's questions, to Robbie's disappointment. Religion and blind faith are criticized here.

4. Driving Miss Ethyl (23:25) (Originally aired June 29, 1994)
Earl drives Ethyl to her high school reunion, with many an obstacle along the way. Meanwhile, Fran and the kids have problems of their own in posing for a family photo for Earl's birthday present.

5. Earl's Big Jackpot (23:23) (Originally aired July 6, 1994)
After Earl gets injured by a tree at work, he reluctantly files a lawsuit against Wesayso and single-handedly changes the world's economy.

6. Terrible Twos (23:25) (Originally aired July 13, 1994)
Upon turning two, Baby becomes incredibly unruly. Earl and Fran enlist a variety of individuals, from a doctor to an exorcist "babysitter", to intervene.

7. Changing Nature (23:25) (Originally aired July 20, 1994)
When bunch beetles don't show up for their annual migration, Pangaea is overrun with cider poppies. Once it turns out that Wesayso's wax fruit factory is responsible for upsetting nature's balance, Richfield appoints Earl as technical advisor of a task force. Environmental preaching emerges like never before, as the dinosaur population is threatened and the series delves into sentimentality for a dark, humorless network finale.

Robbie, Earl, and Roy are sinking and Baby is their only hope in "Into the Woods." High school janitor Ray is the only male attracted to Charlene's newly-developed scent gland. "Working Girl" Charlene sees if a donut can't change Earl's mind.

Disc 4

8. Into the Woods (23:25) (Not aired until syndication)
While dropping off Baby for his solo wilderness ritual, Earl, Robbie and Roy get stuck in a tar pit. As they slowly sink to their deaths, Baby is the only hope for rescue and he gets sidetracked by a hyper new friend.

9. Scent of a Reptile (23:24) (Not aired until syndication)
Charlene develops her scent gland and the male attracted to it is Ray, her high school's custodian! Disappointed, she looks for a way to change her scent.

10. Working Girl (23:24) (Not aired until syndication)
When Earl won't pay for summer wilderness camp and no one will hire a female, Charlene pushes for equal opportunity employment and is heard. To protect Wesayso's government contracts, Richfield hires her as the tree-pushers' supervisor, throwing Earl and his cronies into a dilemma.

The Sinclairs do not enjoy Wesaysoland in "Variations on a Theme Park." Country singer sister Pearl and Earl sing a duet in "Earl and Pearl." What's better than one Barney parody? Two, fighting with each other.

11. Variations on a Theme Park (23:25) (Not aired until syndication)
Soon after the notion of "vacation" is introduced, Richfield comes up with a way to profit off it with a thriftily-constructed theme park. Earl and family show up at Wesaysoland for a two-week package and are in for quite the surprise. Disney Parks enthusiasts should appreciate the jabs here, but this is clearly a poorly-conceived parallel rather than a direct parody.

12. Life in the Faust Line (23:24) (Not aired until syndication)
Earl sells his soul to the Devil for an expensive Fernhill mug seen on TV, but -- surprise, surprise! -- it doesn't bring him the happiness he expects.

13. Earl & Pearl (23:24) (Not aired until syndication)
Earl's long-lost sister Pearl, a country singer, visits the Sinclairs. Robbie and Charlene bond with their aunt, while Roy falls in love with her, but Earl continues to hold a grudge.

14. Georgie Must Die! (23:25) (Not aired until syndication)
When Earl dresses up like Georgie, the hippo of children's television beloved by Baby and countless other kids, he winds up in jail for copyright violation. With help from two French dinosaurs, Earl breaks out of prison and looks to topple Georgie's unscrupulous empire and expose the two-faced figure behind it. With this final episode, "Dinosaurs" unleashes an all-out assault on PBS's "Barney."

Captain Impressive bears a striking resemblance to Earl Sinclair. B.P. Richfield is the series' go-to bad guy as Wesayso's ruthless boss.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like nearly all pre-high definition television series, "Dinosaurs" is presented in its 1.33:1 original "fullscreen" aspect ratio. The set pushes the boundaries of standard DVD compression with 10-episode, 4-hour discs. It's tough to say if this is definitely troublesome, but it probably contributes to shortcomings.
The visuals tend to vary from overly bright to dark; the color palette seems inconsistent from episode to episode. Only a few scenes exhibit grain, but nearly all are lacking sharpness and detail for a 1990s network TV series. It seems possible that this is how the series was shot and debuted and, of course, we must remember TV shows are shot with different budgets and technology. Still, with all the impressive picture quality found on DVDs of various ages, this presentation feels like a bit of a letdown. It's not on the order of the plainly-disregarded Disney Afternoon 'toons or "Avonlea" DVDs, but there's certainly room for improvement. The Fourth Season claims some of that room, offering some enhancements, but it too falls short of perfect remastering.

The Dolby Surround soundtrack is simple, essentially delivering two-channel stereo most of the time. Some music and effects do make their way back to the rear speakers, the latter sometimes distractingly so. Nevertheless, while this isn't an utterly engulfing aural experience, it more than gets the job done for this dialogue-driven, laugh track-free sound mix.

Kevin Clash does his Baby voice in "I'm the Baby, Gotta Love Me!!" Executive producer Brian Henson (son of Jim) reflects on "The Issues of 'Dinosaurs'." Bill Barretta has fun going out of his head in this behind-the-scenes Easter egg.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Bonus features begin with two episode audio commentaries from executive producer/director Brian Henson, writer/character designer Kirk Thatcher, and puppeteer co-stars Kevin Clash and Bill Barretta. This foursome discusses the Season 3 premiere "Nature Calls" on Disc 1 and later episode "Into the Woods" on Disc 4. Like most group tracks, the first one is lively, as the collaborators excitedly look back fifteen years at their work here. The conversation tends to be very specific to the episode and current scene, so those hoping for a general overview or assorted anecdotes may be disappointed. The talking is also quite technical, but not dry. The second track is much shorter on information and heavier on laughs.

Not the music video that was announced (which remains, as aired, the penultimate chapter of the Halloween episode), "I'm the Baby, Gotta Love Me!!" (5:45) is a short featurette on the youngest member of the Sinclair family, focusing on his design and personality. There's behind-the-scenes footage, show clips, and interview snippets from Baby/Elmo voice Kevin Clash, the other commentary participants, and creator Bob Young.

"Creatures with a Cause: The Issues of 'Dinosaurs'" (9:20) reflects on the various social topics tackled throughout the series' run. Interview comments from Young, Henson, Clash, and Thatcher are divided between relevant clips from episodes discussed. It's a short and fairly superficial piece, but it's the best general retrospective offered.

The case mentions hidden Dino Eggs and I was able to find five around Disc 4's menus. As usual, check our Guide to Easter Eggs for detailed instructions on accessing them. From the main menu, one can spot two short promos for the "Dinosaurs" premiere on TGIF/ABC; one runs 11 seconds, the other 21 (featuring Earl and Fran on "pre-marital sex") and both are fairly worn-looking. (What a tease these are, considering how many more cool TGIF promos could have likely been included.) Three more unmarked extras can be uncovered from the Bonus Features menu. One offers a behind-the-scenes look at the show's performers goofing around in costume (1:20), another finds Brian Henson talking about the poetic nature of foam latex (0:40), and the third has Kevin Clash recall meeting and knowing Jim Henson (2:03).

Disc One's Main Menu is a lot like the series' other 7 DVDs. A look at the disc art inside the case.

In a nice and unusual touch, all of the bonus features come with subtitles, even Easter Eggs and the commentaries, which identify who's speaking.

The menus are very similar to Season 1 and 2's, taking us inside caves where a character image accompanies the listings. Episodes are divided into reasonable chapter stops. Each episode retains its fun minute-long opening credits sequence, with some minor changes exhibited, mostly in the show clips that are seen.

The packaging also resembles that of the Season 1 & 2 set, only there is no slide-off top to the outer box. The four-sided Digipak inside holds the discs, overlapped, on two sides. Boasting a more encompassing family photo as a more traditional alternative to the American Gothic-inspired slipcover, the inner case also features a note from the producers along with episode and extra lists.

Disc 1 opens with trailers for The Jungle Book: 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition, Ratatouille, "Scrubs": The Complete Fifth Season, and "The Muppet Show": Season Two (no release date given).

Spending time listening to Robbie play guitar blows Earl away, literally. The youngest and oldest members of the Sinclair family share a bedtime story.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Disney has treated the second half of the innovative sitcom "Dinosaurs" to a fairly nice box set. This 36-episode collection seems needlessly tight on four discs, with profit margin conquering compression considerations, and this probably contributes to some visual shortcomings. Still, there are some nice bonus features and one can't complain over the price tag, with a selling rate of about 75 cents an episode.

The show itself holds up as good, though not superior, entertainment. Season 3 especially has some solid episodes. But an apparent shortage of original ideas seems to have been addressed by lampooning as many social and political issues as possible. Watching nearly fourteen hours of the series over the course of a week, one wonders how many times Earl and his family can make life difficult for his employer and just how many social issues can be satirized (or re-satirized, as the case sometimes is). The series tends to be at its best when not engaging in social commentary, but merely exploring the foibles of humanity, the quirks of family life, the silliness of TV and being hooked on it. When it strays, it almost feels as if the series and all the elaborate puppetry is just an excuse to preach about the environment. Through it all, however, "Dinosaurs" is frequently funny and a number of its episodes stand out as especially inspired.

Though both the show and the DVD leave some room for improvement, both still garner a light recommendation. Fans of the series should deem this a worthy companion to Seasons 1 and 2 and an appropriate, though overdue, send-off.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed April 27, 2007.