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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 (Pteranodon), 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

"Dinosaurs", one of the few network sitcoms to air in primetime with Walt Disney Television branding, returns to DVD next week in The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons box set. It does so just like it made its format debut last year, arriving in early May holding roughly half the series on four discs.

Created by Bob Young and Michael Jacobs and produced by Jacobs' and the late Jim Henson's respective companies, "Dinosaurs" spent two full seasons and two abbreviated ones in the early 1990s depicting the titular prehistoric creatures in an unconventional way. On the brink of extinction, these dinosaurs live in families, wear clothes, and usually speak in perfect English.
Their problems -- related to work, relationships, and society -- should be plenty familiar to modern viewers because they're the ones actually on display through heavy use of satire.

Members of the series' central family, the Sinclairs, haven't changed much since we first met them. Earl, the hefty father, is still the focal point and these later episodes find his initial Homer Simpson-type aloofness developing into Archie Bunker-type prejudice. As his sensible wife, Fran rarely gets to do anything more interesting than provide the voice of reason; like some other sitcom moms, she just about never does anything funny. The couple's two teenaged kids provide contrast and conflict: cause-conscious Robbie and the slightly younger, somewhat ditzy Charlene rarely have their interests in the same place. The Sinclairs' third child, known simply as Baby, would become arguably the series' most loved (and hated) character, his my-way-now mentality and bizarre one-liners translating into a popular pull-string doll from Hasbro early in the series' run. While young Baby grabs spotlight of individual episodes only as often as his siblings, the character makes the most of his time on screen, reflecting that the series' producers are well aware of his large fanbase.

Earl Sinclair gets promoted to TV network executive in one of Season 3's better episodes. The part of Earl appears to be played by a snowman in this Sinclair family photo shoot.

The same cannot be said for Ethyl, Fran's aging mother who, though supposedly living with the Sinclairs, wheels out of the picture for most of Seasons 3 and 4, remaining absent in all but the few episodes in which she appears prominently. More frequently seen among the recurring characters is Roy Hess, Earl's simple-minded but good-natured best friend/co-worker who turns up in nearly every episode. In addition, there is B.P. Richfield, Earl's impossible, stationary boss. Also still appearing from time-to-time are Monica DeVertebrae, the forward-thinking blue brontosaurus who is both friend and neighbor to Fran; Spike, Robbie's laid-back school chum of questionable influence; and Mindy, Charlene's token pal.

The majority of "Dinosaurs" episodes are clearly meant to work on two levels, by parodying modern-day American life or historical events with a vocabulary and context merging dinosaur and Stone Age life. As such, the series is heavy on social issues, commenting here on gender, the environment, race, doctors, performance-enhancing drugs, workplace politics, the environment, religion, the economy, Native Americans and the environment. It doesn't take deductive prowess or vast intelligence to pick up on what's being targeted and when.

Unfortunately, the series often stumbles when it's preaching or satirizing. Hot button topics are depicted with broad strokes of black and white, right and wrong. Typically, if the thick-headed Earl has an idea or argument, viewers are supposed to recognize the error of its ways and laugh. Unfortunately, though the issues of "Dinosaurs" largely haven't become outdated in the 13-15 years since these episodes originally aired, the series just isn't as entertaining or likable when it's pushing a message. It's not that its intentions are misguided. It's just the show's snide, one-sided treatment of its ideas turn them into liberal agendas rather than merely topics, and the comedy sometimes suffers as a result.

Baby Sinclair gets a hip music video for his song, "I'm the Baby." Fran teaches Robbie and his classmates about The Mating Dance. In other words, it's a sex ed class.

"Dinosaurs" is far more successful when the objects of its lampoons are less political. Sinclair family life revolves heavily around the television and this device enables some of the series' funniest moments.
Two episodes early in Season 3 delve into self-referential comedy by poking fun at network executives and research practices at the Antediluvian Broadcasting Company (ABC). Other '90s series are regularly spoofed, often in a humorous way. The show roasts its fellow '90s television dinosaur Barney multiple times with jabs at "Blarney." Later, in the final episode presented, a hippo named Georgie features in what amounts to the lengthiest assault on the purple PBS icon.

"Dinosaurs" began its third season where it launched and where it ended its second season: ABC's Friday night "TGIF" lineup. There, it followed network staple "Family Matters" and sophomore sitcom "Step by Step" and was itself followed by "Camp Wilder", a new family sitcom that was canceled after the February 1993 sweeps. "Dinosaurs" survived the season, but only narrowly. From May of 1993 to May of 1994, the only episode to debut was a second highlights compilation. In the 1993-94 season, a new Michael Jacobs sitcom (the enduring "Boy Meets World") would be sandwiched between "Family Matters" and "Step By Step", with "Dinosaurs" getting bumped in the process.

"Dinosaurs" resurfaced in June of 1994, this time on Wednesday nights (where it had spent most of Season 2). Alas, by the end of July, the series was officially axed, with only half of the final fourteen episodes having aired. Still, those final episodes brought "Dinosaurs"' total to 65, a magic number in the world of TV syndication, where weekday airings can provide a quarter of the year's worth of airtime before starting all over again. Disney Channel, the UK's ITV, and other outlets proved a viable showcase for the series.

Television is a regular staple of life on "Dinosaurs", and so DNN correspondent Howard Handupme is regularly the Sinclairs' link to the outside world. Censorship gone too far finds Earl wearing something called "pants" in "Baby Talk."

While "Dinosaurs" was never among the highest-rated television series, its ambitious design surely contributed to its fairly quick demise. The characters are brought to life with a mix of animatronics, puppetry, and burdened costumed performers. Visual effects we take for granted today were, even just last decade, highly demanding of both time and money, two things that are limited on a weekly TV series. Signs of cost-cutting become pretty evident in these final two seasons. Supporting characters are frequently recycled from earlier guests. The rare crowd scene is often composed of just three or four characters duplicated several times. Perhaps tied to the budget-watching (or sheer laziness), noteworthy guest stars nearly come to a halt, as almost all non-core roles are assigned to just a handful of comedic individuals, most often Michael McKean, Tim Curry, Jason Alexander, Thom Sharp, and Joe Flaherty. Between this and the recycled character design, few guests make any kind of lasting impression.

Nevertheless, the unique palette of the series contributes to its appeal, which lives on today. Though "Dinosaurs" has been off the air in most places for quite some time,
fond memories, a greater than usual marketing push, and a mindful fanbase helped last May's First and Second Seasons release chart among the week's best DVD sellers. I imagine the show's absence from television is also a factor in the DVD's success.

Of course, that's not to take away from the series itself, which is, and remains, plenty entertaining. "Dinosaurs" didn't rewrite the family sitcom and its technically-advanced approach never really caught on. But its spirit of poking fun at modern living has remained present via its interminable predecessor "The Simpsons" and other enduring animated derivatives. "Dinosaurs" offers something unique and it holds up as easy to watch and reliably engaging. Technical limitations and a penchant to preach can be overlooked to enjoy yet another take on the family situation comedy.

The Complete Third and Fourth Season DVD packs the show's final 36 episodes on just four discs. Succinct episode synopses follow. Eleven standout episodes from this collection are indicated by a star ().

Earl tries to potty train Baby in "Nature Calls." Daily Volcano spreads the news, as Earl becomes a "Network Genius." It's sort of like "The Barefoot Executive." Roy and Earl discover a brave new world while playing a round of golf.


Disc 1

1. Nature Calls (23:02) (Originally aired September 18, 1992)
Tradition gets challenged when Fran puts Earl in charge of the baby's diaper changes. Difficult potty training sessions yield trouble when Baby goes missing in the wild and Earl fears his son has been flushed.

2. Baby Talk (22:51) (Originally aired October 2, 1992)
When Baby won't stop repeating a dirty word he heard on television ("smoo"), Earl organizes protests to get the expletive-happy network to clean up the airwaves. Witty commentary on censorship, TV, and parenting ensues.

3. Network Genius (23:15) (Originally aried October 16, 1992)
A mall survey leads to Earl becoming a TV network executive and changing the face of primetime, but his decisions evoke an outbreak of stupidity. Needless to say, contemporary shows and network practices are once again lampooned.

4. The Discovery (23:05) (Originally aired October 23, 1992)
During a company golf tournament, Earl discovers a vast uncharted world, occupied only by "savage" cavemen. When Robbie and Baby go missing, hostility divides the dinosaurs and the humans. Political jabs return, as the denuding explorers vs. shafted natives clearly satirizes early American history.

5. Little Boy Boo (22:17) (Originally aired October 30, 1992)
Alone with his brother Baby, Robbie tells about the time a rabid caveman bite turned him into a wereman. (The story bears some resemblance to "Who's Afraid of Cory Wolf?", the 1994 Halloween episode of Michael Jacobs' subsequent Disney sitcom "Boy Meets World.") The episode concludes with Baby's "I'm the Baby" music video, unrelated to the rest of the show.

This doctor asserts his authority when Baby gets sick in "Germ Warfare." A family drive gets interrupted when Earl gets pulled over...by Pangea Parent Patrol! Charlene has a good idea, thanks to a muse and this orange.

6. Germ Warfare (23:07) (Originally aired November 6, 1992)
When Baby gets very sick, Earl and Fran are compelled to buy very expensive medicine for their son. Doctors, more than the health care system, get lampooned here.

7. Hungry for Love (23:07) (Originally aired November 13, 1992)
When Robbie begins dating Richfield's daughter Wendy, Earl hopes to keep them together (and his boss happy). But the relationship is threatened when Robbie learns his new girlfriend is "an eater."

8. License to Parent (23:07) (Originally aired November 20, 1992)
Earl's poor treatment of Baby gets him in trouble with Pangaea's Parent Patrol, revoking his parent's license and bringing a by-the-book officer into the Sinclairs' home.

9. Charlene's Flat World (23:04) (Originally aired December 4, 1992)
Thanks to a muse, Charlene comes up with the idea that the world is round for a science class project. There's a downside to her uncharacteristic moment of brilliance; however, she's soon put on trial for heresy.

Charlene's face doesn't contain the good kind of surprise that surprise birthday parties are supposed to yield. Supporting characters unite in holy matrimony, as Roy and Monica get hitched in "Green Card." A series of frying pan commercials make Baby a cool child celebrity.

Disc 2

10. Wilderness Weekend (23:00) (Originally aired December 18, 1992)
Robbie reluctantly joins Earl and his friends for a men's weekend that celebrates dinosaurs' savage past. Meanwhile, Fran and the ladies drink beer at home. Naturally, gender roles get reversed.

11. The Son Also Rises (23:00) (Originally aired January 8, 1993)
Robbie battles Earl and wins, making him the supreme male of the Sinclair family. Though it at first seems glorious, the "head of the household thing" soon burdens the teen with responsibilities. In other words, there's more role reversal.

12. Getting To Know You (23:09) (Originally aired January 15, 1993)
Disappointed by the surprise birthday party her family throws her, Charlene enrolls in a species exchange program. She moves in with a distant family of birds, whose teenaged son Francois stays with the Sinclairs. This episode targets snooty, Jerry Lewis-loving French people as well as close-minded attitudes towards foreigners.

13. Green Card (23:09) (Originally aired January 29, 1993)
When all of Wesayso's tree-pushers are fired, blame is pointed at four-legged dinosaurs. To prevent Monica from being banished with the rest of her kind, Roy marries her. Modern-day government, unemployment, and immigration are satirized here.

14. Out of the Frying Pan (23:09) (Originally aired February 5, 1993)
Baby becomes a child celebrity when he is picked as the star of frying pan commercials. The Sinclairs are pulled apart as Fran gets caught up in a being a showbiz mom.

Robbie shows off his new thornoid-enhanced physique in the cleverly-named "Steroids to Heaven." Want to hear "real music"? Then look up these swamp mammals on the other side of the tracks. If Earl were a tree, then "Dinosaurs" viewers would be treated with more environmentalist preaching.

15. Steroids to Heaven (23:09) (Originally aired February 12, 1993)
Upon learning that his love interest considers him just a friend, Robbie looks to bulk himself up. When training with Earl doesn't yield fast results, he turns to mass-building thornoids, at the cost of side effects.

16. Honey, I Miss the Kids (23:08) (Originally aired February 19, 1993)
Fed up with the demands of motherhood, Fran takes on a new job.
Earl supports her, under the assumption she'll soon miss the kids and quit. Not everything goes to plan.

17. Swamp Music (23:09) (Originally aired February 26, 1993)
Robbie's visit across the tracks with Spike lets him discover "real music" from swamp mammals. When he encourages the band to pursue a record deal, all are in for disappointment. The appropriation of African-American jazz is clearly the plight recreated here.

18. Dirty Dancin' (22:58) (Originally aired March 12, 1993)
After Robbie has a mating dance dream, Earl and Fran disagree over how to handle their son's maturation. In one of the most sexually-charged episodes in sitcom history, sex education, prostitution, and even masturbation are tackled, all under the more family-friendly veil of "mating dance."

19. If You Were a Tree (23:10) (Originally aired April 18, 1993)
In Ethyl's bedtime story for Baby, Earl is struck by lightning and switches souls with a tree. Both the tree Earl and the dinosaur version (who now sounds British) display new ecological awareness.

Buy Dinosaurs: Seasons 3 and 4 from Amazon.com

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Reviewed April 27, 2007.