Some may ask; "why?" It's no mystery, really. Kids love things that are different, out of the ordinary. Vast, colossal skeletons displayed in many museums across the world. They're fantastic without being fantasy. We only know about dinosaurs from decades of research and assumptions - what they ate, where they roamed, how they died. But most of all, they're big and scary, which most kids think is "epic".
And it is from the encyclopaedic research and various discoveries that feeds the imaginations for film-makers and writers the world over. Palaeontologist Bob Bakker described dinosaurs as "nature's special effects" - which fits the theme of this blog very nicely given how many books and kid's shows all focus on the same prehistoric theme.
Since then, Dinosaurs have remained as popular as ever, especially for the animation genre. When movies like Godzilla and Land of the Lost were first released, the very earliest versions were created entirely with stop-motion animation, which - while some may think dated - was part of the spark that's helped to inspire thousands ever since. In Godzilla's case, it's finding ways of adapting the same story but with new and effective technology, as this year's theatrical release has proven.
As well as this, many animation studios never miss a chance to parody such movies, or use the prehistoric setting, for further storytelling / comedy potential. Thus, we've seen such characters as Daffy Duck, Popeye, Dexter's Laboratory, the Pink Panther, Huckleberry Hound, etc encountering dinosaurs in one shape or another.
|The Flintstone's own pet Snorkasaurus, 'Dino', starred in a handful of solo shorts as part of Cartoon Network's "What a Cartoon!" series in the '90s.|
But then again, it is still a cartoon, so...back on topic.
Steven Spielberg, without any doubt, is one of the biggest dinosaur heads in Hollywood - you need only look at the number of movies he's produced and directed throughout his career. Time and again, he's become the benchmark for all things dinosaur, showcasing impressive animatronics and animation over the years.
Many fans will always remember him for his multi-million franchise Jurassic Park, which followed one of (many) themes of bringing the dinosaurs back from the dead and into the "modern" world.
But another movie he was also involved in was We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story. Based on the children's book of the same name, this early '90's animated feature is partly told from the perspective of Rex the Tyrannosaurs (voiced by John Goodman), who tells of how he and a few other 'saurs were given super intelligence by an alien scientist - whose purpose is to show children across the world real dinosaurs. But the dinosaurs themselves have to try and avoid becoming part of the "Eccentric Circus" manned by the sinister Professor Screweyes...
That said, another animated movie that has always stood out is The Land Before Time (1988). Co-produced along with George Lucas, this is what many consider to be Don Bluth's magnum opus. It focused on the story of five young dinosaurs, separated from their families after an earthquake destroyed their home, and embarking together on a dangerous journey to the Great Valley, a land spared from devastation - along the way, they are followed by the savage Tyrannosaurus Rex while facing many perils of the evolving Earth...
As with many of his films, Bluth did not shy away from displaying death and intense scenes whilst also telling a heartfelt story - in particular, the death of Littlefoot the Apatosaurus' mother after being attacked by the Tyrannosaurus. But here, Spielberg and Lucas realised that there were scenes that were too dark for children - many of which were cut and destroyed, according to various sources.
Nevertheless, the movie was a critical and financial success. So much so that in keeping with its popularity, a sequel was developed in 1994...then 11 more followed...and then a TV Series in 2007. As with most sequels, these were created without Don Bluth's supervision and, as one might well expect, all of which were far more light-hearted and "child-friendly", with none of the dramatic storytelling that the first movie had to offer.
Mind you, it's thanks to the success of Land Before Time that several other shows were created in its wake to keep with the "fad" while it was still fresh.
One that definitely comes to mind is Dink the Little Dinosaur (1989). Produced by Ruby-Spears production (Fangface, Alvin and the Chipmunks), it almost mirrors Land Before Time in terms of its similar-looking cast - Dink being an Apatosaurus like Littlefoot, Flapper a Pteranodon like the nervous Petrie - and their home known as the 'Green Meadow' may seem a little like the 'Great Valley' to some.
However, there are still plenty of differences here that set the two apart. Apart from a choice of various dinosaur characters / species, the youngsters were guided by Crusty, an elderly turtle (or Proganochelys) as they learn the usual life-lessons about friendship, etc. In addition, they also educated viewers with "Factasaurus" segments, which often focused on a particular dinosaur per episode.
In fact, when done right, dinosaurs can offer a lot of educational factor. Denver the Last Dinosaur followed the adventures of an unusually intelligent dinosaur, hatched in "modern day" (for 1990) California and befriended by a gang of teenagers. Many remember this series for teaching viewers eye-opening lessons about conservation, ecology, and friendship - and of course, dinosaurs on the side.
Sometimes, they're also handy in the pre-school market - showing youngsters that not all dinosaurs have to be scary. Harry and his Bucket Full of Dinosaurs started out as a popular series of books, written and drawn by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds, which told the stories of 5-year-old Harry and his toy dinosaurs. In time, these paved the way for an animated series in 2006, co-produced by Collingwood & Co (formerly Collingwood O'Hare), where thanks to his imagination, Harry's dinosaurs became real as he would jump into his little bucket and visit Dino Land. And through these adventures, Harry returns to the real world a little bit wiser about a particular subject or lesson he is anxious to learn about.
Jim Henson's Dinosaur Train (2009) combines two popular interests for kids: dinosaurs and locomotives. Created by Craig Bartlett (of Hey Arnold! fame), the series followed Buddy, a young Tyrannosaurus Rex adopted by a family of Pteranodons. Whenever Buddy has a question about his prehistoric world, he and his friends travel on the Dinosaur Train to find the answer. As well as visiting volcanoes, jungles and oceans, it can also pass through the magical Time Tunnel, visiting other time periods of the Mesozoic Era - Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. It should be noted that this is one of the few shows produced by Jim Henson that has been created in CGI than with puppets.
Although it should be important to note that Jim Henson created another series about Dinosaurs earlier than that, back in the mid-90's. In a similar lifestyle echoing the Flintstones, this once-popular comedy series focused on a family of dinosaurs living in "modern day" Pangaea - set in 60,000,003 BC. A lot of new animatronic technology was developed to set the dinosaurs as far apart from their predecessors, the Muppets, as possible - which was met with very pleasing results.
Much of the series deprived its humour from Earl Sinclair as he tries to juggle family life with work - in particular Baby Sinclair, known for such catchphrases as "Not The Momma!" However, this being a family prime-time show, it also covered various other topical matters such as civil rights, body image, drug abuse and environmentalism. In fact, the finale of the series gave an ironic if bitter-sweet twist which saw the Dinosaurs accidentally causing their own extinction by creating the Ice Age...
In fact, Disney's lesser-known movie Dinosaur (2000) was one of the studio's first breaks into CGI animation - in that the characters were rendered on computer whilst the locations were filmed in grassy locals such as Canaima National Park in Venezuela. Sadly, despite being a box office success, the animation couldn't make up for the storyline, which reviewers claimed was "generic and dull", and slightly hampered by the fact that the characters began talking after the stunning opening shot (a similar issue which was the major downfall to the feature-length adaptation of Walking with Dinosaurs). And as with The Black Cauldron, Disney have quietly shunted this into the background...
Another popular aspect has been combining dinosaurs with technology - in particular, robots. More often than not they're played mostly for action or drama, case in point with the Dinobots in the Transformers universe, or the Dino-Riders created by Carla and Gerry Cornway.
In similar vein, Steve Cole has also been doing quite nicely with his series of Astrosaurs books - which in a nutshell is about dinosaurs in space...
None of this was carried over to the American adaptation, which was markedly different - focusing upon the return of Power Rangers legend, Tommy Oliver, who had become a PHD in palaeontology and taken up a position at Reefside High as a Science teacher, where he finds himself returning to his superhero roots and donning the spandex again, this time as acting as both a mentor and a team player into the bargain - instead of Rita Repulsa and her minions, who just wanted to conquer the earth, he and his young team mates were facing off against the evil Mesagog, the Mr Hyde creation of an experiment gone wrong by the scientist, Anton Mercer, Tommy's former employer when doing his PHD work.
|Rex's little "cameo" in Pixar's 'Monsters, Inc'...|
I remember a good number of dinosaur-related shows from Children's BBC as a youngster, a few which included a number of imports overseas. Some shows would try to relate to their audience by showcasing the main characters as children - like Dilly the Dinosaur, who was always getting into trouble and, when frustrated, would let loose his "ultra-special, 150-mile-per-hour super-scream". Or there were the Dino Babies, who would use their imaginations to retell a particular story, from the usual Fairy Tales to literature classics like Peter Pan.
Other Dinosaur-themed shows would often focus on bizarre yet fun storytelling. Like FilmFair / Cookie Jar Group's lesser-seem Moschops, narrated by the very enthusiastic Bernard Cribbens. Or Hairy Jeremy by Pierre Scarella, which was originally a French production translated especially for the BBC among other shows during the 90's. And who could forget the ever-hungry Australian-imported Greedysaurs Gang?
Dick King-Smith's Dinosaur Trouble - a charming story about how Pterodactyls and Apatosauruses used to disdain one another until the new-borns from each family worked out a way for them all to become friends. In doing so, both families were able to protect one another from the terrible Tyrannosaurs known as "Hack the Ripper"...
Then there is the ever-popular B.C, created by the late Johnny Hart and which continues today by members of the Hart family - with its absurd look on life and current events through cave people and various prehistoric animals.
Or if you're especially lucky, if you happen to collect Beano comics, you might just find the lesser-spotted Dean's Dino, one of John Geering's final contributions for the popular British Comic before his passing in 1999, which told of the mad adventures between a boy and his dinosaur
originally pitched as a newspaper comic strip, artist J. J. Barney and writer Cary Bates are hoping to develop it for animation instead. Although as this idea has been circulating the interwebs for goodness-how-long, it's anyone's guess whether it'll be picked up or not.
So as you can see, Dinosaurs are pretty versatile when handled right. They're so popular in media and in print, that trying to name every single one here would be a task in itself.
But just like Vampires or Dragons or McBusted, they won't be going away any time soon - whether they're used as a sub-plot, the main storyline or acting as supporting characters. In fact, Pixar have another original movie in the works under the title "The Good Dinosaur"...which is currently undergoing major redevelopment on last hearing.
|Tina as seen in 'The Amazing World of Gumball'|