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5 Reasons You Need To Watch Dinosaurs, Disney's Weirdest TV Show

Executive producers Brian Henson and Michael Jacobs talk about making one of the 1990s' most bizarre series, which has just been released on Disney+. Is it the time right for a Dinosaurs revival?

by | February 11, 2021 | Comments

Sitcoms often have clear formulas, including what themes they cover and what they usually get away with, and shows that go outside the norm are a big gamble, like The Simpsons, or Disney’s weirdest show ever, Dinosaurs.

A sitcom about your average American family, except they are dinosaurs living in prehistoric times. The dad has a blue-collar job pushing trees, his kids disrespect him, and his boss belittles him. Though most people today would remember the show for the cute baby dinosaur with the funny catchphrase, Dinosaurs also dealt with some heavy subjects, and traumatized an entire generation with one of the most shocking finales in sitcom history.

Now that Dinosaurs is now streaming on Disney+, here are a few reasons you should watch this weird TV show.


1. IT WAS A PUPPETRY MARVEL

DINOSAURS, co-executive producer Michael Jacobs, Brian Henson

(Photo by ©Jim Henson Company/courtesy Everett Collection)

Sesame Street and The Muppet Show debuted decades earlier, but Dinosaurs was still a groundbreaking TV show in terms of puppetry. The animatronics were life-size, and almost each character came in a different shape and size, which wasn’t easy to make. But as executive producer Brian Henson — pictured above right with co-executive producer Michael Jacobs in the ’90s — told Rotten Tomatoes, the novelty made it easier for the team to push the limits on what could be done.

Dinosaurs was a sort of progression from the work we did on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Henson said. “Instead of having each individual hair move with a control, the puppeteers can push a button to control an entire expression, like surprise or joy.”

The characters in Dinosaurs range from small talking food that lives on the fridge and is controlled by hand puppets, to giant Brontosaurus named Monica who you only see from the neck up.

“It was certainly a joy, but you watch the puppeteers work and you realize that nothing like this has been done,” showrunner Jacobs told us. “Even the giant, elaborate sets had to be built differently to accommodate the puppeteers.”


2. IT WASN’T AFRAID TO GET REAL

DINOSAURS

(Photo by © Jim Henson Productions/courtesy Everett Collection)

At one point in their runs, almost every sitcom starts doing “special episodes” that are mostly morality tales ending with a very clear message about a current topic, from drugs, to sex, to stealing. But Dinosaurs went beyond that, and tackled mature subjects by weaving them into seemingly innocent storylines about dinosaurs.

“We got away with a lot of things because the show was about dinosaurs,” Henson said. “That way we could be a reflection of society rather than a direct attack. If the show was about humans, it would have been preachy, but with dinosaurs, it’s funny.”

Indeed, Dinosaurs pushed many mature topics that ’90s kids weren’t used to seeing on TV. An episode in season 2 ended up sort of encouraging drug experimentation while still working as both a preachy anti-drug episode, and a parody of similar anti-drug episodes.

“We even did several episodes about war and religion, and just about any controversial topic we could think of,” Jacobs said. “But the characters were so lovable that the audience tolerated it.”


3. IT DID BABY YODA BEFORE IT WAS COOL

DINOSAURS, Baby Sinclair

(Photo by © Jim Henson Productions/courtesy Everett Collection)

It wasn’t just that the characters were lovable, but that the show had a star in the making. Three decades before The Mandalorian’s Grogu (aka, “Baby Yoda”) melted our hearts and became a pop-culture phenomenon, there was Baby Sinclair. The youngest member of the family didn’t even have a name, but he certainly had charisma, character, and great catchphrases. Kids from the ’90s may even recognize the voice of the Baby Sinclair as that of Elmo, Kevin Clash.

“As long as the baby hit his father over the head with a pot, we were able to do anything,” Jacobs said. “We were able to cloak topicality with what was basically vaudeville.”

Almost every episode would have the baby hit his father on the head and call him “not the mama!” a catchphrase originating in the fact that the baby refuses to acknowledge his father. The result was a breakout character that even got his own theme song within the show, with a music video appearing on the show’s version of MTV. While we wait for the next season of The Mandalorian, you can watch four seasons of another puppet being cute and kind of a bully, only this one won’t force choke you.

The Baby Yoda comparison isn’t lost on Henson, who thanks the resurgence of practical effects in big-budget productions for the success of Grogu.

“A decade ago, Hollywood was over relying on CGI and making everything on the computer,” Henson said. “But now they’re realizing that you need that physicality to make the character feel real, and Baby Yoda feels real, like our baby did.”


4. IT REMAINS JUST AS RELEVANT

DINOSAURS, Robbie Sinclair

(Photo by © Jim Henson Productions/courtesy Everett Collection)

Though Dinosaurs sometimes dove into mature subjects like sexuality and drugs, there was one theme that was always present in the show: environmentalism. From the very beginning, the idea of the show was that the domestication of dinosaurs was what caused them to go extinct, which meant that they could always call into question people’s behavior and how we are destroying the world — but it’s dinosaurs doing it.

Dinosaurs didn’t pull punches regarding modern topics, and when it came to the environment, they took off the gloves entirely and went straight for the knock-out. Many character and family names throughout the show are taken from oil companies, like Sinclair, Phillips, Hess, and the dad’s boss, B.P. Richfield. Though the show remains just as funny as it did back in the ’90s, it sadly remains just as timely, something that is not lost on either Henson or Jacobs.

“I’ve seen YouTube videos comparing Richfield and Trump, and a lot of the dialogue is almost verbatim,” Jacobs said. “These characterizations and what we were able to do certainly mirror, if not the reality, then certainly what would become the reality.”

Henson added: “It’s a bit depressing. It’s great that the show is still popular, but sad that we still are facing the same problems we did back then, and not much has changed.”


5. THE SERIES FINALE WILL HAUNT YOUR DREAMS

DINOSAURS, Baby Sinclair s4, ep14 screencap

(Photo by © Walt Disney Television)

If the show was about how little humans care for the environment and how they take everything for granted, then the finale was all about bringing the themes of the show to their inevitable climax: mass extinction. That’s right, a kid-friendly show about a family of dinosaurs ends with everyone freezing to death as the ice age is brought upon by none other than the dad, Earl Sinclair (voiced by Stuart Pankin).

“I got a call from the president of ABC at the time saying ‘over my dead body are you killing that baby dinosaur,’ and I told him to get the encyclopedia and find the word ‘extinct,'” Jacobs recalled. “But the idea was that, as much as we think we know of the world, we may be utterly unaware of what will come for us if we are not vigilant.”

The final scene, in which Earl has to face his family and tell them that he screwed up, while the world enters an ice age, remains emotionally devastating for a show that featured a baby hitting his dad on the head with a pan. Not many shows end with its entire cast dead, but Dinosaurs went a step further and killed the entire planet and — supposedly — any chance of it returning.


BONUS: DINOSAURS COULD BE REVIVED

DINOSAURS, Baby Sinclair, Earl Sinclair,

(Photo by © Jim Henson Productions)

Though Dinosaurs has been off the air for almost 27 years, it is more relevant than ever, something that is not lost on Jacobs. He even revealed that he’s been in talks for a potential return of the show.

“I’ve been talking with Brian, and I have an idea which unfortunately is pretty dark,” Jacobs said. “I think we would probably have to start out pretty light and funny before going into a darker territory. But it’s a very different world, it’s freezing out there.”

When asked how he’d do Dinosaurs differently in 2021, Jacobs had a clear idea in mind.

“It’d be very topical, and we’d talk a lot more about global warming and the environment,” Jacobs said. “Robbie and Charlene would be activists and would attack their father for what he does for a living. I think the dinner table conversations would be spectacular. I think Dinosaurs could continue and not miss a step.”

Dinosaurs is now streaming on Disney+.

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