At first, when I heard that Dinosaurs was coming to Disney+, I wasn’t that excited because I didn’t intend to still be subscribed to it that that point. But now it appears that the only way to watch the last two seasons of The Muppet Show may be on Disney+, so I’m going to hold out on cancelling my subscription until I’ve watched all the episodes I haven’t seen.
With the purported Muppet Show release still being several weeks away, I’ve been revisiting Dinosaurs. It’s been a real treat, first, to remember how much I loved it in the first place and, second, to get all the jokes that went over my head when I watched it as a kid during its original run.
I recently found a YouTube video about the “Top 10 Dinosaurs Episodes” and was surprised to find that only one of them was one that I find particularly memorable and enjoyable (and one is an episode that I actively dislike after watching it again with the benefit of an adult perspective). So I decided to write my own post about my favorite Dinosaurs episodes. Between the time that the original run ended and the series’ streaming release, I haven’t seen much of it since. Therefore, my list is limited to five favorites. These are not all the episodes that I find memorable, but the memories I have of these episodes give me the most enjoyment.
5. “A New Leaf” (aka, The One With the Happy Plant”)
I’ve sometimes said that Dinosaurs was my first real introduction to satire. Sesame Street did parodies, but that’s not necessarily the same thing, although there is sometimes some overlap between the two. Having recently revisited The Jim Henson Hour, I realize that it’s very satirical too, but Dinosaurs may have been my first experience with satire that was accessible to me.
Every ’80s kid, and everyone who’s ever seen an ’80s sitcom, is familiar with the “Very Special Episodes” they used to have in which the characters would address a serious issue in an unwontedly heavy-handed way. So the bit at the end of this episode in which “Robert Sinclair” breaks the fourth wall and gives a speech about putting an end to preachy sitcom endings by saying “no” to drugs was extremely funny. In my opinion, however, this also makes “A New Leaf” the most dated episode of a series that has generally held up remarkably well, since Seinfeld all but killed off the “Very Special Episode,” and now public opinion highly favors legalizing marijuana. Turning over a new leaf, indeed.
This episode is a very good showcase of Steve Whitmire’s talents as both Robbie and Richfield. When Dinosaurs was on the air originally, I didn’t even know who Steve was, yet coincidentally (or not?) his two main characters were my favorites. I loved that Robbie was usually the first, and sometimes the only, dinosaur willing to stand up for what is right. As for Richfield, he’s in the love-to-hate category because his villainy is so cartoonishly over the top.
4. “Little Boy Boo” (aka, The One Where Robbie Tells Baby a Werewolf Story”)
Robbie’s story is entertaining enough on its own, but what really makes this one memorable for me is that it purports to explain the prehistoric origins of Halloween traditions. (“Maybe we should wear costumes” … “nah!”) It’s even more fun for me now knowing that the caveman who bites Robbie and the one he turns into are played by Bill Barretta and Kirk Thatcher, respectively.
I know that they call the creature that Robbie morphs into a “were-man” so people understand that it’s supposed to be analogous to the werewolf legends. Nevertheless, the language nerd in me has to point out that the prefix “were-” literally means “man”; therefore, “were-man” is redundant. It would be more accurate to say something like “saur-man,” but then people might not get the connection.
3. “And the Winner Is…” (aka, The One Where Baby Sinclair Officially Gets His Name)
The main point of this story is that the leader of the dinosaurs, the Chief Elder, dies in the middle of giving the youngest Sinclair a name. The dinosaurs then have to hold an election in which “monstrous, bloodthirsty psychopath” Richfield and “self-confessed brain-dead ignoramus” Earl face off against each other. Like a lot of Dinosaurs episodes, this one is almost disturbingly timely, and it’s a sad commentary that Pangaea’s election turns out to the less chaotic than the most recent one here in the U.S.
What really makes this episode memorable for me, however, are the silly names. Baby Sinclair is initially dubbed, “Aagh, Aagh! I’m Dying, You Idiot,” and mention is also made of “Cousin Achoo” and “*BURP* Excuse Me Siegelman.” Every time they use one of these in casual conversation, it cracks me up.
2. “The Last Temptation of Ethyl” (aka, The One With the Near-Death Experiences )
When I was a kid, we had a couple of Dinosaurs episodes taped off the TV. I think we had this one and “A New Leaf,” which would explain why they’re two of the ones I remember the best. The things I remember most about this episode are the revamped fundraising-oriented lyrics to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and Earl apologizing to Fran for burying her mother by buying her a card written and marketed specifically for that purpose. I remember that my younger brother and I used to repeat one of Earl’s lines from that scene to one another and then laugh uproariously: “Yesterday! Yesterday I buried [your mother]! Today I brought her soup! Now we’re even-steven!”
1. Endangered Species (aka, The One With the Grapdelites)
This episode is another good showcase for Steve’s talents performing both Robbie and Richfield. It’s interesting that he played two characters on the show that are such complete foils for one another. When Richfield isn’t a outright antagonist, as he is in this episode, he’s the voice of the oppressive hegemony, whereas Robbie is the show’s moral center, one of the few dinosaurs to be proactive in challenging injustice in the status quo.
Over time, standing up for what was right became Robbie’s defining character trait, but at the beginning of the series, he had more “typical” teenage concerns, e.g., trying to get good grades and dates with girls. This was one of the first, if not the first episode, in which he faced a real existential dilemma. The way I see it, this episode planted the seeds of the character direction that Robbie would grow in throughout the series.
On the other side of the coin, the way that Richfield manipulates Earl into putting trust in corporations so he can get the grapdelites is hugely applicable to Disney operations in general and the Schism in particular, so it’s even more ironic that Steve was the main performer for Richfield. If I know the mainstream fandom, however, the irony will probably go completely over their heads, which is a shame.
I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here before, but Bill Barretta (who, if anyone is unaware, was the suit performer for Earl on Dinosaurs) and his brother Gene have a weekly vodcast (i.e., video podcast) on YouTube, appropriately called “The Barretta Brothers.” They spent the month of January leading up to the Disney+ release of Dinosaurs with a series of talks with cast and crew. Steve was on during week 2, and if you didn’t see it, suffice it to say it was a wild ride. “Barretta Brothers” is a fun show in general, and the series (for lack of a better word) they did about Dinosaurs is well worth a watch because it offers unexpected insights into the making of it.