The show utilized voice actors for the characters, which are performed by different actors and puppeteers.
News stories written at the time of the show's premiere highlighted Dinosaurs' connection to Jim Henson, who died the year before. "Jim Henson dreamed up the show's basic concept about three years ago," said a New York Times article in April 1991. "'He wanted it to be a sitcom with a pretty standard structure, with the biggest differences being that it's a family of dinosaurs and their society has this strange toxic life style,' said his son Brian Henson. But until The Simpsons took off, said Alex Rockwell, a vice president of the Henson organization, 'people thought it was a crazy idea.'"
In the late 1980s, Jim Henson worked with illustrator/designer William Stout on a feature film starring animatronic dinosaurs with the working title of The Natural History Project; a 1993 article in The New Yorker said that Henson continued to work on a dinosaur project (presumably the Dinosaurs concept) until the "last months of his life."
Dinosaurs is initially set in 60,000,003 BC in Pangaea. The show centers on the Sinclair family: Earl Sinclair, the father; Fran Sinclair, the mother; Robbie Sinclair, the son; Charlene Sinclair, the daughter; Baby Sinclair, the baby; and Grandmother Ethyl Phillips.
Earl's job is to push over trees for the WESAYSO Corporation with his friend and coworker Roy Hess. Earl and Roy's boss is named B.P. Richfield.
The Sinclair name is a reference to the Sinclair Oil Corporation, which uses a dinosaur in its logo. The names Phillips, Hess, Richfield and B.P. (known as BP) are also the names of petroleum companies, further referencing the common belief that dinosaurs were one of the organic origins of petroleum.
One of the show's most popular characters is the mischievous Baby (occasionally referred to as "Junior" until the second season, where he was officially named "Baby Sinclair").
Baby's most famous catchphrase is "Not the mama!", shouted while hitting Earl repeatedly over the head with a frying pan. Frequently, when Baby should be hurt (such as after having been hurled through the air), he will throw his arms up enthusiastically and exclaim, "Again!" A music video was produced for a song based on another of Baby's catchphrases, "I'm the Baby, Gotta Love Me".
In 1992, a full music CD titled "Dinosaurios: Big Songs" was released in Mexico containing 12 song tracks related to the show and the characters. The CD contained the Spanish cover version of "I'm the Baby" titled "Soy el nene". In 1995, this song was also covered in Brazil by Maria Leal, Brazilian Dinosaurs' version voice for Baby. The song was titled "Eu sou o Baby, tem que me amar".
The Sinclair family members all appear to belong to wildly different species of dinosaurs. Humans have appeared in several episodes as caveman, and the dinosaur characters often expressed the belief that humans could never develop intelligence. Earl's favorite show on T.V. features a talking caveman named "Mr. Ugh" further expressing the dinosaurs' belief that humans are stupid. A recurring joke is that the dinosaurs do not know how to tell male and female humans apart and usually switch them in conversation. In one episode, "The Mating Dance", which zookeepers unknowingly pair two obviously male humans together and cannot figure out why they will not produce offspring. There are also other recurring characters, typically Earl's WESAYSO Corporation co-workers.
- Friday at 8:30-9:00 PM on ABC: April 26—May 24, 1991
- Wednesday at 8:00-8:30 PM on ABC: September 18, 1991—February 26, 1992; June 1—July 20, 1994
- Friday at 9:00-9:30 PM on ABC: March 27, 1992—March 12, 1993; July 2, 1993
- Sunday at 7:30-8:00 PM on ABC: April 18—May 9, 1993
Topical issues featured in Dinosaurs include environmentalism, endangered species, women's rights, sexual harassment, objectification of women, censorship, civil rights, body image, steroid use, allusions to masturbation (in the form of Robbie getting caught doing a mating dance by himself), drug abuse, racism (in the form of problems between the biped dinosaurs and the quadruped dinosaurs), peer pressure, rights of indigenous peoples, corporate crime, government interference of parenting, allusions to homosexuality, and pacifism (in the guise of herbivorism).
The two-part episode "Nuts to War", in which the two-legged dinosaurs go to war with the four-legged dinosaurs over rights to pistachio trees, aired in February and March 1992, and was almost certainly in response to the Persian Gulf War. Dialogue in the episode addresses war profiteering (by the WESAYSO Corporation of B.P. Richfield, Earl's boss, which sells weaponry to both sides), the casualties of war (limited to one two-legger, which the Sinclair family thought for a time was Robbie), the war's use as a distraction from domestic issues during an election year, government suppression of information, and the harassment of the antiwar movement. The (politically) hawkish dinosaurs created a catchphrase for their political party: "We Are Right" (W.A.R.). Earl, originally a hawk but later disillusioned, takes to protesting the war with a sign reading "Pistachio Eaters Against the Chief Elder" (P.E.A.C.E.), a backronym.
In the episode "I Never Ate for My Father", in lieu of carnivorism, Robbie chooses to eat vegetables, and the other characters liken this to homosexuality, irreverence, vegetarianism, communism, and drug abuse.
In the final season, "The Greatest Story Ever Sold" (a take off of The Greatest Story Ever Told) even references religion when the Sinclair family becomes eager to learn the meaning of their existence. The Elders dictate a new system of beliefs, and the entire cast (with the exception of Robbie) abandons science to blindly following the newly popular "Potato-ism." The religion arbitrarily brings about a set of strange and pointless rules that they decree all dinosaurs must adhere to, possibly a parody of the Ten Commandments. Robbie and a reluctant Earl refuse to follow the rules leading to their punishment of being burned at the stake. Just as they are about to be executed, the fire mysteriously goes out. The dinosaurs realize they have been lied to, and the two are allowed to go free. The episode ends with Robbie asking where stars come from and Earl replies he had never thought about it but that he would now. Another religious-themed episode was "The Last Temptation of Ethyl", in which Ethyl willingly allows a televangelist to exploit her near-death experience to extort money from followers; she backs out after having a second such experience, where instead of heaven, she experiences a "place not so nice": an existence surrounded by nothing but multiple Earl Sinclairs.
In another episode, Earl switches bodies with a tree and raises the issue of conservation. This is more dramatically explored in the series finale.
The series finale of Dinosaurs depicts the irresponsible actions of the dinosaurs toward their environment, and the ensuing Ice Age which leads to their demise. The episode "Changing Nature" begins with the failure of a swarm of Bunch Beetles to show up and devour a form of creeper vine. Charlene discovers that WESAYSO has constructed a wax fruit factory on the swampland that serves as the Bunch Beetles' breeding grounds, causing the extinction of the species (save for one male named Stan). Fearing a public relations fiasco more than any environmental threat, WESAYSO quickly puts Earl in charge of an attempt to destroy the vines, which have grown out of control without the beetles to keep them in check. Earl proposes spraying the planet with defoliant, which causes the destruction of the vines, but also kills off all plant life on the planet. Richfield assumes that the creation of clouds will bring rain, allowing the plants to grow back, and so decides to create clouds by dropping bombs in the planet's volcanoes to cause eruptions and cloud cover. The dark clouds instead cause global cooling, in the form of a gigantic cloudcover (simulating the effects of what the viewer would recognize as nuclear winter) that scientists estimate would take "tens of thousands of years" to dissipate. Richfield dismisses this as a cold snap and states that WESAYSO is currently producing blankets, heaters, and hot cocoa to help guarantee the dinosaurs' survival. Later, Earl apologizes to his family and Stan for his actions. The episode ends with Howard Handupme as he finishes his broadcast grimly saying "Good Night... Goodbye" to the audience.
The episode was a marked change from the series' normal humor. "Changing Nature" merited a special parental warning in TV Guide's listings during the week that it aired, cautioning that its subject matter might frighten or disturb younger viewers.
The series finale was episode 58 ("Changing Nature"). Episodes 59 – 65 were filmed but never shown during the original broadcast. They were later shown in syndication.
Shows within the show
While Dinosaurs was a TV show, several jokes in the series were at the expense of television shows in general. Earl often wants to watch TV rather than do something more practical, and several jokes accuse television of "dumbing down" the population and making it lazy. Four episodes had themes related to television. In "Family Challenge", Earl gets the family to go on a game show in order to win a new TV when both of the household's televisions are destroyed. In "Fran Live", Fran gets a call-in show when she suggests that the host of the show "Just Listening With Frank" should give advice rather than just listen. In "Network Genius", Earl starts working for ABC (the Antediluvian Broadcasting Company) and recommends several "stupid" shows for the network; when these shows drastically reduce the IQ of the population, he recommends "smart" shows to save the world. In "Georgie Must Die", Earl attempts to thwart the evil plans of an orange hippo named Georgie reminiscent of Barney from the PBS series Barney & Friends and Barney and the Backyard Gang. "The Last Temptation of Ethyl" is a double spoof of Unsolved Mysteries and TV evangelists.
A few characters in the shows within Dinosaurs made repeat appearances. Howard Handupme, whose name was a reference to the fact that he was a hand puppet, was the standard news anchor for the Dinosaur News Network (DNN). DNN's news commentator, Edward R. Hero, is an obvious reference to legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow. Mr. Lizard, a parody of Mr. Wizard, was a scientist demonstrating several dangerous aspects of nature and science for his child assistant, who inevitably died in each episode (by such methods as watching the effects of what happens when you put an open flame next to a mixture of sulfur, potassium nitrate, and charcoal (black powder); having Timmy see how a rocket engine works by sticking his head into the exhaust while Mr. Lizard turns it on; and the effects of putting nitroglycerine in a blender), prompting Mr. Lizard to quip, "We're going to need another Timmy!" Captain Action Figure shows up in children's programming that Fran mistakes for a commercial. Whenever Captain Action Figure mentions a product, the screen flashes "Tell Mommy I WANT THAT!". Before the appearance of Georgie, Dinosaurs used a puppet highly reminiscent of Barney named "Blarney" in two episodes. During his appearances, members of the Sinclair family commented on his annoying characteristics and failure to teach anything to children.
In the United Kingdom, the show was screened on ITV in 1992 and in reruns from 1995 to 2002 on Disney Channel. In Canada the show started airing reruns in 1992 and aired them until the late 1990s. In Australia, the show started airing on the Seven Network from February 1992 through to 1995. In Ireland, in the mid-1990s, it was shown on a Sunday evening on RTÉ Two (known as network 2 back then).
On May 2, 2006, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Seasons as a four-disc DVD box set. The DVD set includes "exclusive bonus features including a never-before-seen look at the making of Dinosaurs". The complete third and fourth seasons, also a four-disc DVD set, were released May 1, 2007 with special features, including the episodes not aired on US TV. Both sets are currently available only in Region 1. As of September 2012, all seasons are available for streaming on Netflix, but are in the wrong order for unknown reasons.
- Many of the dinosaur characters' names were based on the names of oil companies (Sinclair, Phillips, Hess, Richfield) or the categories of fuels they produced, like Ethyl. Sinclair Oil in particular is known for its dinosaur mascot.
- B.P. Richfield's first and middle initials were inspired by British Petroleum.
- Seven episodes of the show were filmed and produced, but did not air in the initial run of the series. They were however included in the syndication package.
- At one point a Dinosaurs movie was planned, but never produced.
- In 1993, Michael Jacobs produced a pilot for Fox, referred to as First Family and The Ooog Show, which would have focused on cavemen and essentially continued the same concept as dinosaurs with mammals. Jacobs and Dinosaurs staff writers Tim Doyle and Bob Young wrote the script. The cast included several Dinosaurs alums: Joe Flaherty starred as caveman patriarch Ooog, while guest actors in the pilot included Suzie Plakson as Zsa Zsa and Michelan Sisti as "4th Caveman." The series was not picked up.
- Dave Goelz - Earl Sinclair (head) (Season 1-2)
- Steve Whitmire - Robbie Sinclair (head), Bradley P. Richfield (body & face), Mr. Mason Dixon, Judge H.T. Stone (body & face)
- Kevin Clash - Baby Sinclair (body & mouth), Dinosaur Chief (face), Mr. Ashland
- Bill Barretta - Earl Sneed Sinclair (body)
- Rickey Boyd - Ethyl Phillips (body & face) (Seasons 3-4)
- Julianne Buescher - Ansel (face), Caroline Foxworth (face & voice), Baby Sinclair (arms) (Season 4), Wendy Richfield (face), Thighs of Thunder (face)
- Kevin Carlson - Various characters
- Mitchell Young Evans - Fran Sinclair (body) (Season 1; Season 2, episode 6 only)
- Tom Fisher - The Babysitter (body), Earl Sneed Sinclair (body) (occasionally), The Doctor (body), Glenda Molehill (body), Heather Worthington (body)
- David Greenaway - Roy Hess (face), Buddy Glimmer (face), Ed (face), The Doctor (face), Gus Molehill (face), Bob the DMV Worker (face), Mr. Myman (face), Jean-Claude (face), Officer Bettelheim (face), Zabar (face), Job Wizard (face)
- Terri Hardin - Baby Sinclair (arms) (Seasons 1-3), Heather Worthington (face)
- Brian Henson - Ethyl Phillips (body & face) (Seasons 1-2)
- John Kennedy - Baby Sinclair (eyes)
- Bruce Lanoil - Charlene Sinclair (face), The Babysitter (face), The Devil (face), Mel Luster (face), Walter Sternhagen (face), Dr. Ficus (face), Glenda Molehill (face), Al Harris (face), The Clerk (face), The Insurance Agent (face), UFO Host (face)
- Arlene Lorre - Charlene Sinclair (body) (Season 1, episode 1 only)
- Pons Maar - Roy Hess (body), Fran Sinclair (body) (Season 1, third & forth episode only), Ansel (body), Bert (body), Chef (body), Decker (body), The Devil (body), Dr. Ficus (body), Larry (body), Scabby (body), Walter Sternhagen (body)
- Noel MacNeal - Various characters
- Drew Massey - Various characters
- Rob Mills - Robbie Sinclair (face) (occasionally), Bradley P. Richfield (body & face) (occasionally)
- James Murray - Various characters
- David Rudman - Various characters
- Tony Sabin Prince - Fran Sinclair (body), Les (body)
- Michelan Sisti - The Folk Singer (body), General H. Norman Conquest (body), UFO Host (body), Zabar (body), Jean-Claude (body), The Dinosaur Chief (body)
- Jodi St. Michael - Clerk (body)
- Jack Tate - Andre (body), The Job Wizard, Bob, Dolf, Elder, Georgie, Gus Molehill, Hank Hibler, Jerry Valentine, Insurance Agent, The Job Wizard, Lucius, Mel Luster, Ray Gherkin, Richard, Sarge, Sexual Harris, Shelly, Solomon the Great, Stu Boombird
- Leif Tilden - Robbie Sinclair (body), Muse (body), Mr. Myman (body)
- Allan Trautman - Fran Sinclair (face)
- Mak Wilson - Earl Sinclair (face) (Seasons 2-4), Andre (face)
- Stuart Pankin - Earl Sneed Sinclair
- Jessica Walter - Frances Sinclair
- Jason Willinger - Robbie Sinclair
- Sally Struthers - Charlene Sinclair
- Kevin Clash - Baby Sinclair
- Sam McMurray - Roy Hess, Andre, Dolph, The Doctor, Stan the Bunch Beetle, Buddy Glimmer, WESAYSO Interviewer
- Florence Stanley - Ethyl Phillips
- Sherman Hemsley - Bradley P. Richfield
- Suzie Plakson - Monica DeVertebrae, Elder #3, Sally
- Christopher Meloni - Spike
Guest and Support Voices: Jason Alexander, Shaun Baker, Jason Bernard, Pat Crawford Brown, Stephen Caffrey, Ken Hudson Campbell, Tim Curry, Michael Dorn, Conchata Ferrell, Joe Flaherty, George Gaynes, John Glover, Buddy Hackett, Jack Harrell, Sally Kellerman, Mimi Kennedy, Joyce Kurtz, David Leisure, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jessica Lundy, Edie McClurg, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Michael McKean, Susan Norfleet, Gary Owens, Robert Picardo, Glenn Shadix, Thom Sharp, Richard Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor, Fred Travalena, John Vernon, Paxton Whitehead, David Wohl Mak Wilson Christopher Meloni
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