Dinosaurs was hardly a flop at the time it was on the air.
It commanded HUGE ratings and was one of the main draws to ABC’s TGIF lineup at the time (early 90’s). I can’t imagine the balls it took to greenlight the project in the first place – They had NO pilot, since it would have cost more than a season’s worth of a standard TV show’s budget to produce, and the concept was so risky because: A) the technology they planned to use was very new and more or less untested and B) they basically sold the show on the blind faith that everyone would LOVE these characters sight unseen.
In the end, what allowed this show to exist was the timing of it all. Just a year or two earlier, The Simpsons EXPLODED on TV. The crazy popularity of a more mature prime-time animated show was not only unexpected, it was quickly envied by other stations who ALL wanted their own huge demographic cash cow. The other half of the equation was the sudden and unfortunate death of Jim Henson – which not only caused an instant craze for all of his past works, but also a passion to bring any of his unfinished projects to fruition. It just so happened that the basic concept of Dinosaurs was one of the many things he was kicking around at that time.
What shocked me was recently finding out how little of the concept Jim actually had. He had the basic idea of wanting to make a sitcom starring dinosaurs and that their society was toxic – but that’s it. When the show was greenlit, Brian Henson had to collaborate with TV veteran Michael Jacobs to be able to get the show together. He was the mind behind the topicality and the issues breached in the episodes and brought focus to the gorgeous artistic world that the Henson creature shop created. That’s not to discredit the Henson company or to put Jacobs up on a pedestal – this was a full collaboration and each needed the other to survive. (For example Jacobs tried a pitch of the same stuff he did with Dinosaurs on FOX called the OOg Show without the Henson input – and it never made it past the pilot, and the Hensons created the creatures for Aliens in the Family, a show that lasted only 8 episodes… and for good reason)
It’s an important and humbling lesson for me – that no matter how much someone is hailed as a genius or visionary, they’re usually just the charismatic leader in front of a wealth of amazing talent. *cough cough LucasCameronDisney cough cough* You may get the popularity whammy, and that’s amazing, but it always pays to remain humble, remember who helped you get where you are, and never be afraid to collaborate.
But that’s not what I’m writing about.
This is Out of the Toilet after all. A place for forgotten relics of pop culture to be raised to new heights! Why am I talking at length about something everyone seems to fondly remember?
As I said before, Dinosaurs was INSANELY popular at the time (though a bloated money suck for ABC to produce) and was the fashion of that decade, a IMMENSE amount of merchandizing was churned out for the series. (Most of it formed in the shape of the catphrase spewing Baby Sinclair)
What was forgotten about by most though, was the music album that was created for the show.
Dinosaurs Big Songs was thrown nearly directly into the discount bin upon it’s arrival at Sam Goodys across America. Instead of hanging out with the soundtracks like it should have, it was usually lumped in with the children’s CDs and tapes in unflattering packaging that didn’t let people know what gems existed therein. How could anyone take an album seriously next to Garfield meets the Smurfs audio books and Raffi cassettes?
In short – they didn’t.
The CD flopped and flopped hard. Despite the small success of the song I’m the Baby (Gotta Love Me) (mostly due to the music video they created for it and ABC using it as filler on Saturday mornings) no one bought the album or heard the songs that wasn’t a kid at the time.
I personally remember hunting down a copy and feeling like a moron for having to go to the baby section to get it. The fact that my mom was there at the time didn’t help the embarrassment factor, but I did get it – and listened to it – until I accidentally left it at a restaurant in Maine (as was the fate of many of the cassettes I bought and had carried in a carrying case I brought everywhere with me)
It really shouldn’t have flopped though. It was FAR better produced than The Simpsons album that debuted around the same time, Simpsons Sing the Blues (even though it did give us The Bartman).
Dinosaurs Big Songs not only had the same whitty and mature writing the show enjoyed, but also ran the gamut of music genres and styles. It had child oriented songs, songs teenagers (and I suppose “tweens” though that word hadn’t been coined at the time) could get a kick out of, and songs that had mature humor that adults would enjoy.
Presented now, my top 5 songs from Dinosaurs Big Songs
5) He’s a Lizard
The song is a torch song sung by Fran Sinclair and her ancient mother Ethel about Earl Sinclair – the patriarch of the family. It’s not only catchy (and hilariously heckled by Ethel) but it outlines and lampoons the odd stockholm syndrome exhibited by exploited sitcom wives, but also shows an interesting dynamic created between a mother and daughter – Ethel can clearly see that Earl is a TERRIBLE choice for her daughter. He’s a sexist, racist, foodist, fat lazy slob with no prospects aside from pushing down trees. But for all Ethel’s name calling and pointing out his flaws, Fran seems to rebel and ignore these barbs. It’s almost like she’s choosing Earl in SPITE of her mom – to get back at her for questioning and demeaning her choices.
It’s also hilarious in modern context, because Fran is voiced by Jessica Walter – Lucille Bluth of Arrested Development fame.
4)Cold Blooded Guy
ANYTHING Sherman Hemsley sings is hilarious, and this blues song sung by Earl’s boss B.P. Richfield about how much of an evil guy he is, fills me with such a joy it’s indescribable. One of the best points of Richfield is that he revels in being an evil, scary, land rapeing, exploitative bully – and that’s what makes him so compelling. If the new Muppet movie, The Muppets, had Richfield instead of Tex Richman – it might have actually been a good movie. A badguy who is ACTUALLY bad and fucking LOVES being a badguy is incalculably fun. Just look at all the fun they have with Mr Burns in The Simpsons. (even though his song sucks.)
3)In a Perfect World
Here, Charlene, the family’s only daughter, sings a do-wop song about what matters to her: Shopping and boys and wanting to be a natural blonde. We live in a very PC and progressive society nowadays in the world of media. There seems to be a need to make every woman infallible and portrayed with more gender neutral or formerly masculine-only traits. The “Strong Woman Character” as Joss Whedon has named it is all the rage nowadays (even though not everyone knows how to write for them). Now, I’ll admit that it’s really cool to open the doors to everyone for all types of characters – I also feel like some types of female characters are being washed from screens in the march toward progressive new ideals. Outside of the world of tired sitcoms that recycle the same ideas – I’m not sure if a character like Charlene could exist today… It’s regressive a bit and that’s why I like this song so much.
2) I Wanna Be King
Robbie Sinclair is the family’s forcefully idealistic and progressive son who has weekly BIG IDEAS that constantly RESHAPE SOCIETY. He toys with bucking society and becoming a herbivore. He invents a clean and free energy plant based off of the planet’s natural energy. He constantly asks WHY whenever ANYTHING is asked of him. In the show, this is shown as mostly a positive thing – progress and whatnot… though in this song we get to see the real reason why he does this. He’s an egotistical teenage boy with delusions of grandeur and has been doing so just to question authority and wrestle it away by being a dick. Robbie wants to be King of Teenage Pangea – which he explains to us through this AWESOME rock ballad. I now sing this to myself most mornings to pick myself up for the day of work.
1) Poor Slobs with Terrible Jobs
This is my favorite song by far. Sung by Earl Sinclair and his best friend Roy Hess, it’s a marathon of a song sung by the two tree pushers where they explore their doomed existence. They’re too poor, uneducated, and limited to quit their terrible jobs where they exploit the land and are insulted and threatened by their boss constantly. It’s both rousing and sad at the same time as they question the very hope of escaping the shared doomed destinies of the planet and their own miserable existence. Also, in an odd moment of foreshadowing, Earl has a moment of clarity – realizing that his tree pushing will cause the Earth to freeze… THE VERY SAME THING THAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THE SERIES CAUSING ALL THE CHARACTERS TO DIE. At the time of the recording they would have had no clue that was to be how the show would bow out – which makes the song even more weighted in relistening to it.
It does however have a really cool idea though – Roy waxes about being a Ornithologist. I think there’s something really hilarious about a dinosaur that studies birds.
BONUS: I’m the Baby (Gotta Love Me)
Didn’t think I’d close without including this did you?
It’s now stuck in your head.