The Sinclair family never stood a chance.
Even though there are many ways to wrap up a series, screenwriters often choose to end their show on a positive note. This is especially true for comedy series, and even more so with the ones that have children as their target audiences. For relatively the short-lived comedy Dinosaurs, however, it was a whole other game. Centered around a prehistoric dinosaur family, the four-season show created by Jim Henson, Michael Jacobs, and Bob Young reached the end of its run on a pretty dark note.
Of course, it’s not surprising that a show about dinosaurs foreshadows all of its characters’ extinction, but on closer analysis, the series does a lot more than that. In an interview with Dinosaurs producer Kirk Thatcher, Collider’s own Editor-in-Chief Steve Weintraub talked about the message that the show sent, as well as how its final episode aged surprisingly well when you consider the issues that it was pointing at.
In the interview, Thatcher reveals the episode was based on a story that he wrote, and the whole team was on board. If you can’t remember, the episode centers around an environmental crisis created by corporate greed. In the story, a species of beetles goes extinct because their breeding ground gets paved over with a parking lot for a wax company. This ends up creating an environmental chain reaction that starts an Ice Age. The episode never shows the dinosaurs freezing to death, but it’s pretty easy to see that this is the direction that the story goes after the credits roll.
Thatcher also mentions that no one was opposed to the dark ending because the series constantly critiqued human disregard for its own existence in its episodes, and the accidental nuclear winter was a perfect fit to the series:
“[T]he whole story, back to when Jim and I were brainstorming, the whole series was dinosaur-thinking, and thinking that you could do whatever you want, and you’re the apex predator and the planet is yours, and it doesn’t matter what you kill, or eat, or destroy because you’re the biggest SOB in the valley. It worked as a thematic end to a show that was about exactly that. It was about dinosaur-thinking that could cause your own demise. […] It was very on-point with the premise, that this kind of thinking will get you in, I would say hot water, but in this case, cold water. So yeah, we shot it, and it was, I thought, the perfect ending. I’ve had probably over a hundred millennials, anyone who’s like 30 to 35, come up to me over the years and say, ‘You destroyed me. I was wrecked.’ And I said, ‘Well, to be fair, we didn’t kill them.’ You just saw the dad’s like, ‘We’ve been around for a million years, what could possibly go wrong?’ And it was snowing, and they didn’t see them frozen to death, but it’s funny, in kids’ minds – well, who are now adults – but they’re like, ‘No, they died. You saw them frozen to death.’ I’m like, ‘No. They were inside with snow falling going, ‘What are we going to do?’”
Thatcher underscores that the core of Dinosaurs was always “a lot of social commentary,” but the thing is, back then, some problems that the show highlighted didn’t feel so urgent, and now they do. He correlates it with stories they heard at the time of the show’s creation, stating “Back then they were saying if there’s a colony collapse syndrome, that’s been going now for 20-30 years, they said if all the bees were eradicated, in about three years there’d be no food because without some kind of drone pollination or something. So it was just to bring up that kind of story in a way that was palatable.”
Dinosaurs ran on ABC from 1991 to 1995. It featured actors in bodysuits whose performances got dubbed over by voice actors like Jessica Walter, Stuart Pankin, Jason Willinger, Sally Struthers, and Kevin Clash. Aside from its social commentary, the series also centered around perfectly normal events from family sitcoms, like having parties, going to work, surviving predators’ attacks, and others. The series was hugely popular among 90s kids, who today can look back on it and notice its more incisive critiques of modern society.
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