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"Open the door, get on the floor, everyone walk" ... to Disney-MGM's old "Dinosaurs Live" show

"Open the door, get on the floor, everyone walk" ... to Disney-MGM's old "Dinosaurs Live" show

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How many of you remember "Dinosaurs"? That quirky sitcom that aired on ABC from April of 1991 through July of 1994?


Copyright 2006 Walt Disney Home Entertainment

These days, this Walt Disney Television production (Which was produced in association with Michael Jacobs Productions & Jim Henson Productions) is mostly thought of as a "Simpsons" wannabe. A TV series that Disney quickly rushed into production, with the hope that the Mouse would then wind up with its very own Bart Simpson.

Truth be told, Jim Henson's original concept for "Dinosaurs" actually predated Matt Groening's idea for "The Simpsons" by more than a decade. As far back as the 1970s, Jim had talked about wanting to do a "Honeymooners" -esque sitcom which starred dinosaurs. Where the short-sighted behaviors of these enormous reptiles could then be used as a comical means to comment on today's society.

Given that it was Henson's original concept that provided the creative spark for "Dinosaurs" ... Well, that explains why the very first episode of this ABC sitcom started off by showing this very special title card.


Copyright 2006 Walt Disney Home Entertainment

But Jim did lots more than just provide the initial creative spark for "Dinosaurs." By that I mean: It was Henson himself who (right before he died in May of 1990) asked designer Kirk Thatcher to put together some sketches of what the characters for this sitcom might look like.


Kirk Thatcher with the original concept painting for Baby Sinclair
Copyright 2006 Walt Disney Home Entertainment

And it was Jim who hired all of those talented technicians who worked at the Creature Shop. Who built the first set of animatronics-filled suits that were used in the production of this program.


Puppeteer Allan Trautman working the rig for a
stripped-down version of Fran Sinclair
Copyright 2006 Walt Disney Home Entertainment

And given the huge ratings that "Dinosaurs" got when it initially debuted on ABC back on April 26, 1991 ... Well, Disney thought that it had a smash hit on its hands. Which is why the company moved quickly to try & capitalize on the Sinclair clan.


Copyright 2006 Walt Disney Home Entertainment

"And how exactly did Disney do that?," you ask. Well, how many of you remember WDW's 20th anniversary celebration. In particular the "Surprise Celebration" parade that ran through the Magic Kingdom each day as part of that event?

Below, you'll see a picture of the Roger Rabbit falloon. Which was the lead float of the "Surprise Celebration" parade. Now if you look closely at the front of the float, you'll see a family of four seated on a bench just below the Roger Rabbit rubberhead.


Photo by Jeff Lange

"What are those WDW guests doing there?," you query. Well, those lucky folks were the "Surprise Family of the Day." The family that was selected out of the thousands of people who visited the Magic Kingdom that day to be the honorary grand marshalls of the "Surprise Celebration" parade.

Now how many of you remember that -- from September of 1991 through August of 1992 -- Disney-MGM Studios had its very own "Surprise Celebration" parade? Which started off with a brightly colored camera platform cruising up Hollywood Boulevard ...


Photo by Jeff Lange

... Which was then followed by a quartet of majorettes ...


Photo by Jeff Lange

... as well as Disney-MGM's own marching band.


Photo by Jeff Lange

"But who did studio staffers select to be Disney-MGM's 'Surprise Family of the Day' ?," you ask. Well ... Would you believe that it was the Earl Sinclair family.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Yep, high up there on the second floor of this centerpiece float, it's (L to R) Baby Sinclair, daughter Charlene, father Earl, mother Fran and son Robbie. Grandmother Ethyl (who's not included in this particular photo) rode on the first floor of the float.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Once the centerpiece float got into position in front of the Chinese Theater, the Disney-MGM band would launch into a rockin' rendition of Was (Not Was) 's 1987 hit, "Walk the Dinosaur."


Photo by Jeff Lange

Of course, the reason that a lot of the men who saw "Dinosaurs Live" look back fondly on this particular Disney-MGM street show was that moment when all the demure majorettes suddenly shed their band uniforms. Revealing the very short cave-woman outfits that they were wearing underneath.

Mind you, Disney's original long-range plan for the "Dinosaurs" characters was that these ABC sitcom stars would have a very big presence at the studio theme park. Making daily appearances at Disney-MGM. Doing meet-n-greets with their fans. 


Copyright 1991 Walt Disney Productions

But that was before "Dinosaurs" ratings began to fade. Though the critics praised this ABC sitcom for its often-biting satire, its audience slowly drifted away. And given how much it cost the company to produce this Emmy-award-winning program, Disney finally opted to pull the plug after 65 episodes of the show had been produced.

Disney-MGM's "Dinosaurs Live" street show may have gone the way of the really-for-real dinosaurs. But thankfully, we can still enjoy the brilliance of Jim Henson's comic vision by watching the recently released "Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Season DVD set".


Copyright 2006 Walt Disney Home Entertainment

And speaking of recently released DVDS ...

In addition to being JHM's official photographer & archvist, Jeff Lange also produces a best-selling series of Disney theme park DVDs. His most recent title is a three disc set that commemorates Walt Disney World's 20th anniversary celebration. For further information on this DVD as well as all of the other titles in Jeff's catalog, please follow this link.

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  • NOT THE MAMA!!!


    Sorry.
  • I loved "Dinosaurs" when I was a little girl!  "Not the mama!" is right!!!  I had no idea they were in the parks...very cool.  Thanks for the pictures and article, Jeff!!!
  • Feed my mouth!...   Fill my belly!
  • How strange - I was just thinking about this show the other day and now you write an article on it.  It's sad to hear the ratings started going down despite good reviews from the critics.  Oh well.  

    Great article, by the way.  *thumbs up*
  • Thanks for the pictures!  This is one of my favorite shows.  I already bought the DVD set.
    They were at the parks such a short time, I missed them.   I think some of the shows became a little political and "preachy", and that made their ratings fall.  But most were brilliant.
    Everyone should buy the DVD's and see the shows if you missed them.  Great stuff.

    "I'm the Baby, Gotta Love Me"!
  • The trouble with "Dinosaurs" IMO was that is wasn't all that funny and the characters weren't very likeable. I know I didn't like the baby especially, but none of the family were exactly warm and fuzzy, either in appearance or personality. The show also lacked "The Simpsons" ability to meld sentiment and cynicism in equal and satisfying measure.

    There was a weird story floating out there some time ago that the Henson company tried to use reruns of "The Muppet Show", which was running on Nickelodeon at the same time "Dinosaurs" was running on ABC, to try to boost "Dinosaurs"' ratings. The details in that story were strange and bizarre enough to be true, given how weird the Henson company became even before Jim's death. Oh well...
  • One of my favorite shows, and one I was glad to rediscover on DVD recently. I was actually suprised by how well the show has held up. Often times when I watch a childhood favorite show on DVD for the first time in years, I'm left dissapointed and confused. Watching Dinosaurs again had me smiling and laughing.

    Thanks for the Dinosaurs story! I would love to read more about the show if possible.
  • gigglesock said:
    "The trouble with 'Dinosaurs' IMO was that is wasn't all that funny and the characters weren't very likeable. I know I didn't like the baby especially, but none of the family were exactly warm and fuzzy, either in appearance or personality. The show also lacked 'The Simpsons' ability to meld sentiment and cynicism in equal and satisfying measure."
    ---
    Oh, yeah:  Nowadays, when a "hip-edgy" comedy gets too full of its own social cynicism and turns overbearingly blowhard, stuck-up and PC-preachy, we say that it's developed "Lisa Simpson's Disease"...Back before that term, we used to say a show had "gone all Dinosaurs on us".
    (Even a Simpsons episode sniped a gag about what non-competition their "competition" was--"Look, Maggie, they have a baby, too!")  :)

    ===
    "There was a weird story floating out there some time ago that the Henson company tried to use reruns of 'The Muppet Show', which was running on Nickelodeon at the same time 'Dinosaurs' was running on ABC, to try to boost 'Dinosaurs'' ratings. The details in that story were strange and bizarre enough to be true, given how weird the Henson company became even before Jim's death."
    ----
    Details?  All I know was that after '86, Henson became fairly desperate about his career after "Labyrinth" didn't build the company's future like he'd thought it would, and he realized he'd let Kermit & co. go neglected all that time...One of the reasons Jim was so enthusiastic about selling to Disney in '88-'89 was their "ability to market their iconic characters creatively", and three guesses why, at that point.
    (And don't remember "Show" running on Nick, but it was running on Turner around that time, who'd bought both Muppets and Fraggle Rock reruns.)
  • It seems to me this is the perfect fit to bring back and have these characters running around the Dinosaurs area of Animal Kingdom. Who knows maybe they would make a comeback with a whole other generation. Plenty of Merchandising possibilities and running gags having them eventually interact with the new moving audio animatronic Dino. They fir right in with Triceritops spin and that whole area as well. But that is JMHO.
  • Also--as the Roger Rabbit float reminds us--"Dinosaurs" would've been around '91...Back in those colorful MGM days when most of Eisner's New-Disney hadn't been invented yet, and the just-built "New studio" park was still flailing around for an identifiable new corporate icon to promote:
    Out goes Roger, in comes Dinosaurs...Out go Dinosaurs, in comes Goosebumps...  :)
  • I hate to knock any of Jim's work, as he was always good to me, and many of my friends worked that show.  I was on the set a few times and the whole thing had a weird, out of control feel about it-at least as far as the creativity was going.  The money end of it was being watched tighter than Joan River's face.  Typical of the situation at the time.  Jim out, Eisnerin, all of which translated to the final product.  Great concept, poor execution.

    I also remember seeing the Dino costumes during a televised parade.  "Earl's" head kept coming loose, and the poor CM inside had all he could do to squash the neck back into the shirt lest he go extinct in front of a thousand kids.  This too seemed to be how this Henson/Disney mess played out.
  • Any idea if the third and fourth seasons will come out on DVD?
  • dinosaurs was always a favorite of mine.  And so a copy of Season 1 and 2 DVD sits in my library and a Baby Sinclear figurine sits on my desk. :)
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