Dino-Riders is one of the most requested reviews I've gotten from readers over the past few years. It's a show that mixed futuristic heroes with bizarre alien frog villains and threw 'em all onto prehistoric Earth, fighting between themselves with souped-up dinosaurs serving as vehicular weapons. It was damn good for what it was - the animation was topnotch, the characters were engaging enough, and it had a lot of dinos running around wearing virtual reality helmets and Nintendo power gloves. You really can't ask for much more than that.
I'm thrilled to be able to do this article today - if you're a Dino-Riders fan, this will definitely be up your alley. I intended to simply review an episode, but in searching around what material I had, I've come across more D-R shit than you could imagine. So here's the breakdown of what you'll see in today's article:
1) Review of the very first episode of the show, which reveals everyone's top-secret mega origins, with download!
2) Immense Dino-Riders toy & action figure picture gallery.
3) Old Dino-Riders Fan Club information & a page-by-page review of one of the club's newsletters.
4) I'm not sure yet. We'll think of something.
The show, seriously, was fantastic by comparison to the other types of toons we've looked at on the site. They really went all out, hiring the most expensive voice talents, putting a tremendous stock into the animation, and giving us a story that, while meant to sell toys, stands well enough on it's own that it doesn't make a difference if you could buy figure representations of the characters on the screen or not. It had all the tools and then some. Here's my review of the first-ever episode, which is probably the best to review since you'll get the complete feel of what the series was all about. Let's roll...
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Things kick off with a space battle between the peaceful Valorians and the evil Rulons, who essentially are a bunch of snakes and frogs in colorful astronaut suits. All of these people are from the distant future, which a goes a long way in explaining not only how there's talking, walking snakes, but also how the heroes wear loincloths and end up looking retro rather than primitive.
The heroes use some weird time warp device to escape their adversaries and total annihilation, and that's how the dinosaurs will come into play in a moment. Because the Rulons are attached to the Good Guy Ship™ via tractor beam, they're also sucked into the time warp, and nobody involved has any idea where they're gonna end up. Of course, we know where they're gonna end up, otherwise all those dinosaurs in the opening credits would be mighty pointless. The reptilian slimeballs are led by Krulos, a raspy fellow voiced by the same guy who did Dr. Claw on Inspector Gadget. Nice to know he wasn't a one-hit wonder.
Indeed, the Valorians land on prehistoric Earth, and none of them seem all that upset about it. I dunno, if I was trapped several million years in the past, in a world full of man-eating lizards, with no hope of watching Seinfeld ever again, I'm not sure my modus operandi would be to take it all in stride. Fortunately, in this representation of Earth's past, most of the dinosaurs are downright friendly and totally open to establishing new relationships with any alien race that they come across. Only the bigger, meaner dinosaurs aren't going for it, but that's because they're mad at the Valorians for not telling them what's going to happen on the last episode of Mash.
Questar is the main guy in the band of heroes, seconded by a bunch of characters ranging from a sensitive chick to a blind old guy with no eyes. The cool thing about the show is that is was really quite character-driven, so when you add that into a backdrop of dinosaurs running around with missile launchers attached to their foreheads, you've struck gold. Or at least pyrite if you're cheap.
Elsewhere, the Villain Squad is making the best they can with the dealt hand, by using 'brain boxes' to put dinosaurs under mind control, fitting them with super-weapons and turning them into giant beasts of terror than can both eat you or blow you up.
I've gotta admit - dinosaurs wearing android soldier outfits was a really cool idea. Usually the best we get out of a cartoon dino is a few growls and a well-placed 'ARRRRG!' -- these dinos skip the foreplay and shove bullets up your ass.
Up above, Krulos chokes out one of his minions, Rattlar, who's voiced by Chris Latta. If you're unsure of what that means, what I'm saying here is this: Rattlar shares the same voice of both Cobra Commander and Starscream, so for a character who's pretty unimportant, you'll end up paying an awful lot of attention to him. They establish early on that Rattlar's something of a rogue villain - he's definitely evil, but he doesn't particularly care to follow his direct orders. They might as well make him pilot a big red and gray F-14 if they're gonna be that derivative. Oh well...when you nail Chris Latta, you go for the gusto I guess.
Meanwhile, the Valorians befriend some dinosaurs as well - mostly herbivores because everyone knows the meat-eating dinosaurs are the really evil ones. I'm dying to meet a vegetarian villain. The good guys don't stick brain boxes on their dinosaurs, instead opting to rely on a weird little necklace that helps the creatures understand that they're friendly. That's cool and all, but I'm not sure how they're going to respond to the heroes putting harnesses and shit all over 'em. They're not ponies.
The animators really did a fantastic job crafting prehistoric Earth - all too often, both in animated and live-action or stop-motion movies, the idea was that our planet was just completely barren aside from a few rocks and a billion dinosaurs. Here, they've created a more true-to-life world where the forests are endless and not every dinosaur is interested in eating everything. Of course, the reality points don't end up meaning much when you stick a cannon on top of a triceratops, but the thought was there and it's appreciated.
While the villains suit up their captive dinos, the Valorians are busy designing a base of operations to keep that nasty T-Rex out who kept trying to eat them earlier in the episode. These scenes serve to establish the nuances of the various humanoid characters - which ones love dinosaurs, which don't, who's fat, who's too ambitious, who's black and white and red all over, etc. For me, these setup scenes meant something more: a break for nachos! NACHOS!
Oh yeah, there's one chubby, scruffy hero character whose name escapes me, but I clearly heard Autobot Ironhide's voice coming out of his trap. This show is like the Cartoon Voice All-Stars. I'm pretty sure the raptors' collective growls were supplied by Sam Kinison.
The villains decide that the only way their army can defeat the good guys is if it includes a Tyrannosaurus. No arguments there. The reason T-Rexes are so celebrated as almighty monsters is because there really weren't any other dinosaurs that came even close to their scale. The only dinosaurs who were likely more vicious were also much smaller, and with some exceptions like the Allosaur, the ones that were as large or larger than the T-Rex were far more gregarious and lively solely on tree leaves. Tyrannosaurs are the ultimate monster, a bloodlusting indiscriminate eater who had zero reason to fear anything. The reason he's much scarier to think about than say, a demon or a Kraken, is that the T-Rex actually did exist. Sure, he never had a chance to eat any humans, but if we were around back in those days, we'd be the equivalent of popcorn to these things. Sadly, we'd also have humps on our back and the best conversations we could've mustered would've been nothing larger than 'ooo ooo ah ah'. Damn evolutionary lax.
After a long struggle, they manage to get a brain box on the thing, which inexplicably turns his eyes blood red. Now, with the Robocop version of a Tyrannosaur on their side, they're more than ready to lunge face-first into battle. Now, if you're thinking they're doing this without a motive, you're wrong. They're evil, but they don't see the need to go around killing people just to prove it. No, they have a mission.
See that little pile of crystals? Within it lies the key to escaping this prehistoric prison, and that's what the villains are after. So obviously, the idiot heroes enlist the youngest, most naive guy on the team to look after it, if only to make the battle possibilities more interesting. If I wanted to keep that thing safe, I'd shove it up a dinosaur's rectal cavity. Not only would villains think twice before going up there, it'd give me an excuse to shove my fist up a dinosaur ass. I'm not saying that to be crude or sick, I just think it's the kind of activity I could tell my grandkids about someday. I mean I don't want to have no other stories than the ones about the time my computer froze up and I broke a lamp out of frustration. Fisting a dinosaur would add a little spice to my tale.
To combat the T-Rex threat, the Valorians befriend a diplodocus. Not exactly my first choice, but he's big enough to arm with enough weapons to render a small planet helpless, so they could've done worse. Besides, since they only have one diplodocus on their team, I assume he's a big deal and everyone cheers when he waddles into the fray. I picture half the team shouting 'Diplo,' the other half shouting 'DOCUS!!,' and everyone cracking up because they're figured out how to employ a squad cheer to raise their spirits.
Let's go Diplo - Clap, Clap, Clap Clap Clap!
The battle scenes are a breathtaking affair, with lazer bolts flying out of dinosaurs' eyes and everyone scrambling around looking for a giant lizard to use as a motorcycle. It's sort of like a cross between Jurassic Park and the Gungan/Battle Droid war from The Phantom Menace, only a little less annoying because none of the dinosaurs are yelling 'Roger, Roger' and the fate of the action isn't dependent on what a totally incompetent nine-year-old does. So, some could argue that this episode of Dino-Riders is actually better than two of the biggest grossing motion pictures of all time. I wouldn't go that far, but this show's a lot better than Night Court at least.
The female character uses his mind-control necklace to guide a pterosaur, and it makes me wonder if the heroes are really any better than the villains. Those necklaces do the exact same thing as the brain boxes: turn dinosaurs into mindless slaves. Plus, it's not like they've avoided putting weapons all over the creatures and pretending they're personal transports, and they're putting them in the line of fire too - so really, the only thing more villanous about the bad guys is that they've got green skin. I need a little more. There should've been an establishing scene where the Rulons beat up a few old ladies for their shoes. I can't think of them as villains based solely on the fact that they camouflage well in a horticulture convention.
Anyway, a pterosaurs is a bit of an odd choice as a 'good guy' dinosaur. The reality of those beasts is that they were pretty nasty fuckers who'd be as malicious and awful as a T-Rex if their bodies weren't the size of a turkey. To illustrate that they're good guys in this cartoon, the animators made their eyes more circular instead of that sinister pointed oval we've come to rely on to denote evil intent.
Rattlar manages to get inside the Hero Headquarters, and battles with the blind old man. The blind old man is like the wise sage of the group. Of course he is, he's blind! Find me a cartoon with a blind guy who doesn't double as a wise old sage. It just doesn't happen. For once I'd like to see a blind villain who kills people just for the Hell of it. I mean, what is it about being blind that turns all these cartoon characters into such paragons of virtue? Does sight go hand-in-hand with evil? Are they implying that the only way to truly reach divinity is to cease being able to watch Big Momma's House. I'd really like to be divine, but I'm just not ready to take that step. Maybe when I'm older, wiser, and more sage-like.
The blind guy doesn't have too much trouble with the villains, by the way. They're spooked out by his pure white eyes. I guess it's hard not to be blind when you're without retinas. Poor old man.
Questar manages to shoot the brain box off the T-Rex, bringing him back to his normal self, who doesn't care if he's eating heroes or villains. Actually, he's pretty miffed that the bad guys dressed him up like a Stormtrooper, so he goes after them with extreme prejudice. After a scant few moments, they all retreat, vowing to destroy the Valorians another day.
By the way, this show was originally shown via videotape, with a whole bunch of Tyco toy commercials indispersed between scenes to encourage little kids to badger their parents into buying 'em. I'm a little unclear as to what type of television run Dino-Riders had, but experience in this field tells me that there was no way they kept up the quality level of this first episode - between the sharp frame rate and the high cost of recognizable voices, I don't think they could've maintained it very long.
The Valorians celebrate their victory, and for the first time, proclaim themselves the 'Dino-Riders'. They also hurl their mind-controlling necklaces in the air, so either they got caught up in the moment, or they've established such rapport with the beasts that they no longer need to force them to do their bidding. Either way it was an awesome show, topnotch by all accounts and comparisons. I only wish it would've had a longer run. Now that you've read my review, here's your opportunity to see the episode for yourself and make your own judgments...
To Download Dino-Riders' first episode, CLICK HERE. Realplayer (.rm) file, approximately 8 MB. Tested and approved by piracy addicts everywhere.
DINO-RIDERS TOY GALLERY
The Dino-Riders toys that the series was based on was positively fantastic. The figures had such incredible detail that when the Smithsonian decided to make a line of realistic dinosaur figures, they simply retooled the Dino-Riders molds and removed all the space lazer equipment. Many of the toys had special features, some were electronic, but all were real impressive. My favorite, shown above was the Ankylosaurs, a small figure that put a friggin' slingshot on top of a prehistoric reptile and somehow, it all looks like it makes perfect sense. Here's a gallery to virtually every toy in the line -- click on the one you wanna see, and it'll grow larger, much like a baby dinosaur maturing into a big strong adult dinosaur with it's very own catapult attached to it's hip.
We're not done yet! Dino-Riders toys had a special offer for kids to join their official fan club. For a few bucks shipping money and a couple of proofs-of-purchase, fans of the show and the stupid figures could join the elite with their very own Dino-Riders Fan Club membership card. Now really, the big plus here was that in came in the mail. Kids LOVE mail - getting it makes them feel really proud and important. When I was young, I used to fill out all those cards in the back of Travel & Leisure just so I'd get hundreds of brochures in the mail. I never actually read the things but I felt like I was worth something more if seventeen thousand pieces of junk mail arrived per day in my name.
If I felt that good over crap mail, imagine how great the kiddies felt when they got their Dino-Riders junk. The membership kit also included a rare figure - a Pterodactyl - plus some mini-comics and a swank patch. The real coup were the newsletters, which came every now and again and were jam-packed with dinosaur information, stories, and of course, plenty of ads for the toys. I've taken the liberty of gathering up the scans of one of the issues, so if you'd like to read it with my added commentary, follow the link below.
To read the seven-page Dino-Riders Fan Club newsletter, CLICK HERE! You won't regret it, I promise.
And there it is. More Dino-Riders information than any person could possibly want. I think that's pretty much it for now, personally I've been looking at this shit all day long and I'd like to build special super glasses that prevent me from seeing dinosaurs ever again because of it. But just because I've been overexposed doesn't mean you have, so enjoy the downloads and reviews and go do something dinosaurish.