When Dinosaurs Ruled the 90’s

The 1990’s were an odd time where the most unlikely of trends would just consume the pop culture climate. Sometimes the trends lasted for fifteen minutes (Swing music! Grunge Rock!), and other times they lasted the whole decade. For many that don’t remember, the concept and science of Dinosaurs experienced a wide resurgence in the 1990’s, and getting in to dinosaurs was chic for quite a time. I fondly remember just tearing through massive books of dinosaurs that my cousin lent me, and spent so much time learning about various species and classes of dinosaurs.

For a while my appetite for the subject matter was insatiable, and it became a collective mind set among kids and young adults of all kinds. Although dinosaurs were pretty much rising in popularity in the late eighties, the 1990’s are when the love for dinosaurs really exploded. Dinosaurs were just cool. They were appealing, mysterious, ferocious, and for some of us it became a passion.

This was especially true with the massive popularity of 1993’s “Jurassic Park” which was not only a juggernaut blockbuster, but also helped popularize dinosaurs even more than ever. Throughout the 90’s almost everything had to have dinosaurs or a dinosaur integrated in their property because it was drew kids in. Even “The Flintstones” garnered a small resurgence. Among the myriad, dinosaurs could be of the friendly variety: There was Yoshi, The Dryosaurus, who was introduced in the hit 1990 SNES video game Super Mario World. Yoshi didn’t just become an instant video game icon but also managed to garner his own popularity with spin off games and his own merchandise.

Dinosaurs even garnered their own sitcom with 1991’s “Dinosaurs” from ABC, a light hearted comedy about a working class group of dinosaurs known as The Sinclairs. The series ended after four seasons in 1995 with perhaps the most depressing series finale ever aired on family TV. How many family sitcoms end with the imminent death of the entire family?

It’s quite a shock considering “Dinosaurs” was very light hearted family fare from the Henson company. Speaking of exploding, we met Barney the Dinosaur in 1992. Barney was a purple, rotund, and friendly magical dinosaur that sang and danced about love, sharing, and learning, and was pretty much everywhere during its fourteen season run. He had clothes, toys, TV specials, and even his own live show. No company was above the craze as even Charles Band cashed in, in 1993 offering up “Prehysteria!” a trilogy of low budget family films based around friendly pygmy dinosaurs and their rambunctious owners.

In 1993, Don Bluth’s “We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story” literally brought back a slew of friendly dinosaurs in to modern society, with the lead role played enthusiastically by then TV star John Goodman. We also got to meet the timid Rex in 1995’s massive Disney hit “Toy Story.” He was a fierce dinosaur toy who, among his friends, was soft spoken and often easily frightened. Adding to the re-invention of the craze, there was even a bizarre 1995 cop buddy comedy called “Theodore Rex” starring Whoopi Goldberg, and co-starring an anthropomorphic, animatronic, talking Dinosaur cop in a futuristic city.

Universal Studios also took their popular 1988 Don Bluth animated film “The Land Before Time” and kept them running through the decade with thirteen direct to video sequels, and a Saturday Morning Cartoon series that lasted two seasons! Dinosaurs were also cool, as we met Reptar the Dinosaur in the famed 1991 Nickelodeon animated series “Rugrats.”

Reptar was a “Godzilla”-type kid friendly recurring character who was beloved by the toddler characters through the series’ run, and would make constant appearances throughout the show and movies. 1993 also gave us “Dinosaurs for Hire!” a video game shoot ‘em up adapted from the 1988 Archie Comic Series. There was also 1994’s controversial “Primal Rage” a literal dinosaur fighting game that went from popular arcade to a multi-home platform title. Of course critics took issue with the graphic violence. Not to be outdone, developer Beam Software tried their best to launch a new video game mascot with the terrible platform game “Radical Rex” in 1994. He rode a skate board!

Nintendo gave us the first live action “Super Mario Bros. Movie” in 1993, a movie basically centered on dinosaurs, and featured Yoshi’s first live action appearance. Meanwhile The Transformers was rebooted in to the computer animated “Beast Wars” in 1996. The primary enemies the Decepticons became known as the Predacons with main baddie Megatron re-imagined as a T-Rex. There was also 1997’s TMNT wannabe “Extreme Dinosaurs” which featured a group of toyetic, crime fighting dinosaurs with attitudes. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers,” the 1993 action series that became a worldwide phenomenon.

The original five team members channeled the spirits of dinosaurs like the T-Rex, Triceratops, Pteradactyl and Mastodon to help them garner enough power to battle giant monsters and warlords alike. The show, although controversial and lambasted (of course), is still a sensation to this day. Dinosaurs were also fun in that they could be so terrifying. Along with Spielberg’s aforementioned “Jurassic Park” series which helped popularize the Velociraptors, the spitting Dilophosaurus, and the hulking killing machine the T-Rex, New Horizons offered up their own dinosaurs on a rampage films known as “Carnosaur.”

The straight to video Diane Ladd starring horror series spawned two sequels, and two spin offs. The first film is notable for receiving a thumbs up by movie critic Gene Siskel, while colleague Roger Ebert hated it. The same year kids got “Cadillacs and Dinosaurs” a very popular arcade beat em up game that was turned in to a short lived, cult Saturday Morning Cartoon. In the same vein, in 1992 Valiant Comics published the re-imagining of “Turok: the Dinosaur Hunter” which was transformed in to a very popular N64 survival first person shooter in 1997.

To top it off, Sony Pictures made a ballsy attempt to produce an Americanized version of Toho’s “Godzilla” with 1998’s Roland Emmerich directed blockbuster. Emmerich and co. remade Godzilla from the ground up, with the new fire breathing lizard rampaging through all of New York City (and most of “The Simpsons” cast…?).  Despite nigh endless hype, the movie landed with a collective thud (and much anger from Toho), garnered scorn from a lot of critics, and is mostly infamous for its baffling miscasting, and just god awful soundtrack.

Nevertheless, the decade offered so much in dinosaur entertainment that it was almost impossible to catalogue them all. Whether it was the introduction of Dino Nuggets, dinosaur egg oatmeal, mac and cheese’s Cheese-asaurus Rex, Rocky D. the Brach’s Rock’s mascot, or lost cult films like “Tammy and the T-Rex,” dinosaurs just consumed the 1990’s, and I loved every minute.

With the theatrical re-release of “Jurassic Park,” I hope today’s generation gets a taste of the fun fad once again.