There’s nothing like a cartoon dinosaur to make you feel like you’re getting really old.
Back in the late ’80s, dinosaurs were quickly becoming one of the coolest things around. TV shows and movies like The Land Before Time, Dino-Riders, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, We’re Back, Adventures in Dinosaur City, Theodore Rex and Jurassic Park all appeared between 1988 and 1995, filling a weird dinosaur-shaped void that no one ever knew they had, but embraced anyhow. Mine was shaped like a plesiosaur. Dinosaurs were the early-’90s equivalent of today’s zombie and vampire obsession, destined to flare to life and smoulder away in an underwhelming pile of ash.
Still, a few memorable things stand out from this surge of dinosaur junk, but mostly for being exceptionally bizarre, often by shoehorning a dinosaur into an otherwise completely generic story. The completely nice, clean and palatable world of Denver The Last Dinosaur remains one of the more interesting entries into the history of ’90s dino-culture. This, and the glow-in-the-dark rubber dinosaurs that everyone seemed to have. For scientific reasons.
Denver explores the lives of a bunch of kids after they discover an enormous dinosaur egg at a construction site. Because it’s the late ’80s, they discover it when they hit it with a BMX bike. The series follows their efforts to keep said already-full-grown dinosaur out of the hands of an unscrupulous concert promoter, who’s pathologically fixated on perpetuating his really bad Rodney Dangerfield impression, because kids are all about jokes concerning ex-wives and balls. Denver, despite being trapped inside of an egg for thousands of years, understands just about every pop culture reference, the English language, and can also immediately play guitar and locate dinosaur-sized sunglasses. And not one iota of this is any weirder than any other cartoon of this era. The ’80s made a bunch of really weird, great kids.
Denver ran after school for two months and 50 episodes, and lived on through a few more years of Saturday morning repeats. If you watch through the DVD bonus interviews, it’s revealed that WEC is (or was) working on a reboot of Denver, but with live action and CGI. Curiously, there really seems to be no mention of this anywhere else, except for one rumor post from 2010, and another from 2014 which seems completely unaware that a reboot is, or was, in the works. It’s just a wishlist of old cartoons that the author would like to see again. Even Zagtoon, who is apparently responsible for the reboot’s special effects, make no mention of it on their website, nor do WEP, the rights holders. WEP did not respond to a request for an update on the property.
Denver illuminates a huge cultural change that occurred between 1988 and 2014. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, equality, environmentalism and animal rights weren’t actively criticized for being “agendas”, even if these things were occasionally dismissed as “hippie garbage”. Instead, these ideals were greeted warmly, and usually encouraged by decent human beings. A TV show with a subtle message about recycling or a conservative use of natural resources could be produced without it being attacked as “left-wing anti-business propaganda”, and similarly, shows with heavy use of guns and pro-American imagery, like GI Joe, weren’t accused of being “right-wing pro-war isolationist propaganda”, either. And while it’s always important to monitor and understand what types of media our kids are exposed to, it’s also pretty healthy to let kids form their own opinions about things without flailing at any perceived slight to their moral fiber. No, Ferngully wasn’t designed to brainwash anyone, and a message us not the same thing as an agenda.
This DVD set includes all 50 episodes across five discs, as well as a sixth disc including a few interviews and multiple episodes of other stuff produced by WEP. The interviews are a little informative, but much of them deal with the updated Denver which never seemed to materialize.
If you sit a kid down in front of Denver today, the expressly ’80s/’90s style of these kids and their lack of cellphones might be unrecognizable as something that came from Earth. Twenty years later, this might as well be a show about a bunch of aliens finding a dinosaur on their weird, semi-primitive planet where employment is plentiful and people aren’t constantly insulting one another. It’s a picture of a nicer world, from a nicer world. And while it might skew saccharine more than a few times, it’s nice to remember that the world was a little cooler not too long ago.
[DVD graciously provided by the publisher.]
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.