Ah, the 1980s, was there ever a better time to be a kid? Some of the greatest franchises ever started off during that time, and are still with us today in some capacity or another. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Transformers. He-Man. G.I. Joe. The Thundercats. Even Hulkamania started off in the '80s.
For every cartoon there seemed to be a toyline. And for every toyline there seemed to be a cartoon. Some of those toylines came out before you even got to see the shows. I remember seeing the TMNT on the shelves long before I got to see an episode. And then there were other cartoon franchises whose toys were harder to find. I honestly have no memory whatsoever of Inhumanoids ever being on the shelves. And I can honestly tell you, I rarely saw Dino-Riders on the shelves. A handful of the small action figure toypacks at Bargain Harley's, and the huge dinosaur sets at a New York Toys R' Us! Dinosaurs and laser guns, what kid wouldn't turn their heads at the sight of that!
Tyco created the Dino-Riders in 1988, and it enjoyed a level of success, plenty of colouring books and other miscellaneous plastic junk, nowhere near comparable to what Ninja Turtles or Ghostbusters would have, only fourteen episodes were produced, the toyline itself outlasted the series by about two years. The series utilizes the voices of many voice actors who would go on to become icons of the industry, and the toys even got reused by the Smithsonian Instituition. Dino-Riders aired during the Marvel Action Hour alongside RoboCop: the Animated Series. Heck, Marvel even made a comic mini-series.
The first episode starts off rather oddly. It's live action, but it looks like it was rotoscoped with coloured pencils. If you're wonder what the heck I'm talking about, look up 'Take On Me' by a-ha. The scene is a class of kids at a museum with their teacher talking about dinosaur fossils while one boy looks into the next room to see the Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus skeletons are glowing and start moving, revving up for a smackdown 65 million years in the making. We're then treated to the title as we're teleported back to ancient Earth as dinosaurs roam.
Meanwhile, in another galaxy, a space dogfight is happening as the humanoid Valorians are running from the monstrous Rulons' flagship, the Dreadlock. The Valorains are getting their tuckuses kicked, so Questar, voiced by the legendary Dan Gilvezan, leader of the Valorians activate the Space Time Energy Projector crystal, better known as the STEP, the almighty MacGuffin of the series. Unfortunately, the STEP is damaged, giving Krulos, portrayed by voice acting god Frank Welker, time to fire up the tractor beam, which unintentionally boosts the STEP, launching both ships through time and space, crash-landing on prehistoric Earth.
We get introduced to more of the Valorain characters as they leave their ship, such as the blind-only-by-sight Mind-Zwei, the lone girl Serena, and the youngster...Yungstar.
Apparently the Valorians are brushed up on their Earth history, recognized the dinosaurs as dinosaurs. They are able to communicate telepathically with the dinosaurs via crystals each of the Valorians yield. The Rulons meanwhile are freaking out trying to get ahold of their forces. They too seem to be aware of what dinosaurs are, and begin to construct traps and brain boxes to enslave the dinosaurs. We find out quickly that the viper minion, Rasp, is going to be the 'Starscream' of the Rulon troops, however he is not voiced by Chris Latta as some have reported.
Yungstar and Llahd (no I did not spell those wrong) are out patrolling, riding a pair of what I assume to be Deinonychus as they hear a Tyrannosaurus Rex approaching. Yungstar being the bonehead that he is, decides to go after it. Questar, Serena and Gunnur, voiced by voice acting legend Peter CUllen (you'll hear me say legend a lot in this review) go to rescue him. Serena uses her apparently more advanced telepathy to call up a Pteranodon to save Yungstar, none of the Valorians notice Krulos salivated over the thought of controlling the Tyrannosaur.
The Rulons test their weaponized dinosaurs, but Krulos wants the 'mightiest of all!' Personally I'd go for Dreadnoughtus but that's just me. The Valorians on the other hand have been working on building a wall to keep out T-Rex. They're surprised to hear laser fire in the distant valley, the Valorians quickly discover the Viper division of the Rulons rounding up Dinos. Gunner and Turret, voiced by the one and only Charlie Adler, knock out some Hammerhead sentries but are quickly outmatched before they blow up some Rulon equipment to escape. Krulos gets over it quick, because they manage to cacth the Rex, though it gets its shots in, the Tyrannosaur is captured and ends up becoming Krulos' personal steed.
Questar and company start to strategize their defenses. You'll notice the ride-along armour on the Valorian's Dinos are mostly made of wood...at first. The Valorians have their own ride-along armour. And the Valorains actually thought to include seat-belts. The battle goes on between the two forces. Rasp manages to sneak his way the Valorian base, but he and several Vipers get their clock cleaned in the dark by the blind Mind-Zwei. Not much else happens in the battle until one of Questar's well-timed lasers destroys the T-Rex's brain box. He declares the group to now be the Dino-Riders.
I cannot honestly say that I noticed any major animation flaws during this first episode, although during the scene where the brain box is first being lowered onto the Triceratops, part of it is the same colour of the Triceratops' skin. One thing that is surprising is that the words 'die' and 'kill' are used, which is odd considering this was a kids cartoon, but then again, look at Inhumanoids. Another thing that I never understood even when I was a kid, and this is the nitpickiest of nitpicks I know but hear me out, is that why do the Rulons fire green lasers and the Dino-Riders fire red lasers? You'd think it be the other way around. I'm not going to nitpick about dinosaurs from different eras being in the same place, because honestly, it's later on in the series that the writers do something that, to me, is really dopey. But regardless, I believe that Dino-Riders is an underrated series, and I'll be sure to tell you all about it.