Vintage Dinosaur VHS: Dinosaurs: Fun, Fact and Fantasy

Film review

It’s been almost four years since I had the bright idea to review the Eyewitness Dinosaur video, a factual short film that was a treasured childhood possession (and something I’ve actually managed to hold onto, which I’m happy about even if it’s on a totally obsolete format and the film is now readily available online. So there). In the interim, I’ve been made aware of another kid-friendly dino-factual VHS that emerged from the UK over a decade prior – in 1982. It, too, was apparently a treasured childhood possession for many, with various YouTube commenters expressing variations on the theme of “THIS WAS MY LIFE!”. So, what’s the fuss all about? Let’s find out. Oh boy.

All the images here come from an upload on YouTube by DinosaurTheatre.

Dinosaurs Fun Fact and Fantasy

Dinosaurs: Fun, Fact and Fantasy is a merry, musical romp through dinosaur palaeontology, incorporating what they were, when and where they lived, different dinosaur groups, the relationship between humans and dinosaurs, and a quiz show in which glove puppets of Lesothosaurus, Diplodocus, Tyrannosaurus and a Welsh dragon answer questions posed by a googly-eyed puppet crocodile, while a silent Pteranodon keeps close watch. You know, the usual sort of thing. The entire affair is hosted by an unseen, nameless narrator and said crocodile, whose name is Dil and has a voice provided by Derek Griffiths. If you’re British, you’ll certainly recognise him; Griffiths has appeared in numerous British kids’ TV shows over the years, including 1980s series of Look and Read that were still being repeated to us in school in the ’90s. But I digress.

Normal quiz

Send help

I shan’t beat about the bush, here – I find Dil rather annoying. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I find him very annoying, but that’s simply a product of his child-friendly, overbearingly enthusiastic nature. I suppose it’s quite impressive that they managed to give a rather basic, perma-grinning puppet quite so much grating personality. As well as interacting with the off-screen narrator, Dil sings the film’s many songs (for Griffiths is a singer as well as an actor). These include a recurring number that always starts with Dil singing the following:

“Now here are some very strange dinosaur names,

Try to say them out loud, and then say them again!

Diplodocus, Vulcanodon and Plat-e-osaurus,

Iguanodon, Deinonychus and Tyranno-SAUR-us!

Triceratops, See-loh-fi-sees and Hy[deep inhalation]psilophodon!

Torosaurus, Stegosaurus, that’s about enough of ’em!”

This is followed by the narrator rattling off a list of dinosaurs belonging to whichever clade is under discussion – be they sauropods (or “the plodders”), “bird footed dinosaurs”, “meat eaters” etc. It really reminded me of songs on a cassette I had as a kid, which came from the Early Learning Centre, a chain of shops stocked with edumacational toys aimed at small children (including Carnegie dinosaur figures, most notably); the approach of listing complicated names over a catchy beat is a really effective way to get kids to learn stuff. I still remember the songs (and names) on that tape. (Oh dear, future blog post in the making, that one…)

Igyoo

IgYOOwahnadon

The odd pronunciation of ‘Coelophysis‘ here can easily be excused as just making the word fit the song, but I did notice more peculiar pronunciations scattered throughout the film. In particular, the rendering of Iguanodon as “Ig-yoo-wah-no-don” really stuck out to me. I’m sure I used to hear ‘iguana’ pronounced as ‘ig-yoo-wah-na’ quite often back in the ’90s, but ‘ig-wah-na’ seems to be the standard these days. Quite possibly, it’s an extremely parochial British thing. (For what it’s worth, I certainly pronounce it ‘ig-wah-no-don’.)

In any case, most of the songs are well-written but very much child-friendly affairs, superbly designed to Teach Things to Children. However, I did really enjoy a number near the end that was sung from the perspective of various non-dinosaurs, who were quite keen on extolling the superiority of not being dinosaurs. It’s well written, refreshing in not diminishing the animals because they’re not dinosaurs, and features a deliberately crude stop-motion animation of various very cheap-looking rubbery dinosaur toys that I enjoyed very much.

Omnomnom

In terms of, you know, the actual science, it’s much as you’d expect for the time. The possibility of a dinosaur-bird link is mentioned, but downplayed, with birds’ various dinosaurian features written off as “coincidental” (for they actually emerged from a common thecodont ancestor, you see! YOU SEE!?!). Tyrannosaurus is mentioned as being a scary beast, but also slow and therefore probably mostly a scavenger. Dinosaurs’ tiny brains are mentioned, but not such a big deal is made of it as would have been 20 years prior. And so on.

But no one today is watching this for the science – it’ll be for any glimpse of shonky stop-motion, clips of old movies, and photography of old dinosaur exhibits. Naturally, Fun, Fact and Fantasy provides plenty of all of those. Right from the start, we’re treated to a plasticine theropod (that looks like a new, terrifying form of Morph, and also like a Neave Parkerish Megalosaurus) hunting Iguanodon, and while it might look rather dodgy today, I can imagine kids in the 1980s being enthralled by it. Even in the ’90s, there was still so little naturalistic dinosaur animation out there (as opposed to old movies in which they menaced humans) that I ate up everything I could find.

Gonna eat ya

Of course, there are (as I mentioned) plenty of old movie clips here too, as well as precious insights into what certain institutions looked like in the past. In particular, there are various shots of old gallery layouts in London’s Natural History Museum, highlighting just how much you could actually see back then, before the ’90s hit and everything had to be dark and edgy and cool and XTREME. Bah.

Oh, and there is of course a segment in which actors dressed as Gideon Mantell and Mary Ann Mantell happen upon the Iguanodon teeth, and then ponder over what they’ve found. This naturally includes a song that repeats once or twice too often.

Old Tyrannosaurus mount

LOOK IT’S THE OLD HALF-A-TYRANNOSAURUS AT THE NHM

For what it’s worth, I rather enjoyed this curious little artefact, in spite of Dil’s irritating nature, the child-friendly repetitive songs, and the fact that by the time I’d reached the aforementioned quiz segment I was quite convinced that I’d lost my bloody mind. I can see why people are so fond of it; even though 1992 was almost over when I turned 5 years old, I can well see myself enjoying it then.

That reminds me – isn’t it the 30th anniversary of something or other this year? Should I bother writing anything about that? Is there anything left to be said? Let me know if you like. So, uh, there it is.

You Might Also Like

2 Comments

  • Reply
    Zain Ahmed
    March 17, 2023 at 11:18 am

    I too loved nostalgically watching this. At the risk of self-promotion, here is my own review, much longer and in depth.
    https://mesozoicmind.blogspot.com/2022/01/dinosaurs-fun-fact-and-fantasy-review.html

    Also, I never really got the impression Dil was annoying. He seemed pleasant enough. And props for using a creature not usually thought of appealing as the co-host.

  • Reply
    Sophie
    March 21, 2023 at 3:20 pm

    I didn’t watch this as a kid but finding it a few years ago took me right back to that golden age of educational, low budget documentaries. It’s just so charming! Seeing so much vintage dinosaur merchandise in one place is pure happiness.

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.