Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dino Squad - The Beginning

Ever hear of a little company DiC? They had a hand in some surprisingly well-liked cartoons such as Captain N The Gamemaster and Beverly Hills Teens. Not to mention some not so surprisingly well-liked cartoons, such as a few you might’ve heard of called The Real Ghostbusters and Sonic SatAM (that’s the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon that aired Saturday mornings. In case you need to know). They also dabbled in live action, their most well-known such offering probably being Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad, which isn’t nearly as bad as it seemed during my days as a raging Power Rangers groupie.

Their heyday was in the 80’s and early 90’s. In 2007 they released a little show called Dino Squad. A show with one of the preachiest presentations, lamest theme songs, and most unusable homepages ever witnessed by man. The following year they were bought out by a company called Cookie Jar Entertainment. Coincidence?

After the excessively generic theme song which does nothing to make me expect a cool fantasy adventure assures us “I’m in, I’m in, I’m in, in the Dino Squad” (can you believe Linkara coined a buzzword based on his admiration of this guy's work? Then again, I wouldn't fault Wasserman for not wanting to use his A-material on a show only slightly less preachy and inane than Captain Planet), the curtain rises on the first episode of Dino Squad. More specifically, a Maine high school. A girl skates through the halls on the way to class because…that’s cool, right? And in this business you’re nothing if you’re not cool. Also sad to say the writer and story editor are the same person: Jeffrey Scott, writer on such thought-provoking and well-researched shows as Captain N The Gamemaster, several iterations of Superfriends, and Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. That’s the one they made for kindergartners.

To give you a sense of this show’s humor the teacher says she broke three rules to get to class in the nick of time: no skating, no food in class (you’d think she’d at least be glad it’s an apple). When the girl, Fiona, protests that’s only two and fails to lob the apple into a garbage can, the teacher finishes up with littering. This sends the entire classroom into uproarious laughter. How long’s it been since the episode started? About six hours?

The teacher, one Miss Moynihan, then shows a 25-second film about how animals tend to form groups for safety and the good of the many. Gee, could they be going somewhere with this?

You might be thinking that film was so short there was no point in showing it all, and you’re probably right, seeing as Moynihan says this is what they were going over in class the day before. The kids in the audience weren’t there to hear this heavy-handed parable for the importance of teamwork, though, and it’s not like it won’t be constantly drilled into their skulls for the rest of the episode. Or series.

Across town a blood red helicopter with a row of jagged dinosaur teeth on the front lands on top of a skyscraper. Guess we’re about to meet our bad guy.

Yep, it’s Victor Veloci, head of Raptordyne. Oh please, why not just call it MegalomaniaCo? He’s showing around a new guy named Peter. Sayeth Veloci: “These nanomachines you developed will help speed up the process of perfecting my experimental DNA, the one I intend to use to genetically reconstruct all life forms and turn them back into what they rightfully should still be: dinosaurs!”

Everybody got that?

Veloci’s one of those guy who isn’t just the CEO, he’s also a client and turns his head into a raptor’s. That’s not cool, it’s just stupid. It does scare Peter into turning his back on the entire species, though. Some storm trooper-ish goons turn some valves that dump orange crap into the ocean right where Moynihan happens to be on a fieldtrip with the class we saw before. She sends them off to catalogue as many species as they can find and stresses that they’ll get more done if they work as a team. Thank you, we get it.

But the eminent Mr. Scott doesn’t think we do, so the kids we’ll be spending the rest of the show with are doing everything but collaborating on the assignment. It’d probably help to identify these punks.

Max. Football player. If you guessed that means he’ll get the power to change into a T-rex give yourself a cookie. The fact that he assigns the other kids to find animals and identify them while giving himself the job of writing down their findings indicates he’s kind of a jagoff.

Fiona we’ve met. She’s a girl. And so it's not too stereotypical she's also into things like motorcycles and y'know speed in general.

Rodger. He’s the minority guy and the super smart guy rolled into one.

Caruso. The effeminate prissy guy who’d be the closet homosexual if this show was aimed at an older demographic.

Buzz. The mohawked weird loner guy.

Caruso tries to get out of work by giving Max some research on marine life he already did (actually the menu of a sushi place, ha ha) and shows off his magical disappearing/reappearing shoes. A dog grabs his jacket and swims out into the water. Fiona wants to go save it (there’s a shark out there but they don’t know that til Caruso sees it and freaks out), but Rodger protests “I hate it when sand gets in my underwear.” Which is probably less of a risk if you go swimming, genius. Which is what he’s actually supposed to be, remember.

Fiona goes in to save the dog, and Max, his super jock cred at stake, does too. Caruso dives in to save his jacket and Rodger decides to try following the group for once, grabs “eggplant head” and dives in too. In the process they save the dog but are covered in Veloci’s orange DNA juice. And immediately you wish these kids weren’t going to be in charge of saving the world because none of them notice that they all leave glowing orange footprints.

Weird things start to happen after they get back to school. Max’s arm turns into a t-rex arm during football practice. Rodger’s surprised when he impales his water bottle on a horn where his nose used to be. Buzz finds himself a foot off the ground when playing videogames.

Next day in class Moynihan tells them they failed the assignment because they didn’t work as a team. And they stopped to save a dog from a shark, but evidently that’s no excuse in this class. During their dressing down their dino-parts keep popping out and Moynihan decides to tell them her life story. Telepathically, that is. That’s gonna sound even stupider in a minute.

She tells them about how an asteroid hit Earth and killed all the dinosaurs. Except two velociraptors who hid out in a cave, that is. Over the millennia they mutated to the point where they could shape shift into humans. And became telepathic. She was one, Veloci was the other. Did you know this show aired with the prized E/I brand? Then again, so did Winx Club and Ace Lightning.

Clouds. Obviously.

You know you’re watching a TV show because the kids know Veloci’s a civic leader and owns that big bio genetics company out in Boston. Guess there are little bio genetics companies too.

Moynihan knows about Veloci’s plan to turn back the clock, but tells the kids she broke things off with him because “brute force lost out to reason…and love.” This is really something to worry about because global warming allowed him to perfect the “primordial ooze” that mutated the kids. Uh, yeah. Seriously, you could make a career out of explaining what’s wrong with this show’s science. Meanwhile the shark from before mutates into a “megalodon” and sinks a boat without anyone on board shown getting off safely. Wow. Maybe this won’t be so bad.

Moynihan drives them out to the lighthouse where she apparently lives, promising to cure the kids. She says she can’t afford the advanced technology Veloci has, but she lives in a place that makes for a great superhero base and invented a pair of guns to deal with Veloci’s mutants.

We wished our teaches had hobbies like this.

The blue one ("the chiller") chills the target, forcing the mutant DNA out as it searches for warmth, because DNA is a living thing in its own right and would behave like that, and the shock of your vital fluids pushing themselves out of your body probably wouldn’t kill you. The orange gun ("the spiller") then sucks up the mutant DNA. The "spiller" sucks up things?

Unfortunately, for us and the kids, the “DNA nucleotides have been fused by gamma contamination.” Meaning they’re stuck the way they are. Something that’ll never happen to any of the mutated animals in the show’s run, of course. Moynihan offers to teach the kids how to control their changes instead. Some sailor calls and tells her about the megalodon, and she decides the best thing to do is send five kids who couldn’t even do a biology exercise together to stop a 30-foot long prehistoric predator.

Moynihan then shows the kids how to control their changes: she touches each of them over the heart (in Fiona’s case, on the shoulder), and for the first time the kids “Go Dino!” Max becomes the preordained Tyrannosaurus, Caruso a Stegosaurus, Fiona a Spinosaurus, Rodger a Styracosaurus and Buzz a Pteranodon. Which technically isn’t a dinosaur.

Max is all psyched about going out there and ending the monster, but Moynihan tells them just to save it, not kill it: it’s only a wild animal trying to survive. Kind of weird for a show that, as TVTropes points out, seems like it was inspired by Power Rangers Dino Thunder. Even down to the jock leader and brainy minority guy of both shows having incredibly similar dinosaurs.

Rodger, again the smart guy, asks what they’re supposed to do instead, and Moynihan shows them the exact same guns she tried to use to fix them. The kids leave in a goofy hydrofoil with dinosaur face detailing on the front.

So as a teacher she can’t afford the equipment Veloci can, but she can afford to invent the two guns, and not only a hydrofoil but that kind of custom detailing. It’s not just paint, the actual vehicle is built to look like a dinosaur’s head. This show takes your suspension of disbelief and walks all over it.

The megalodon eats a sailboat for the heck of it and when the kids come bumps into their boat so one gun goes overboard and the other lands on top of a crane. They split up: Fiona, who’s on the swim team, goes diving for the one gun while Buzz climbs, yes climbs, to get the other. Even though he turns into a pteranodon and can carry the gun in flight.

Stuff happens. Moynihan cuts off Veloci’s remote feed of the fight, meaning she can afford to invent the guns, afford the custom hydrofoil, and afford computers that can kick the crap out of the evil mastermind’s. Max transforms to fastball special Caruso over the megalodon after it busts through the pier they’re walking over (getting a little hard to see it as an animal just trying to survive). He turns into a tyrannosaurus, you know, the awesome predator with those scrawny little arms, to pick up a guy and throw him. The dog they saved before shows up and it goes dino too. Eventually they restore the monster to normal and get out of dodge before anyone comes by and sees a bunch of dinosaurs fighting it out on the dock.

The episode ends with the kids realizing they pulled that off because they finally bothered to work like a team, and Veloci vows to find out where the dinosaurs that fought his dinosaur came from.

No room in the budget for subtlety, huh?

Hoo-ee what a stupid piece of krelm. Sure kids have short attention spans, but how many times did they hit you with “teamwork = only way to get results” anyway?

And don’t expect the show to let up now that it’s done establishing itself. Dino Squad doesn’t make Captain Planet look subtle, but it’s one of the closest contenders.

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