Sunday, April 28, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Cadillacs & Dinosaurs -- Where the Rubber Meets the Roar

Continuing my on-and-off theme of the last month of examining the omnipresence of dinosaurs in kidvid (as opposed to the limited presence of Dinosaurs in primetime), this week I look at Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, which briefly aired on CBS during fall of '93 as adventure 'toons aimed at young boys were garnering renewed attention by the broadcast nets thanks to the recent, stratospheric success of both Batman: The Animated Series and the animated X-Men over on Fox Kids.

When those skeins rocketed Fox to the top of the Saturday AM ratings heap, CBS, which had been the longtime ratings leader until it was deposed by this upstart, hit the development trail to seek out similar untapped action/adventure fare. They found
their source material in writer/artist Mark Schultz's indie comic Xenozoic Tales, set in a post-apocalyptic future some five hundred years hence (the "Xenozoic" age), where the surviving remnants of mankind have regressed to a pre-industrial state, and the dinosaurs have somehow returned to life.

Tracking the adventures of Jack Tenrec, an "old blood" mechanic who splits his time between restoring vintage Cadillacs (now modified to run on dino poop in lieu of nonexistent processed petroleum) and protecting the fragile economy of this new world, Xenozoic Tales was just as admired for Schultz's detailed, ornate line work as for his retro, pulp-styled writing. Still, it's hardly the kind of thing you'd think of as prime Saturday morning material, but as we've already established in these here parts, kids love dinosaurs, and so...

Eschewing the Xenozoic title in favor of Cadillacs & Dinosaurs (also the title of the first collected edition of the comic), the cartoon premiered on the Eye in September of 1993 (while Jurassic Park was still playing in second-run theaters). From the beginning, it had a lot going for it. In addition to some nice animation by Canadian production house Nelvana, series creator Steven E. de Souza, already a famed screenwriter, brought a sense of continuity from episode to episode, and a sense of wit to the interactions between Tenrec and scientist colleague/love interest Hannah Dundee

Indeed, the series is pretty notable for how much it stood apart from the other kidvid of its era, both in terms of look and content. In addition to all the dino adventuring, it also managed to weave in some pretty serious environmental message. I was a freshman in high school when it premiered, and I remember checking the first comic collection out of my school library a few weeks before it aired, blazing through it, then watching the show and being blown away by how accurate it was to the book.

With a subject matter perfectly suited for its target demo, this thing should've been a slam dunk, but unfortunately for Cadillacs (and viewers) it was often scheduled at the butt-end of the Saturday cartoon schedule, when most kids had already tuned out or turned away. Thus, the only ones watching with regularity were folks like me who were already seeking it out. That, plus the Tyco line of action figures didn't make it to pegs until well after it had premiered, robbing it of a valuable marketing presence at a crucial time.

And so, to the surprise of very few, Cadillacs & Dinosaurs didn't make it past its initial order of thirteen episodes, the last of which aired on January 28, 1994. In the twenty years (!!) since it premiered, it's sadly remained just as little-seen as it was during its first run, with no DVD releases offered or planned. That said, the entire series is available for purchase via Amazon's Prime streaming service for a pretty reasonable price, and if my kids' reactions, in their own Jurassic Park-induced dino haze, are anything to go by, it's a show that's ripe for rediscovery.

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