In the hierarchy of kids’ cartoons, there’s little doubt that perennial Hot Corn favourites Hey Duggee and Sarah & Duck stand tallest. The middle ground is a hodge podge of varying levels of irritation and volume, but it’s only when you reach the bottom rungs that things start to get really interesting. Wait, that’s not quite the right word. Awful. That’s it. Truly, truly awful.
The ‘Kids’ section on Amazon Prime is a hellish portal of awfulness. One minute, your brain is being liquified as Leo The Truck builds other trucks. Moments later, Dino demonstrates that the greatest possible distance in the universe is the one between learning and fun. What both of these animated nadirs have cunningly discovered is that including a common favourite like a truck or a dinosaur means unsuspecting kids will insist to unsuspecting parents that this is the show they want. By the time you’ve discovered the depths of apathy involved in their creation, it’s too late.
Occasionally – and by “occasionally” I mean “almost never” – there’s an exception. You stumble across something so wonderfully out there that no major network or streaming service would commission it. Welcome, to the land of Dinostory – The Ultimate Rock Opera!
If the phrase “rock opera” doesn’t immediately make you think of A Taste For Love, Jason Segel’s Dracula-themed work of musical genius, then you haven’t seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Dinostory is in the same ballpark. Created by Canadian musician Mike Whitla, it tells the story of a lost baby Triceratops (Terri) searching for a family in a hostile world. The animation is rudimentarily charming, the music is surprisingly awesome.
Right from the off, it’s clear that this is all happening inside the mind of a maverick. The story begins with Terri hatching, to the strains of fingerpicked acoustic and twanging slide guitar, almost like something Willy Nelson would write if he was more into dinosaurs than weed. It would be easy to mock a gentle country ballad about a Triceratops, were not every part of it so perfectly constructed.
This is followed by Terri’s heartbreaking search for safety, the country strains replaced by something a bit closer to Kate Bush’s oeuvre, but it’s the fourth part where things start to really blow your mind. Our introduction to Terri’s new Stegosaurus buddy is accompanied by a song that sounds like Nick Drake had a real thing for giant, gentle herbivores. I’ve been singing it for days.
Other highlights are the lounge jazz of the sixth part (“Parasaurolophus, it’s a mouthful for all of us”), the Alice Cooperisms of ‘No, Don’t Eat Me’ and ‘T-Rex’ and the throat-shredding, demented metal theatrics of ‘Brachiosaurus’, an ear worm for the ages. The latter has 38 million views on YouTube, proof that there’s definitely an audience out there for Whitla’s bonkers concept and brilliant execution.
Watch the cartoons on Amazon Prime, buy or stream the album – just make sure you find room in your life for Dinostory.