From World Events Productions (WEP), the same studio that brought us every incarnation of Voltron, Denver the Last Dinosaur aired for two seasons, totaling 50 episodes, back in late 1988. It’s a series I recall from my youth with great fondness, one that stirred up some serious nostalgia flashbacks when I learned of its impending 6-disc Complete Series DVD release from VCI Entertainment. And what a blast it was to sit down and revisit Denver with my son at my side, to feed off his excitement as he reacted to the series for the first time and rocked out to the infectious theme song.
The hour-long series premiere finds a group of Californian 80s kids doing some totally bodacious skateboarding down at the La Brea Tar Pits when one of their crew has a gnarly wipeout. He falls into a hole in the ground, crashing down onto a large, perfectly preserved dinosaur egg. The egg hatches immediately thereafter and the kids befriend the dinosaur that emerges, naming him Denver and feeding him potato chips. It isn’t long before Denver is playing lead guitar in a band and sporting sunglasses, of course. But then the world somehow forgets about all that and the bulk of the episodes revolve around Denver and the gang getting into some sort of scrape while the kids try to keep Denver hidden, especially from the dastardly concert promoter Morton Fizzback, who wants nothing more than to exploit Denver for all he’s worth.
It sounds cheesy, and it most certainly is, but there’s something incredibly endearing about the series with its eternal themes of friendship and community. And that, combined with the series’ non-violent storylines, is ultimately why the series was recommended for all ages by the National Education Association. It’s perfectly wholesome, but in a way that’s not insulting or even particularly lazy like you find in a lot of cartoons from that era. Notably, I recently picked up a VHS of the 1990-91 Kid ‘n Play cartoon from a bargain bin at a local shop. The episodes there too centered on notions of friendship and community, but the effect of the series as a whole is an incredibly alienating one. It comes off as more of a cynical cash grab, one intended to sell more Kid ‘n Play albums rather than genuinely educate and entertain. Denver, by contrast, feels genuine in that regard.
One thing genuinely surprised me about the VCI Entertainment release of the complete series of Denver is that it actually includes some special features! For a vintage cartoon that doesn’t have some sort of devoted cult following, like a Transformers or something of the sort, to include special features of any kind is almost unheard of. That they include interviews with people who actually had some hand in the series’ creation/history makes it all the more incredible! Those interviewed include Ted Koplar, the President of WEP; WEP’s Vice President, Bob Koplar; WEP’s creative director, Jeremy Corray; and Tiffany Ilardi, WEP’s Director of Sales.
Also featured on the set are a surprisingly lengthy Denver image gallery set in part to groovy 80s-style synth tunes, as well as seven terrific bonus cartoons from other VCI Entertainment animation collections, one of which just so happens to be an episode of Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, the only series released by WEP apart from Denver and the various Voltron series. Star Saber notably features the voice talents of Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime himself), so that at least is definitely worth checking out in addition to the interviews, in which you get insight into the WEP’s plans for Denver’s future with production company Zagtoon. The episode of Space Angel, a sereies I was totally unfamiliar with, included among the seven bonus ‘toons is also pretty rad.
I want to close here by voicing my appreciation to Jeremy Corray, who, during his interview, comments on the curious line in the theme song that asserts that Denver is “my friend and a whole lot more.” I too find that line a bit suspect, sir. And I’m glad the oddity of it isn’t lost on you guys at WEP!