Jim Henson was one of the best creative minds in the world of children’s entertainment. The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street… all from the brilliant mind of Jim Henson. So when I found out that Jim Henson Company (a studio bearing his name, since he is sadly no longer with us) created a show for PBS Kids, I was intrigued. I mean, I grew up with the wonderful works of Jim Henson; my kids should, too.
Dinosaur Train follows the Pteranodon family on adventures throughout the history of dinosaurs. The title train is capable of traveling throughout the various eras of dinosaur history so the Pteranodons are able to visit any dinosaur that ever lived. They visit everyone from predators that would normally eat them (Mr. The Old Spinosaurus) to non-dinosaurs of the various eras (Herbie Hermit Crab).
As they travel, they compare features of various creatures. For example, they look at a creature’s teeth, tail, feet, food sources, and so on. Throughout their travels, they learn more about other dinosaurs and various life lessons.
So what do I think of the show? Well, there are some good lessons in the show. Most importantly (to me), one of the kids in the Pteranodon family is adopted. Buddy is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and is clearly different from his Pteranodon siblings and parents. Mrs. Pteranodon talks about how she loves all of her kids, and how she took care of Buddy since he was a little egg in her nest. It teaches valuable lessons about acceptance and what it means to be a family.
The show also incorporates other life lessons typical of a children’s show. They talk about the importance of education, confronting fears, sharing, and more. But these lessons can be found in just about any educational children’s show. It’s great that these lessons are incorporated in the show, but it is nothing unique.
The most unique aspect of the show is it’s focus on dinosaurs, obviously. It talks about what makes each species different (the “features” of the species) and makes it clear that not all dinosaurs lived at the same time. The conductor of the Dinosaur Train makes it clear when they travel to a different time period, or even a different part of the same era. There’s no factual errors like in other children’s dinosaur entertainment. (Here’s to you, Land Before Time series.) It is very fact-based and as accurate as a children’s show is going to be.
So it’s an A+ show, right? Well, no. The relationships between predator and prey are disturbingly inaccurate. I understand that kids would be unsettled watching Mr. The Old Spinosaurus devour the Pteranodon family wholesale. And seeing Buddy embrace his T-Rex tendencies and feast upon the Lambeosaurus family next door wouldn’t be very family-friendly. But it provides an unrealistic view on how animals operate in the wild. It took a very long conversation to explain that predators aren’t friends with their prey. (She thought bears and beavers were friends in the wild.)
Also, the primary focus of the show is dinosaurs. That’s fine if your kid is into dinosaurs, but an encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs isn’t a necessary life skill. Unlike shows such as Peg + Cat (math skills) and Super Why (reading skills), your kid can and will succeed in life without knowing the difference between Troodon and a Tyrannosaurus.
What’s the verdict on Dinosaur Train? It’s better than average, but not must-watch programming. If you’re having a sick day or your kids or you need something to occupy the kids for a while, it’s a fine show. It’s better than a lot of the other drivel out there. But watching it probably isn’t going to help your kid much in school, either.
Jim Henson Company, I was hoping for more. I guess we’ll stick to Sesame Street.
Final Grade: B-
Check out Dinosaur Train’s website at PBSKids.org