How Dinosaur Train Drives Me Bonkers
If you don’t have small children, you probably haven’t encountered the PBS Kids show Dinosaur Train. Let me tell you about it and why it gives me the shakes while I watch it.
For starters, let me say that it is a wonderfully educational program about the lives of dinosaurs and, more broadly, an introduction to natural history and evolution. It is not doing children any disservice by watching it at all and, indeed, my kids watch it plenty. The show does, however, give science fiction and fantasy writers the heebie-jeebies, and here’s why:
The show’s premise is that a family of Pteranadons and their adopted T-Rex son (no, not the crazy part yet) go on vacations (yes, but wait for it) during which they ride a train (yes, a train) that is run and operated by other dinosaurs (I know, I know) and takes said thunder-lizards on a tour of the land, introducing them to other species of dinosaurs. Oh yes, and just so they can visit dinosaurs from every historical epoch, THE TRAIN TRAVELS THROUGH TIME.
Yes, that’s right: A dinosaur owned, built, and operated time-travelling railroad that takes other dinosaurs on vacations. This is where I start losing my mind.
Here are my questions, world:
1) Why did the dinosaurs build this?
There is no pseudo-modern society in this show, no Flintstones-esque tech, or anything of the kind. Why do creatures with no jobs need vacations? If they have no other visible infrastructure whatsoever, how on Earth would they hit on “let’s build a train?” Even assuming some hyper-genius dino had such an idea, how would they build it with their notable lack of things like tools, mines, quarries, a workforce, and, oh yeah, opposable thumbs?
2) Time Travel? WTF?
So, say they manage (somehow) to build a railroad system. How does time travel get involved? What, did aliens come down and give it to them? Did some human go back in time with a time-train and give them ideas? Why would they even think to do this? Dinosaurs don’t have fossil records – there are no archaeologist dinosaurs. THEY WOULDN’T KNOW THERE WERE OTHER TIMES TO VISIT!
3) What do they buy tickets with?
Mom Pteranadon buys tickets for the kids when they go places. What does she buy them with? Does she get change? Where does she stash said change (they don’t wear clothes)? How much do they cost? What use is the money anywhere else? If this is some kind of self-contained currency system (like the tokens at Dave and Busters), how does she buy in? Maybe the tickets are free, but again, then, why the hell is this being done?
4) Why is the Conductor wearing clothes?
No other dinosaurs wear clothing. None. What is with this guy? Even assuming somebody had the idea for clothing, what purpose would it serve? Dinosaurs are exothermic, so it isn’t like it would keep him warm, precisely. Of course, we also get back to the question of who makes the damn stuff. Is there a dino-tailor somewhere?
5) What happened to predation?
When the family meets an apex predator (like a T-Rex), why does the scene never end with the family being devoured? What’s going to happen to this family when their T-Rex “son” grows up and eats his “sister?” Why doesn’t anybody talk about this? How are they all still friends, dammit?
My Working Theory
So, retain my sanity, I have developed a working theory, here. It’s a bad one, but still:
Okay, take for granted that the dinosaurs can talk to each other – that’s just a gimmie. Turns out all paleontologists are wrong on that for some damned reason or we’re dealing with a hyper-intelligent subset of the dinosaur population that had a monolith dropped in their midst or something. Anyway, in the midst of their prehistoric savagery, in pops Doctor Emmett Brown on his – you guessed it – his time travelling train. Now, they’re stuck in the Cretaceous Period with no train tracks and, therefore, no way to get up to 88 miles an hour and out of there.
The solution? Well, they make contact with these hyper-intelligent dinosaurs and screw up history something fierce by teaching them to build a train system. “But what’s in it for us?” ask the dinos. Doc comes up with a plan to create a kind of dinosaur utopian state wherein these hyper-intelligent dinos agree to only feed upon their less intelligent brethren. Doc leaves them with a means of scientific discovery (a duplicate train), a framework of an economic system, and a basic social order in exchange for him, Clara, and the boys escaping back to modernity.
The only question left is this: Did Doc tell them about the asteroid? Did he?
Somehow, I think not.
- I’d like to thank Elisa Birdseye and the Adams Street BPL for hosting me for my “Building the Fantastic” talk and reading. It was tons of fun to get to cut loose with a captive audience about things I’m passionate about. I hope to be able to do it again sometime.
- If you haven’t bought Writers of the Future Volume 31, you’re missing out. Don’t listen to me, listen to Dave Farland.
Posted on May 20, 2015, in Critiques and tagged Back to the Future, Dinosaur Train, humor, kids TV, PBS Kids, scifi, world building. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.
I don’t think it would matter if he did, since once you invent time travel, linear time has no meaning. It doesn’t matter if an asteroid will wipe them out, since they can always exist in whatever time they choose. Alternatively, proponents of the butterfly effect could surmise that such a technological and cultural leap forward for the dinosaurs would easily allow them the means to invent an asteroid defense system EONS before the big rock hit, even if they had no clue a collision would ever be inevitable.
Well, Habershaw, I’ve never seen this Dinosaur Train of which you speak, but now I can think of little else. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
Well, the Back to the Future Time Travel theory means that time *is* linear unless the Butterfly Effect changes it. You can’t jump streams freely. Furthermore, as a natural event, there is no way the Butterfly Effect could change the date of impact.
As for Asteroid Defenses, just because Doc gave them the means to build a train, that doesn’t mean they have a means to innovate or reverse-engineer what he gave them. They certainly haven’t applied that knowledge to any other area, so far as the show has shown.
Oh, and you’re welcome! 😉
Submitted without comment: 8 BttF timelines… http://backtothefuture.wikia.com/wiki/Back_to_the_Future_timeline
Hahaha, I was saying when you started ranting about this the other day that I really hoped you would blog about it. So seeing this one pop up in my inbox was such a delight!
YES! I am not proud of this, but I definitely got in an arguement with my 2 year old nephew about this show … Sure, it’s cute but what happens when that adopted T-Rex grows up and eats his adopted family?
I know. That show is bound to get dark soon.
Maggie Simpson is still crawling and sucking on a pacifier after 26 years. Nobody grows up in cartoons.
Dammit, Martin. You’re no fun sometimes. 😉
What could be more fun than an entire city where no one ever ages or dies, and they keep making the same mistakes year after year? (I seem to recall they had one character die, but it was a major event, and I think it was after 20 years.)
Umm you do realize its a kids so. So your ok with something like sponge bob??? Why would you down an educational kids show???
I know I’m about 3 years late this party, but my 2 year old got hooked on it recently and WP just so happened to recommend your post. Putting aside the timeline implications of the train rides (and there are many), my biggest question about the show is how it avoids any awkward run-ins with predators. Like, oh gee, Sue the T-Rex ate her friendly neighbors, I guess we’ll just visit her now. It’s not like the show is shy about saying what the dinosaurs eat and they literally sing songs about eating as many fish as possible. Sorry, I just needed to let that out. 🙂