Even these tapes cost something

  Return of the Dinosaurs
1983 | Tsuburaya Productions.
Return of the dinosaurs medusa

Another obscurity from the depths of the vaults. This time witness the unholy union of animation, miniatures and stop-motion.

This is what happens when the minds that brought you Ultraman and Gundam join forces?!

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Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free (Dinosaur Exploration Team Born Free) first aired on the Japanese NET (National Entertainment Television) network in October 1976. It was a somewhat experimental new show from Tsuburaya Productions, the creators of Ultraman. Produced by Akira Tsuburaya, one of the sons of founder Eiji Tsuburaya, Born Free combined cel animated characters with miniature model vehicles and locations and stop motion dinosaurs. This wasn't the first time such a thing had been attempted that honour goes to Astroboy's Osamu Tezuka for Vampire (1968).

In the distant future of 1996 the radiation from an asteroid passing Earth causes the world's climate to revert back to a prehistoric state as well as resurrecting the dinosaurs. In Japan the International Alliance forms Born Free, a five member team of scientists tasked with protecting the giant creatures from the dangers of the modern world including inhospitable weather and an evil poacher known as King Battler. The team have a roster of super vehicles including a combinable armoured ATV, a helicopter, a Shark-shaped submarine (humorously titled Free-Mackerel) and a blimp called Carry Donkey used for transporting the captive dinos to the sanctuary of Saron Island.

The show was a fair success with families, the educational content seemingly going unnoticed by the kids who were more interested by the prehistoric monsters and the exciting vehicles (both of which were made readily available in toy form).

While Tsuburaya regulars took care of the live elements the animation duties were handed to the Nippon Sunrise studio. Later known simply as Sunrise this team is most famous for bringing Gundam to the world but their portfolio of other series is just as impressive including Crusher Joe, City Hunter and Cowboy Bebop.

Born Free lasted for 26 half hour episodes and was succeeded in 1977 by a follow up entitled Kyoryu Daisenso Eisenborg (Dinosaur War Eisenborg) which saw cyborg children battling super intelligent Dinosaurs the leader of whom killed their father. Eventually the dinosaur menace was dropped in favour for typical alien invaders. The robo-kids had the predictable skill of being able to merge into a single giant robot which could easily match the might of the giant stop-motion lizards.

Born Free was briefly made available to the West under the title of Return of the Dinosaurs by the American company Associated Entertainment International. The company had a history with Tsuburaya Productions having released a number of their movies, including Ultraman and Attack of the Super Monsters, in English speaking territories with new dubs and slight editing changes.

Several episodes of the Japanese TV series were edited together into a single 85 minute video tape released in the U.S. and UK in 1983. In America it was handled by the ever dependable, Bargain Bin favourite, Celebrity Just For Kids with the rights sub let to Roger Corman's Trans World Pictures who also later owned Warriors of the Wind. The UK release was handled by Medusa a video label more at home with 'True Life Dramas' than children's cartoon stories. In both areas the video was a very obscure release.

In June 1985 Born Free received a far wider showing in Italy where it was known as Born Free Il Risveglio Dei Dinosauri and was shown in its original, unedited form on the Rete 4 TV network.



Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Single Return of the dinosaurs storybook born free dvd born free pencils
The vinyl single
A kids storybook
The recent japanese DVD
HB Pencils!

It's trailer time! It's for a film which is eventually, and briefly, revealed to be called Buzzard (imdb 4.5, 7 votes). It's more of a teaser trailer really since it's fairly unclear what the film is actually about.

It opens with a talking Buzzard (well not so much talking as narration over nature footage - it's one of those psychic animals that doesn't require lip syncing), then introduces some kid called Charlie who's new in town. From there are clips of football in the park, kiddie traps, mention of someone braking the law, and Charlie's bare butt. The best bit has to be the scene of Charlie's dog attacking some bad guy where he is clearly humping the poor guy's face! With a trailer this poorly edited what hope is there for the film?

Buzzard Buzzard

Dino time. What better way to fill in the back story than narration? Apparently a meteor narrowly missed colliding with Earth. You might think this was a good thing but you'd be wrong as its magnetic pull caused volcano's to erupt which in turn caused the Earth's crust to break apart. Giant tidal waves destroyed entire (model) cities! Worst of all, from within the Earth creatures and vegetation from the pre-historic era emerged! How does volcanoes erupting end with the arrival of Dinosaurs? I don't know I guess they didn't all die out, some of them were just sleeping in the planet's core or something.

Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free

Just like Jurassic Park our first glimpse of a Dinosaur is one of those long necked ones (a stegosaurus I think but I'm no Dinosaur science guy). Unlike Jurassic Park it's a laughable stop motion rubber one. The highly Japanese sounding Dr Michaels of Japan creates a Dinosaur Patrol who are; George Collins (handsome leader one), Reggie Sandford (who oddly appears to be a woman), Alan Gunser (or 'Wrench' fat mechanic one), Chuck Olsen (bumbling comic one) and Josh Michaels (token kid) with Bernie (dog). Their task: to protect these pre-historic beasts from the horrors of the modern age. Mobile phones, identity theft, internet diet pills and such.

Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free
Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free

The gang launch into action- well, it's more of a trundle really since they travel everywhere in a model truck clearly being pulled along on a wire- on their first mission; to rescue a Brontosaurus. The onboard computer spews out a bunch of facts and figures about the creature which I have intentionally forgotten since I don't learn on the weekend. It turns out that this seemingly simple task takes the team the majority of the 85 minutes to achieve. Their efficiency, as with many government contractors is, in the words of Wrench: "Mon-strus!"

Dinosaur Patrol arrive at the scene in their flying transport "Carrybird" (unfortunately for the western distributors all the vehicles have their original cumbersome names written on them in English) . The pilot is given the helpful instruction to land "over there" which he does, I think. Dino' Patrol disembark in their signature vehicle 'Born Free' an all terrain truck which can split into two smaller cars and have a helicopter dock with it. Arriving at the location of the alert the gang are horrified to find the Brontosaurus lurking nearby. "Where. Is. The-gun? Josh. Fetch. The-gun." orders George with all the flawless vocal skill of a man recording his lines one word at a time, on different days. While the junior school kid gets the gun the heroic leader tries spraying the beast with Dino-Mace but it has little effect. Eventually, after kicking their truck for a bit, Bronti gets bored and wanders away. The Dinosaur Patrol follow it in Born Free but loose sight of it at the bottom of a steep hill.

Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free

After several minutes of less than nail biting tension the toy car makes it up the model hill thanks to careful use of its plastic grappling hook. At the top they find a lake which George reasons is where the monster is hiding. Wrench takes the shark-shaped submarine in for a closer look while Josh, Reggie and Bernie go for a wander around the uncharted jungle. The three find a baby Brontosaurus caught by a mass of 'Blood-Sucking Plant' vines and try in vain to free it. Disregarding everything Urotsukidoji & co has taught us about tentacles the vines ignore the young, attractive female member of the group and instead grab Josh. Helpless to free either of the plant's captives Reggie radios to the leader for help.

George Collins arrives in a little yellow three wheeler, which is more than a little camp, and, predictably, is of little use. Mrs Brontosaurs reappears to protect her distressed baby but gets side tracked with attacking the good guys. The narrator announces the arrival of "A terrifying Alusaurus" but that doesn't happen for another 30 or so minutes. With the arrival of Wrench and Chuck in Born Free they gang unite and shoot their weedy laser pistols at the killer plant. It gives up with little effort dropping Josh unharmed.

Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free

Wrench and Chuck resume their under water investigations while Reggie baby sits Josh and Bernie at the shore. The boy remembers his parents who, he says, were both scientist who are now dead. Now, I could be wrong but isn't Dr Michaels his father? And didn't Dr Michaels send the Dinosaur Patrol out on this very mission? So unless something has very recently happened to Dr Michael which only Josh knows about then he is a terrible liar- no doubt trying to get sympathy from the attractive lady who happens to be all alone with him!

As if things weren't moving slowly enough to start with they really begin to move at a snail's pace. Basically Bernie the dog finds Dino footprints in the dirt, the computer identifies it as the earlier mentioned Alusaurus, then the ground splits open and the Born Free might fall into a bottom-less pit. After whole minutes of toy based suspense- it doesn't. Yet more searching for the Brontosaurus, yet more ground cracking. Lots of walking. Brontosaurus and baby show up. So does the Alusaurus He hassles the Mum and child while Josh demands George kills him (the Alusaurus not Josh although at this point I could relate if that were the case). Holy Harrihausen! Stop motion dinos fight, a toy car drives around and cartoon people fire model guns. Alusaur gets dosed up with super sleeping tablets and gets angry, shaking around sporadically in the same way as Kermit danced. Eventually he is caught in a giant net but is still strong enough to pull Born Free to its doom! They struggle for several minutes. Will they die? No. Finally Alusaur is subdued and taken away in "Carrydonkey" to the safety of Sauron Island where he can beat up as many Dinosaurs as he wants free from the interference of the Dinosaur Patrol.

Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free
Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free

It should all end there, especially since it seems to be the end of an episode, but sadly it doesn't. There's still another 44 minutes to go! We're only about half way through! Argh! The team leave headquarters once more on another mission. Although it's actually the same mission. Find the Brontosaurus and her child. George looks for them in the helicopter while Reggie only gets to use binoculars. More dino-facts are banded about before the monsters are located by the lake (surely where they left them). The dino family are found and re-found over and over again while all the toy vehicles scurry around at once. Mrs Dino and the toys battle it out for what seems like forever. Mother is subdued but for some reason not caught. Baby is caught. Mother wakes up and is angry but can't reach her child as the drugs start to take effect. There is genuine emotion as mother struggles to reach her captured child. The futility of it all causes mother dinosaur to actually weep a real tear! That's the only fact I learnt: Dinosaurs can cry!

Once more the ground begins to break up as if on some sort of schedule. Will Carrydonkey reach them in time to save the Mother dinosaur? George keeps an eye on the time revealing that he has at least one human arm! I can't take much more mixed media! Yet more minutes of non-suspense crawl by... At last the blimp arrives and the Mother and Child are safely transported to Sauron Island where their old friend Alusaur is no doubt waiting to greet them. So it's all over, right? Actually, we've only reached the 1 hour mark... oh God, another half an hour!!

Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free

Things start to look up plot-wise (as in it looks like one might appear). An evil big-game hunter eves drops on an emergency call from Australia. As if the Aussie's didn't have enough dangerous species already a Tyrannosaurus has been spotted in Victoria Desert. The hunter and his German assistant Glen race the Dino Patrol to the continent, so that he can kill it for its "Big head". On the long helicopter journey Mr Hunter remembers all the animals he's successfully hunted; a Lion... a Rhino... a Cheetah... a Giraffe?... a Panda? He sure hates animals! As with everything in this video the journey is long and drawn out but eventually the two opposing sides arrive in the area and disembark in their toy vehicles. Mr Hunter searches for the killer dino in a tank, if he finds it he'll kill it with a rifle and cut off its head with a chainsaw- he's got it all planned out. More toy cars scurrying around a model landscape...

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Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free Kyoryu Tankentai Born Free

Both sides find T-rex. Mr hunter and co shoot it with all their guns and it does that Kermit dance of anger. Next there's more toy car peril this time of the quick-sand variety. The DP escape but it seems like curtains for the hunters. And it would have been if the good guys hadn't rescued them. Why do they always do this? It's not as if they would have been directly responsible for their deaths. Now they are alive and once again free to hunt dinosaurs, although George makes Mr Hunter promise that he won't. Seconds later and he's right back at it again! Will they never learn? Mask was forever doing this. Oh god! Even on fast forward this moves slow. Toy cars crawl through a model desert, both sides fight over the dino, a rubber monster bites miniature cars... at last the Hunters are put to sleep and the T-rex is saved and taken away to Sauron Island. George promises to always protect Dinosaurs from evil and finally, FINALLY the credits role.

Born Free tie-in toy
(Above) The Born Free vehicle in genuine toy form.

Missing videos Missing videos

Captain George Collins: Actor
Witness a master class in voice acting!

Dino Fight!
Brontosaurus Vs Alusaurus.

Some unintentional laughs (crying dinosaur!)
So very long
Extremely dull
  Bad SFX
  Very weak dubbing
  Lousy script
  Practically plot-less
  Slow moving
  Models and cell animation don't mix
  Dull characters

Just as with Thunderbirds 2086 I couldn't get anxious for cartoon people in danger from natural disasters, with Return of the Dinosaurs I really can't get worked up over a cartoon crew in desperate peril of having their toy car crushed by a rubber Dinosaur. This is not least because all the the separate sections; the stop-motion, the cel animation and the miniatures really don't blend together. At all. I just couldn't get used to the concept that all the live action elements were in the same place as the animated people, it's just so jarring.

Also it is difficult to believe that Tsuburaya had anything to do with this, the models are that poor. Maybe it is because this was intended for small children so they didn't use their A material. But most of all Return of the Dinosaurs is just plain boring. I mean really, really boring. I'll let you into a secret... I watched this after Johnny Destiny and this seemed worse! There's just so little going on and it happens at such a slow pace!

Was it really worth the Dinosaurs returning for this? It just misses a 1 score thanks to the scene where the Dinosaur cried!