The tale of a mythical lost continent. It is an idealistic Utopian society ruled over by Intellectual Animals. As the title suggests, many of the animals are dinosaurs who are very wise and very vague about how they survived the Cretaceous extinction. Other species, including humans, were marooned on the island over time. Once there, they are taught the ways of pacifism and vegetarianism by the other animals and are integrated into society.And as goofy as the premise may sound, it works. This is largely thanks to the insanely detailed, gorgeous illustrations of author/illustrator James Gurney, previously best known for his book covers, animation background art, and especially for his incredibly detailed illustrations of historical cultures in National Geographic. Those illustrations certainly inspired the incredible amount of thought he has put into the project, which has resulted is a fantasy setting that is every bit as believable and appealing as Middle-earth.Like Middle-earth, the concept of Dinotopia has proven so popular that it seems as though everyone has been given a chance to play in Gurney's sandbox. It even looks like Gurney has given everyone an open invite, as the three (thus far) Gurney-written illustrated novels have since been spun-off into (get some Burdock tea and a comfortable seat):A pair of young adult novels by Alan Dean Foster. A series of children's novels by various genre-fiction authors. A fourth Gurney-written/illustrated book packaged with a board game that serves as a prequel. A computer game. A made-for-TV movie. A short-lived television series based, in turn, upon the tv movie. A made-for-video animated film. And, inevitably, a video game. (Note that these spin-offs are roughly listed in the order of closeness to the source material and, perhaps not coincidentally, of how much fans like them.)It should also be noted that, like Richard Adams, James Gurney never met any Animal Tropes he didn't like...
The main series (books directly authored by James Gurney):
Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time - Arthur Denison and his son William are shipwrecked and brought via dolphins to Dinotopia. With their new Protoceratops translator Bix, they travel across the island and learn about its culture and customs. Arthur learns about the scientific achievements of the Dinotopians, while Will and his new Love Interest Sylvia train to be Skybax riders together. Has a Chekhov's Gunman in Lee Crabb, a cranky dinosaur hating man who becomes a recurring villain in later books.
Dinotopia: The World Beneath - Arthur Denison leads an expedition into the World Beneath to explore an Advanced Ancient Acropolis. He finds a new Love Interest who accompanies him on the expedition and Lee Crabb tags along, hoping to find riches in the lost city underneath and perhaps a way off the island.
Dinotopia: First Flight - A Prequel to the other books that takes place in ancient times. Gideon Altaire is a citizen of the technologically advanced city of Poseidos who is discontent with living in a culture of artificial dinosaurs. He discovers a Scaphognatus named Razzamult who tells him of a plan to invade the Dinotopian mainland and replace all the dinosaurs there with robots. Gideon rescues a group of captive pterosaurs, steals the Ruby Sunstone that powers the attack force, and escapes to the mainland. There he Goes Native to help repel the invasion, in the process becoming the first human to ride a pterosaur.
Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara - Arthur Denison's exploits have caught the attention of the mysterious emperor of the isolated city of Chandara. He and Bix are invited to tour the city, but their invitations are stolen by none other than Lee Crabb, forcing them to sneak past the border guards and find their way into the city through other means. Along the way, they meet a variety of people and dinosaurs.
The Young Adult novels by Alan Dean Foster:
Dinotopia Lost - The pirate ship Condor and its captain Brognar Blackstrap lands on Dinotopia, threatening the peaceful ways of the entire island. They kidnap a family of Struthiomimus and unknowingly take them into the Rainy Basin, home of the Tyrannosaurus rex. Furthering complicating things, the pirates also capture a baby rex, upsetting the balance of power amongst the saurians of the Basin and Will Denison and his Protoceratops sidekick Chaz must rescue the captives and stop Blackstrap's crew.
Hand of Dinotopia - Will's fiance Sylvia Romano disappears off in search of the legendary Hand of Dinotopia, supposedly a way to get off the island. Teaming up with Chaz again, Will heads off to find her and later joins her in her quest for the Hand.
In its various forms, the series provides examples of:
Actionized Prequel - First Flight features flying car chases, explosions and an aerial battle between pterosaur riders and a giant robot scorpion.
Actual Pacifist - Most Dinotopians, human and saurian alike abhor violence. There is even a passage in the Code of Dinotopia that says "Weapons are enemies, even to their owners". Not all on the island strictly adhere to this rule, though.
Animal Mecha - Strutters. Justified, in that they were designed specifically to replace dinosaurs.
Animal Talk - There's some jazz about a "dinosaur language" early on in the first book. Then the prospective Skybax riders are told that, because Pterosaurs are not dinosaurs, their mounts will not be able to understand the dinosaur language. Because whether you can understand a certain language depends on your biological classification. Even though humans and other non-dinosaur species can understand dinosaur language. Gurney has, understandably, RetConned this little ball of confusion into oblivion. In Journey to Chandra, Arthur's able to understand small pterosaurs chattering, and it's written out like English.
The idea behind the dinosaur language was sound, at least at first. The first book stated fairly early that most dinosaurs speak their own language because they lack the physical structures to speak human languages. Protoceratops and the smaller pterosaurs are the few exceptions, having more parrot-like vocal cords that allow them to pronounce human languages: its why the dimorphodons are used to relay messages, and Bix is an ambassador, able to speak several languages. The skybaxes have different vocal structures again, and so have their own language. A side-plot of the book Windchaser is the that the eponymous skybax is the first of his kind to learn human languages, and becoming a translator for the skybax.
Though it should be noted that by "dinosaur language", the first book meant a universal language for all dinosaur species; something very close to the definition of Animal Talk except, as noted above, specific to your Linnean classification. (In other words, imagine humans talking with cats talking with whales talking with aardvarks talking with fruitbats talking with desmostylans talking with tapirs talking with... and it's easy to see why Gurney retconned this.)
Anthropomorphic Shift - Gurney strongly dislikes it when animal characters act too human, particularly when it leads to Furry Confusion. He has written extensively in his blog and in his nonfiction book Imaginative Realism about how he himself has struggled to avoid this. However, a few of the spinoff novels and each of the films have featured animal characters that are indeed anthropomorphic or nearly so (the TV movie and series goes ahead and gives an animal character human-like hands). This may be one of the key factors in the Canon Discontinuity...
There are a few feathered dinosaurs in Journey to Chandra who appear to have human-like thumbs, but this is a pretty common mistake in paleoart.
Artistic License - James Gurney stated in his blog that he was fully aware of the fact that the dinosaurs on the island have existed unchanged for millions of years, but he stuck with it anyways for the sake of the story.
Atlantis - It's suggested that Poseidos was Atlantis.
Author Avatar - Arthur Dennison is in the not-even-subtle-about-it category, particularly in Journey To Chandara.
A Wizard Did It - It is very vaguely implied that the sunstones in the World Beneath gave the dinosaurs their sentience.
Bamboo Technology - Indeed, the residents appear to be technophobes to a degree, relying entirely on man-power (so to speak; it's just as likely to be crocodile-power or woolly rhino-power or whatever). They don't shun wheels, bellows, and pulley systems, and some of what they have is fairly sophisticated - diving machines, hot air balloons, a kind of keyboard that Deinonychus types on with its feet - but they're rather averse to strutters.
There's some degree of gadgetry in Chandara, including what seems to be a gramophone, but they're regarded as curiosities.
Barbarian Tribe - Tyrannosaurs and other theropods that live in the Rainy Basin and the Outer Island outside Culebra. A few of them have been written as Noble Savages, though.
Bat Deduction - Poseidos sounds like Poseidon. Legends say Poseidon sank Atlantis into the sea. Poseidos also sank into the sea. Therefore, Poseidos is Atlantis.
Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Every prehistoric creature is called by its scientific name... except for the Giant Flyers with the red-black-white color scheme, who are called Skybaxes by everyone. When huge pterosaurs came and rescued Arthur and Crabb at the end of The World Beneath, these were identified as Quetzalcoatlus northropi, and looked distinct from the skybaxes also present. It wasn't until the third book when it was mentioned in passing that skybaxes are Quetzalcoatlus, but not usually called that. For some reason.
Arthur identifies a Skybax as a Quetzalcoatlus "The most magnificent flying creature of all", right from the first time he sees one. The reason for their being two different species is likely because, when Guerney was illustrating the first book, fossils of Quetzalcoatlus were sketchy at best and some of the existing illustrations at the time were wildly inaccurate (as a side-note, a lot of Quetzelcoatlus reconstructions looked like monstrous Giant Flyers). The Q. northropies were probably included for safety's sake.
Canon Immigrant - Many of the towns and locations featured in the Young Adult novel series appeared on the map of Dinotopia in Journey to Chandara.
Journey to Chandara also features Skybax Air Jousting, a sport first mentioned in Windchaser.
Carnivore Confusion - The series is one of the few works involving Talking Animal characters that openly addresses this issue and has, relatively speaking, a well thought-out approach to the problem. All carnivores have switched to a diet of fish and it's implied that those who can (most notably humans) have gone entirely over to veganism. The twist is that some animals refused to make the change and have exiled themselves to the Rainy Basin and Backwood Flats, where they live as their wild ancestors did (similar to The Wild in Kevin & Kell). Interestingly, this is treated by the major characters as more of an alternate lifestyle choice than a break of the rules and such characters are not vilified as one would expect. (At least, not in the book. The movie is another story...)
In one of the not-quite-Canon spin-off novels, a city-dwelling herbivore was shown journeying through the Rainy Basin as she was about to die, providing the carnivores with food. This act was referred to in almost religious terms.
To be sure, the assurance that fish are kosher becomes a bit troubling when it becomes increasingly clear in Journey to Chandara that any species with more brains than a sponge can communicate with each-other...
Additionally, leathers, skins, and furs were seen in use by the Dinotopians. Readers had to wait until Journey to Chandara for the explanation: Arthur Dennison is given a new journal bound in the skin of an Intellectual Animal "whose dying wish was to donate his body to science". Have fun with the Fridge Logic.
Catch Phrase : "Breathe deep, seek peace" and the Skybax rider version. "Fly high,seek peace"
Chekhov's Gunman - Lee Crabb only had one appearance in the first book and had become the main antagonist by The World Beneath and Journey to Chandara.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome - The Deinonychus librarian Enit and the Troodon timekeeper Malik are not even mentioned in the fourth book (perhaps being lumped under the "many friends" Arthur and Bix bid farewell to before they leave for Chandara), in spite of making named appearances in the first two books. Especially jarring in the case of Enit as his assistant Nallab (a human) does appear. Might have something to do with being unfeathered deinonychosaurs in a 2007 book.
Creator Cameo - Dinotopia (the first book) has one of these in addition to the Author Avatar noted above. He's a minor figure in the street scene in Pooktook, the man standing to the right of the centrosaurus with the drink-dispensing panniers. He has a child riding on his shoulders, curly-toed shoes on his feet, and the most detailed facial features on that particular spread, especially considering that there are other passers-by standing closer to the foreground.
It's justified, though. In Imaginative Realism, Gurney reveals that he often has to act as his own actor/model when there's none handy.
Cut Short: The TV series (after the miniseries) ended with the Wizard's magic portal back to the real world mysteriously stolen. To which we ask, "What the hell book did the writers of the show read?"
Cypher Language - The Dinotopians use an alphabet made up of footprints. Which just happens to be a straight substitution cipher for the modern Latin alphabet.
Deadpan Snarker - Chaz the Protoceratops in Alan Dean Foster's two novels. In Hand of Dinotopia he remarks (after a flash flood in a desert) that only with Will Denison could he risk drowning in a desert.
Demoted to Extra: Done to some extent to Will in Journey To Chandra; previously he'd had equal pagetime to his father, but in this he appeared fleetingly, twice; as might be expected, the role of his Love Interest Sylvia was similarly reduced. Done much more severely to Oriana, who had been Arthur's traveling companion and budding Love Interest in The World Beneath. Neither of them are even mentioned at the end, when Arthur's reflecting over the places he's seen on the way.
Lee Crabb, despite being directly responsible for altering the entire journey in Journey to Chandara, makes only two appearances in the entire book.
Diminishing Villain Threat - Lee Crabb presented an actual threat to the safety of Dinotopia in The World Beneath. He seemed to be trying to start a war in Journey to Chandara, but all he really succeeds in doing is stealing Arthur and Bix's passes and convincing Emperor Hugo Khan to stockpile some weapons, and his plans are foiled quite easily by Arthur, who needed only to show up.
Direct Line to the Author - A Land Apart from Time and Journey to Chandara are presented as journals that James Gurney found in a library and a pawn shop.
Dressing as the Enemy - In First Flight, Gideon dresses up as a security guard to sneak into the Strutterworks and steal the Ruby Sunstone.
The Empire - Poseidos was this before it sank beneath the waves.
Eternal English - Thoroughly averted in the beginning of the first book. Arthur Denison notes that when a character who speaks English is produced to translate, his English is "archaic". Gurney's other books don't feature fresh dolphinbacks, but Dinotopia Lost and a lot of the junior novels do, and they play it completely straight.
Somewhat justified in Dinotopia Lost, as the pirates are captained by an Englishman, and so would understandably speak at least a little English. Will still has to provide translation services.
Evil Versus Oblivion: Lee Crabbe's descendant Cyrus Crabbe in the TV movie is an amoral thief and con artist who hates the entire Dinotopian way of life. He joins with the protagonists to save the island, "not because I like it, but because I'm trying to save me own skin."
Excuse Plot - A Land Apart from Time and Journey to Chandara were less about telling stories and more about heaping generous amounts of Scenery Porn on the reader.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture - Justified. Shipwrecked survivors throughout the ages brought their cultures with them. Also, some who successfully escaped the island influenced other worldwide cultures.
Feathered Fiend - Many dinosaurs in Journey to Chandara are shown with feathers, however this is subverted in that they don't behave particularly like fiends.
Fish Eye Lens - Coupled with some kind of infrared/rainbow filter, we're told that this is how dinosaurs (and human children and artists) see the world in one page of the original book. As with the convoluted "rules" of the Animal Talk (see above), this has also more or less been RetConned out of existence.
Flanderization - The TV miniseries turned Dinotopian society from "peaceful, wise and enlightened" to "naive, stubborn and ignorant". Also, the carnivores of the Rainy Basin went from intelligent Barbarian Tribe to standard Prehistoric Monsters.
The animated film throws these away into the trash. The Dinotopians go back to preferring life without technology and are shown to be aware of the outside world and its changes, but have grown fearful of them and use sunstones to keep the island hidden. The carnivores revert back to being senient, even as Noble Savage like in the books.
Great Offscreen War - Since modern Dinotopian society has given up warfare entirely, any armed conflict depicted will have happened in the past.
In First Flight, we see a grand total of one (relatively small) battle between the first Pterosaur Riders and a scorpion-like strutter. However, Journey to Chandara mentions a much larger conflict that occurred between Poseidos and the mainland during that timeframe.
Hand of Dinotopia reveals that this is exactly what happened the last time contact was made of the outside world.
River Quest also has a mural depicting a war between the carnosaurs of the Rainy Basin and the humans.
Heel Face Turn - Most of Brognar Blackstrap's crew pull this at the end of Dinotopia Lost.
Heroic Dolphins: Dolphins were responsible for bringing all shipwreck survivors to the island.
Historical In-Joke - It's implied that Dinotopians from the advanced lost city of Posidos escaped destruction and began all of human civilization. Egyptian, Mayan, and Indian art motifs are seen in the pre-Egyptian daguerreotypes, as well as in the Greek-ish language used to name the city.
Mentor Occupational Hazard - Subverted in River Quest, one of the children's digest novels. Magnolia's Mentor Edwick survives an injury from an exploding geyser, but it effectively puts him out of commission and forces Magnolia to take up his reigns.
Most Writers Are Human - Very oddly applied, even leading to some uncomfortable Fridge Logic. Dolphins (who bring shipwrecked humans to the island) and humans are the most prominent modern-day species on the island. We are assured that there's something about humans. Yeah... Also, according to the text only ten percent of the Dinotopia population is human, but the illustrations suggest otherwise.
Then again, the human narrator would naturally be drawn to the human population centers; loitering too long in "wilder" regions like the Rainy Basin would prove hazardous to one's health.
Also Dinotopia Lost, which has pirates, sympathetic Tyrannosaurus rex, and a Deinonychus that knows martial arts and had his own hot air balloon.
And who can forget the robot dinosaurs of Poseidos?
They are only referenced, but Chandara apparently has a temple of Shaolin AcrocanthosaurusWarrior Monks.
Noble Savage - Stinktooth the Giganatosaurus protects Arthur and his friends from a Tyrannosaurus after he saves his son, and even helps Arthur stop Lee Crabb from escaping the island. The "savage" part comes from the fact that he's still a carnosaur that lives outside of civilization and presumably eats non-seafood meat.
There is a pack of tyrannosaurs in the Blackwood Flats that only eat carrion.
Omnidisciplinary Scientist - It's never made clear exactly what sort of scientist Arthur Denison is, but he has so far shown the skills of a paleontologist, zoologist, botanist, geologist, anthropologist and even engineer.
Omniglot - Invoked by Bix, and by extension, other Protoceratops; they serve as translators and ambassadors for Dinotopians. In the first book, Bix mentions being fluent in 17 languages.
Orichalcum - The key to the World Beneath is made of this.
Patchwork Map - There are seven different habitats on the relatively small island, with Habitat Partners for each. Aerial can be ruled out for not being an actual biome, while beaches and bays are a given, considering that Dinotopia is an island. The remaining five are forests (the Rainy Basin and presumably the Blackwood Flats), savannah (the area around Sauropolis), freshwater (various rivers around the island, mainly the Polongo), desert (the Great Desert) and alpine (the Forbidden Mountains). And if you're wondering, yes, there are also volcanic areas (the city of Pooktook rests on one).
Pirate - Dinotopia Lost revolves around a band of pirates that end up on the island.
Prehistoric Monster - Utterly averted. Most of the dinosaurs are wise and peaceful, and they are 'all'' sentient. Even the uncivilized carnosaurs of the Rainy Basin are not above negotiating with any travelers who try to buy safe passage with offerings of fish.
Quicksand Sucks - The protagonists encounter some quicksand early on in River Quest.
Ragnarok Proofing - In The World Beneath, the strutters discovered by the heroes still work fine, even after several thousand years of just sitting in a cave. They don't even appear particularly rusted.
Raptor Attack - Hand of Dinotopia has a tribe of Deinonychus living on Culebra. They help out the protagonists in exchange for being taught how to fish.
The Deinonychus and Troodon ("Stenonychosaurus") in the earlier books are also now victims of Science Marches On, being depicted without feathers.
Retcon - The World Beneath introduces the Sunstones as being newly (re)discovered. Journey to Chandara states that Sunstones have been traded on Dinotopia for ages. There's also the Animal Talk and Fish Eye Lens mentioned above, and the Veganopia mentioned below.
Rock Beats Laser: An all-powerful flying scorpion strutter was defeated in First Flight by a Ragtag Band of Misfits riding on pterosaurs and armed with nothing but sticks, fruit slings, and their bare hands.
Rousseau Was Right: The books apologetically show that with the guiding wisdom and influence of enlightened dinosaurs, humans can become nice, peaceful, and capable of co-existing with each other. This also goes for most newcomers to the island. The only "bad" guy grew up off of the island, and he's relatively tame for a villain.
The most damning example comes from Dinotopia Lost, where most of a crew a cutthroat pirates pull a Heel Face Turn and integrate into Dinotopian society after seeing how nice life on the island can be.
Sapient Cetaceans: Although every creature in and around the island of Dinotopia is at least intelligent enough to communicate with humans, dolphins were the first to interact with humans.
Sapient Steed - Humans will commonly ride saurians, who of course, are sentient.
Schizo Tech - Poseidos had robots, flying drones, antigravity cars and computers... before Christ was even born. Possibly Hand Waved by the fact that their access to sunstones encouraged rapid technological development. That doesn't explain how Arthur Denison was able to invent a flying dragoncopter, though.
Ironic in that our protagonist is a scientist. Really, it's only technology that is bad.
Even then, it's more like "Unnecessary technology is bad" and that's mainly because it made humans decide that they were superior to everyone else and plan to exterminate the real dinosaurs and replace them with subservient machines that could do the same thing.
Science Marches On: Probably the reason why the Deinonychus librarian and Troodon timekeeper are nowhere to be seen in the fourth book, as they were depicted without feathers in the earlier books.
In A Land Apart from Time, pterosaurs are depicted standing on two legs.
In that same book, Malik the timekeeper is referred to as a Stenonychosaurus.
A inversion wherein Gurney actually predicted a scientific discovery: The portrayal of Oviraptor as an egg nurse instead of a notorious egg devourer. The latter was the common image we had of this animal at the time the first book came out (as you can easily tell by the genus name), because its fossil remains were found near a nest supposedly from Protoceratops. It later turned out that the specimen in question wasn't a thief caught red-handed, it was a brooding parent.
Shown Their Work - Not that surprising, seeing how as James Gurney was already a well established paleoartist when he created the series.
Shrouded in Myth - The reputation of Emperor Hugo Khan in Journey to Chandara proceeds his onscreen (so to speak) appearance so much that Arthur Dennison and Bix assume he must be a huge and intimidating creature like a Tyrannosaurus - and then he turns out to be a Microraptor. Probably the least intimidating of all dinosaurs.
Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness - Despite being the primary recurring villain in the main series, Lee Crabb never goes past Jerk Ass in terms of vileness. In fact, it's arguable whether he even makes it to that level, since most of his character flaws involve him being greedy and malcontented rather than him actually treating any other characters particularly poorly. Of course, considering the books' heavy use of Rousseau Was Right, it's not surprising that the worst character is pretty tame.
Harmless Villain - In fact, the only time he has ever posed any sort of threat was in The World Beneath, when he tried to escape Dinotopia in a strutter with overly ambitious plans of returning with an invasion force. In A Land Apart from Time, he's just a cranky old extra, and in Journey to Chandara, his antics cause nothing more than inconvenience to the heroes, at worst.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism - On the far end of the idealist side. In Dinotopia Lost a band of cutthroat pirates are actually convinced to give up their former ways and reform after seeing the majesty of Dinotopia.
Justified by character development: several of the pirates, especially the First Mate, are established over the course of the story to be tired of piracy, or to have been forced into that life by outside circumstances. The more observant also notice that the era of traditional piracy is ending, and so are open to an alternative to being killed in combat or hung.
Team Pet - Subverted. Bix would probably bite you in the thigh if you called her this. Really, she sometimes appears to think Arthur is her pet human.
Translation Convention - In the first book, the main characters have to learn the Dinotopian language, but it's all presented as English. Same may go for why all the dinosaurs are referred to by their genus names. Lee Crabb makes it clear that there is no translation convention going on for Dinotopia's name, though. The World Beneath does the same for Tyrannosaurus rex.
Tyrannosaurus rex - They guard ancient temples in the Rainy Basin and must be bought off with smoked fish to ensure safe passage. Journey to Chandara also features another variant that feeds only on carrion.
Warrior Monk - A group of Shaolin Acrocanthosaurus are mentioned in Journey to Chandara.
What Could Have Been - James Gurney has recently published a non-fiction book, Imaginative Realism, which serves as both a behind-the-scenes look at his painting method and a collection of his lesser known art. Several of the newly-published pieces practically beg for elaborations. Generally speaking, there were going to be a lot more Dinotopia spin-offs including a Theme Park, a line of dolls and toys, and a theatrical animated film (which, from the looks of it, would have been made by people who bothered to read the book).
White and Grey Morality - There's only one major villain, and he's depicted as more of a cranky old nonconformist than as being particularly evil. And the spinoff novels usually don't even have villains.