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Western Animation / When Dinosaurs Roamed America

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When Dinosaurs Roamed America (2001, sometimes shortened to When Dinosaurs Roamed outside North America) was the Discovery Channel's first major attempt to cash-in on the dinosaur-documentary trend started by BBC's famous Walking with Dinosaurs. Similar to that program, it also aimed for a Speculative Documentary format, and used CGI to recreate its dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and various other prehistoric animals, placing them into real-life scenery. The stories were told in chronological order, from the beginning to the end of the dinosaurs' reign. The series is narrated by John Goodman, with music by former Tangerine Dream member and Babylon 5 composer Christopher Franke.

Unlike its predecessor/competitor, however, WDRA included short cut-away scenes to paleontologists and at times froze the animation to reveal the skeletal structure behind the animals' skin, using solid facts to explain the science that went into creating the program.


Other things that make it different from WWD is the fact that it concentrates purely on American dinosaurs, and condenses its stories into small segments, instead of devoting full episodes to them.

While disliked by some due to how quickly Discovery churned it out after hearing of the dinosaurs' marketability from Britain, the product was generally well-received by the viewers, especially compared to some later works, such as Clash of the Dinosaurs and Monsters Resurrected.


The work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • All There in the Manual: Notice that small, unnamed theropod from the very beginning of the last segment? The now- gone website reveals it's an Ornithomimus.
  • Always a Bigger Fish:
    • The Megapnosaurus (Kayentavenator?) suddenly cease their attack on the Anchisaurus. It turns out that the Dilophosaurus has shown up.
    • Allosaurus to Ceratosaurus. Also counts as an example of The Hunter Becomes the Hunted.
  • Animals Not to Scale:
    • Most likely the result of the animators not paying attention. When the first T. rex shows up, it doesn't seem out of scale with the rest of the animals. But the narration claims it's actually a juvenile. Later, when his mother appears, she is hulking huge, even compared to the "Anatotitan" which is supposed to be the same size as a rex!
    • Similarly Megapnosaurus is said to be 10 feet long; how come the not-even 7 foot Anchisaurus is more than twice their size (this could be a case of Science Marches On as the larger Ammosaurus is sometimes considered Anchisaurus)?
  • Apocalypse How: A Class4 event at the end of the Cretaceous, but interestingly, the documentary also starts with an even larger meteor-strike, that was supposed to represent the great extinction event that ended the Permian and made way for the evolution of dinosaurs in the Triassic. A lesser meteor-related extinction also separates the Triassic and Jurassic.
    • Apocalypse Wow: The K-T extinction is depicted as a supermassive atomic bomb going off with a blazing wall of ash and fire rushing across the land, causing the mighty T. rex family to flee in terror. In the aftermath, a grey world is left behind littered with dinosaur corpses.
  • Behind the Black: The Ceratosaurus doesn't notice the hulking huge, oncoming Allosaurus either, until it's right on top of it. To the ceratosaur's credit, though, it was off-screen, even if out in the open, plainly visible from all sides.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: Stegosaurus and Desmatosuchus.
  • The Dreaded: Dilophosaurus towers over its competitors and its prey in the Early Jurassic. The only thing they fear is another Dilophosaurus.
  • Eagle Land: The documentary takes place in prehistoric America, back when eagles were big, scaly and had teeth.
  • Eats Babies: Ceratosaurus kills and devours a baby Dryosaurus.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: And not just regular dinosaurs, but in dinosaurs in America!
  • Failed a Spot Check: The deinonychosaurs fail to notice a forest fire, even when being surrounded by flames.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
    • What happens to the poor Apatosaurus that trips and falls. As if slowly starving to death wasn't bad enough, a hungry pack of Allosaurus descends on it and ravenously devours it alive.
    • During the lightning/forest fire sequence in the mid-Cretaceous segment, the raptors get roasted alive along with the Zuniceratops corpse they were feeding on.
    • During the same segment, a Nothronychus gets struck by a bolt of lightning and explodes! This was cut from the television broadcast for obvious reasons.
  • Feathered Fiend: The documentary famously depicted many dinosaurs with feathers, including "raptors" and the bizarre-looking Nothronychus.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period.
  • Giant Flyer: Quetzalcoatlus.
  • Goofy Feathered Dinosaur: Subverted with the raptors and Nothronychus. Their early CGI feathered coatings may make them look goofy, but they are very dangerous animals. Especially the Nothronychus since they can swipe away a raptor with their mighty claws despite being described as "a half-plucked turkey [that] walks like a potbellied bear."
  • Hemisphere Bias: It's in the title.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Allosaurus does this to Ceratosaurus.
  • King of the Dinosaurs: Tyrannosaurus rex is the "star" of the final segment, which is set at the end of the Cretaceous just before the K-T mass extinction event.
  • Mighty Roar:
    • Tyrannosaurus, obviously, but Dilophosaurus also has an awesome roar (which sounds oddly metallic). Ceratosaurus is no slouch either, as it has arguably the most fearsome sounding roar.
    • Inverted in the case of Allosaurus, which sounds incredibly weak being the largest carnivore in the Late Jurassic segment of the show.
  • Narrator: John Goodman.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Averted by the herbivorous Desmatosuchus, but the phytosaur Rutiodon does the job alright.
  • No Pronunciation Guide:
    • Desmatosuchus and Anatotitan are mispronounced "Demastosuchus" and "Anatatotitan", respectively.
    • Dubs fared no better. For instance all three Hungarian narrations (yes, there's that many) had trouble deciding where to use soft "C"s and hard "K"s, which lead to mispronunciations like "Koelophysis", "Keratosaurus" and "koelurosaurus" — on the other hand, the third version got Desmatosuchus right for once.
  • Noisy Nature: For a dinosaur-show, this is almost prerequisite. A particularly glaring example is the Dilophosaurus. Justified in the part where the Syntarsus (now Megapnosaurus) steal his food, since he is trying to scare them away, but for the most part he can't seem to shut up even when he's stalking prey (Ironically, Science Marches On and it is fairly certain most dinosaurs were not incredibly noisy animals).
  • Prehistoric Monster: Avoided, although the animals do behave as aggressive as its intended audience expects them to.
  • Ptero Soarer: The Quetzalcoatlus may seem outdated by today's standards, but that's the result of science marching on.
  • Raptor Attack: Somewhat justified, as the CGI team couldn't get their feathers to be quite as birdlike as they should be.
  • Real Is Brown: Practically all the animals are shades of brown.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: The CGI creatures are dropped into Real Life scenery.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: The Ceratosaurus, as the Allosaurus kills it.
    • Allosaurus, all the time.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Desmatosuchus, Icarosaurus, Rutiodon, Anchisaurus, Camarasaurus, Nothronychus, and Zuniceratops.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: When the Stegosaurus pair get ready to mate, the camera tilts skywards. This was the only solution, though: we don't really know just how they did it.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The scenes of paleontologists inserted in between the dinosaur clips.
    • This is one of the first dino-documentaries to feature feathered raptors and therizinosaurs (in the form of Nothronychus). While the CGI technology wasn't ready to depict birdlike feathers, the sight of a fuzzy but dangerous raptor is enough to hammer home of just how close dinosaurs are to birds.
    • The depiction of Dilophosaurus as an apex predator of its day rather than a scavenger with a weak bite or the fictitious frilled-spitting dinosaur from Jurassic Park. While there are minor scientific inaccuracies with the portrayal itself, this is one of the few major dinosaur media that refutes the idea of Dilophosaurus being physically weak carnivore (even back in 1986, paleontologists argued that Dilophosaurus may have still hunted other dinosaurs despite its apparent fragile jaws).
  • Small Taxonomy Pools: Averted. Many stock creatures appear, but so do a number of animals that have rarely ever been shown on television, notably the (then) newly-discovered Nothronychus and Zuniceratops, as well as then newly-discovered but yet-undescribed and unnamed Suskityrannus.
  • Speculative Documentary: Since dinosaurs are long gone, it's inevitable that the documentary would have to construct its interpretation of the Mesozoic era based on the evidence they have with fossils.
  • Stock Dinosaurs: Coelophysis in the Triassic (the only dinosaur in that segment), along with Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, Ceratosaurus and Dilophosaurus from the Jurassic and Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, "Anatotitan", and Quetzalcoatlus from the Cretaceous.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The dromaeosaurid attacking the Nothronychus head on, although both survive the attack. They then die when they're burned alive in the forest fire because they were too busy eating the corpse of the dead Zuniceratops to run away from the fire.
  • Wolverine Claws: Nothronychus.