One of the wonderful, weird, and almost dada aspects of Dinosaur Land is that its builders did not limit themselves to actual dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals. They let their imaginations run a bit wild. The first two creatures a visitor encounters when he or she walks out of the gift shop, through a short, cavern-like tunnel and out into the Prehistoric Forest are a 60 foot-long shark and a giant octopus which stretches 70 feet from tentacle tip to tentacle tip. In fact, to continue on into the park, one must walk beneath one of the octopus’s pink tentacles. Now the park’s operators could have identified the big shark as a Megolodon, an actual prehistoric shark which grew up to 52 feet long. They don’t; I get the feeling the big shark was installed up front, where it could be seen from the road, around the time the movie Jaws was a mega summer hit (my feeling was reinforced when the boys and I discovered you could walk into his mouth through his gills and pose between his giant teeth).
The octopus? Who knows? There’s the legend of the kraken, of course. And it’s possible that giant octopi did exist at one time, but we likely will never know, because, apart from their beaks, no other parts of their bodies would have fossilized. As cephalopods, they would have left behind no bones for us to find.
So I suppose the big shark and the giant octopus are borderline creatures, on the margin between potential scientific fact and imaginative fantasy. Other critters in Dinosaur Land, however, definitely fall into the latter category. There’s the giant king cobra. Actual examples stretch up to 14 feet long. This representation, on the other hand, towers a good 14 feet high. Then there’s the 13 foot-high praying mantis. Unless its breathing apparatus were to be completely different from that of actual insects, a mantis anywhere near this size would be unable to breathe.
But it is a wonderful reminder of one of my all-time favorite Creature Features, the 1957 giant bug movie The Deadly Mantis, starring Craig Stevens and a bunch of other B-listers I never heard of. The film’s memorable climax takes place when the big bug crawls into the Manhattan Tunnel in New York City and the army goes in after it.
And then there’s the boys’ favorite, and one of the largest statues in the park – King Kong. Kong is the only figure the park’s managers encourages children to climb upon (into his big paw, at least), so he makes for irresistible pictures. Interestingly, all of Kong’s prehistoric playmates from the classic 1933 film are with him at Dinosaur Land. His companions include a Brontosaurus/Apatosaurus, a Tyrannosaurus, a Stegosaurus, a giant snake, and a Pterodon.
The only missing creature from the original King Kong is a giant spider (but, to be fair to the park’s designers, the giant spider scene was cut out of King Kong’s original release prints, and was not restored to the movie until nearly fifty years later).
On the other hand, one of Kong’s antagonists from a later film appearance is present, the giant octopus from 1962’s Toho Films monsterfest King Kong vs. Godzilla.
One request for the Dinosaur Land folks… my youngest son, Judah, was sorely disappointed that there were no giant turtles in the park. He is a big fan of Gamera (child after my own heart!). The closest thing we could find to a giant turtle was the Ankylosaurus, which looked more like a giant horny toad than a giant turtle.
All in all, we loved the place. You could easily take a quick look-through and spend only twenty minutes in the Prehistoric Forest. But you would be denying yourself one of the park’s primary pleasures – an opportunity to quietly and languorously allow your imagination to roam.