The 90’s were about dinosaurs, dinosaurs, and more dinosaurs. Thanks mostly due to Jurassic Park, the interest in dinosaurs was renewed among the public. Especially kids, many of whom had to have everything revolving around dinosaurs. I fondly remember digging up whatever I could find about dinosaurs and borrowing a huge stack of dinosaur books and diagrams from my older cousin to research and draw from.
In response, a lot of the 90’s had something related to dinosaurs in them (the ABC Network actually ran a quite popular primetime sitcom starring dinosaurs. ‘Nuff said), and one of the most subtle representations of that fad was CRO. I’m not going to pretend it was a masterpiece of animation, nor am I going to pretend it was remarkable. I remember turning in to watch cartoons on the ABC Network in America and would either turn the dial when Cro came on, or just tune it out if nothing else was on.
Those days without cable or the internet, you only had those options. And it seems every other kid in America had a similar mindset as the show didn’t fare well in the ratings. Cro was apart of the whole FCC tirade of the decade, in which they demanded networks include some form of educational programming within their line up. This is why Animaniacs suffered and eventually became educational. It’s also the only reason why Cro existed in the first place and then faded away.
A well-intentioned series, but one that really doesn’t work all too well, Cro‘s entire premise often feels confused and weird. It almost seems like the creators had two ideas that they ultimately brought together to form one series. I think at one time the show was about a young cro-magnum boy living in a tribe in ancient times with a talking mammoth named Phil, dodging natural dangers and learning about life. Then, somewhere during production, someone demanded that the series be modernized to appeal to nineties youths with a diverse young cast, a modern setting, a fish out of water theme. It’s strictly just a hunch, but the series is just that uneven.
Speaking of the story, in modern times during an Arctic exploration, a diverse group of scientists and doctors discover a huge block of ice that happens to hold within it a perfectly preserved mammoth. When the ice thaws, the talking mammoth, named Phil, is brought to life and becomes the team’s sidekick and pet. Meanwhile we gradually learn about Phil’s origins, as every episode shares flashbacks from his past life when he lived with cave men and had a young cave boy owner named Cro.
Cro is short for Cro-Magnum Boy, the titular character who happened to be more evolved than his family. By coincidence, something was always happening to the team in modern times that involved a problem concerning some form of educational tool like engineering or science, and Phil would always recount a tale involving he and Cro who’d oddly enough experienced the same scenario and solved it… with science!
In the pilot, Phil is stuck in a shower thanks to his width, and his recollection of how Cro used leverage to defeat predators and help his tribe helps his friends get him free. Another episode involves Phil falling through a floor causing the group to use pulleys on him, which prompt him to recall a time where Cro used pulleys to save his brother Ogg after falling in to a tar pit. Again, the series isn’t too bad, it just doesn’t come together to form something interesting or cohesive.
The animation was pretty solid while the great Jim Cummings (the go to voice actor of the 90’s) played Phil with great empathy, while the great Frank Welker, and Tress MacNeille lent voices for supporting characters. Cro only lasted two seasons, with twenty episodes total. Eventually ABC took it off the Saturday line up after poor ratings, and later released the series on VHS in various volumes. The series really was the epitome of average, and that’s saying a lot for a show where it’s lead in was the Free Willy animated series.