I suppose you can classify kids into types based on their interests. Some kids are "policeman" kids. Some are "truck" kids. Me? I was a "dinosaur" kid. I loved checking out the awesome dinosaur skeletons in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. My favorite book was Ranger Rick's Dinosaur Book. And my Disney Land was Dinosaur Land. There was a lot of cool stuff that I loved in my childhood, but at my core, I was always a dinosaur kid.
But I made myself more well-rounded by branching out into other interests. Transformers was one of those interests, and it's easy to see why. Cool vehicles that transformed into cooler "Shogun Warrior"-esque robots? Sign me up. As awesome as the first wave of Transformers was, I was absolutely ecstatic when the Dinobots hit the scene. I have vague recollections of waiting in line early in the morning at our local toy store, 20th Century Toys, for its first shipment of Dinobots. (Remember when there were toy stores that weren't Toys R Us? Toy Wizard, Juvenile Sales, KayBee... those were the days.) We were third in line, so my brother and I managed to get all the Dinobots we needed. My brother picked up Grimlock and Sludge, and I got Slag and another Sludge.
Tech Specs for Sludge and Slag. Unfortunately, Grimlock's is nowhere to be found.
These figures are some of my favorites from my childhood, so expect to see dust, chipped paint, and peeling stickers from decades of playtime and display. Let's start with Grimlock... he's the leader of the group! (But not transformed from the norm by the nuclear goop.)
Grimlock as a Tyrannosaurus Rex has one of the coolest dino modes of the Dinobots. Not only is the sculpt awesome as crap with its great angular 80's design, but also there's plenty of effective articulation to expand his playability. His shoulders and hips swivel, he has hinge knee joints, his neck swivels upward so that his jaw can open, and even his toes can close a bit. Although he was originally designed as a tail-dragger (which was the common interpretation of T-Rex's gait in those days), you can easily put him in a more accurate, horizontal posture.
Paradoxically, Grimlock's robot mode is among the worst of the Dinobots. He's insanely top-heavy and his microscopic head is positioned too far back on his over-developed chest. The head sculpt is cool because it sports the "ninja mask" that was the hallmark of many of the coolest Transformers like Optimus Prime and Soundwave. But the rest of him... yikes. It's best to keep him in his super-cool T-rex mode.
Slag is not only my favorite Dinobot, he's also my favorite Transformer of all time. (In fact, I would rank him as one of my top 10 favorite toys from my childhood... which would make a great list for a future Toy Tribute.) He's not only a Triceratops, one of my favorite dinosaurs, he's also a super-awesome robo-Triceratops. And, he transforms from that super-awesome robo-Triceratops into a sweet anthropomorphic robot. I'm not sure a cooler toy is even possible.
Slag has enough articulation to make him playable. The dino alt mode articulates at the shoulders, hips, and knees. And since the jaw hinges down during transformation, you can move the jaw to allow Slag to flap his yap with the other TFs. (I quickly realized that this was a bad idea, because the talking action might loosen the jaw enough for it to inadvertently flop open in dino mode.) The humanoid robot isn't all that great in terms of movement: the shoulders and knees articulate, but I think that's it. The hips look like they might move, but I don't think they do. I never had the guts to really force it to find out.
One cool thing common among Dinobots bears special mention here. Each Dinobot features an opening panel in which you can store missiles and stuff. (I think the Japanese Dinobots had pilots that fit in these "opening panels", which were actually cockpits.) I've talked about the fact that I find opening panels one of the coolest play features of a robot action figure, and I suspect that this was the first time I realized just how fun they can be.
Above you see my boxed Slag. (I don't own many boxed TFs, but I figured, if I'm going to fork over the dough for any boxed TF, it had better be Slag.) I love the both the front character illustration and the back space battle painting. When I was a kid, I noticed more than one instance of Slag and Grimlock in the space battle, so I thought that the Dinobots were generic soldiers like Stormtroopers. Of course, that wasn't the case, but can you deny that an army of Slags would be incredibly awesome?
I considered Sludge to be the dorkiest of the Dinobots. His dino mode was a Brontosaurus (or Apatosaurus, to you dinosaur sticklers out there), and I thought that the Sauropods were the doofiest of the dinosaurs. They didn't have the cool armament of Ceratopsians, and they didn't have the predatory weaponry of Theropods, so Sauropods were the lumbering oafs of the dinosaur world. That didn't really do much to endear Sludge to me. Not to mention his dino mode isn't particularly dynamic in terms of articulation. The back legs move really well with swivel hips and hinge ankles, but the front legs just aren't budging.
But like Grimlock, Sludge is a paradox. Although he has the most boring dino mode, his robot mode is arguably the strongest of all the Dinobots. I never really appreciated him as a kid, but now I can see that Sludge has the best proportions of the Dinobots and above average articulation with swivel shoulders, hinge elbows, swivel waist, and two hinge knee joints. Also, his head has some great silver detailing that makes his face pop. He still doesn't hold a candle to my beloved Slag, but I can finally appreciate him for the cool robot that he is.
DINOBOTS IN THE MEDIAAs uncontrollably awesome as the Dinobot toys were, I've always loathed them in the classic cartoon. Not only did the overly-simplistic animation of the original cartoon fail to do them justice, but Wheeljack inexplicably gave them "simple brains", which made them talk and act like absolute dullards. Check them out in their debut episode, SOS Dinobots. They're ludicrous.
The first appearance of the Dinobots in the comic.
Fortunately, their brains fared quite a bit better in the Marvel comics (at least, at first). Slag narrates their origin story in a cogent fashion, a story that is an improvement over the cartoon (see above). In the cartoon, Wheeljack creates the Dinobots on a whim, giving them the forms of dinosaurs because he thinks dinos are cool. In the comic, the Ark revives some Autobots to fight Shockwave, who arrived on Earth in the Cretacious period. The Ark gives these Autobots the forms of dinosaurs so that they can blend in with the locals. And Wheeljack wasn't around to mess up their brains.
Recent Transformers comics tend to downplay the stupidity of the Dinobots. In the DW universe, Grimlock is highly intelligent, but still talks with the primitive-sounding accent that's attributed to a "viral glitch in Grimlock's vocal processors".