The toughest girl in the Valley of the Dinosaurs

Since my daughter, age 7, is obsessed with dinosaurs, we’ve gone through every permutation of them we can, from the spectacle of Jurassic Park to the kaiju pummeling of Godzilla to the head-scratching WTF of Land of the Lost. And from my own long-ago childhood, I dredged up the Hanna-Barbara one-season wonder Valley of the Dinosaurs.

Sight unseen, she’s delighted because it has the word “dinosaurs” in it.

In my memory, I’d filed this under “Land of the Lost Rip Off,” but it turns out that both shows premiered on the same date (September 7, 1974), which means they were created and produced independently in one of those strange creative coincidences that often inspire words like “synchronicity” and “gestalt.” And the similarities are striking: in both, a family is rafting through a canyon, they’re sucked into some kind of watery gateway, and emerge in a strange world populated by dinosaurs and primitive humans.

Valley of the Dinosaurs, though, is far more traditional than Land of the Lost. Both the Butlers and their cave-dwelling friends are families of four, each with a tween (Greg Butler [voiced by a very young Jackie Earle Haley] and Tana), a teen (Katie Butler and Lok, see image below), a mother (Kim Butler and Gara), and a father (John Butler and Gorok). This gives kid viewers characters to identify with (Greg and Tana), aspire to be (Katie and Lok), and be protected by (the two sets of parents). It ran only 16 episodes, and with no overall arc; the episodes could essentially run in any order.

But watching anything with my daughter makes me pay extra attention to the female characters, and that’s when I realized how kick-ass teenage Katie Butler (voiced by Kathy Gori) really is. She never once screams in fear, or even surprise; no matter what happens, she’s ready with a snappy comment or observation. She’s never concerned with her appearance or whether hunky Lok likes her (a real rarity for a 70s teen girl on TV, animated or otherwise). She’s up to any task, and she’s often the instigator of the action. Her greatest moment might be when she trips running away from stampeding dinosaurs, and Lok throws her over his shoulder: she protests with dripping sarcasm, “Well, you’re certainly a gallant escort.”

It’s difficult to find out who created and/or wrote what on the show, but the IMDB lists eight writers, all male. So Katie wasn’t a subversive statement of feminism by a woman working on the show. Was her kick-assedness simply a way to keep the show from being too frightening? Or a deliberate choice, possibly by someone with a daughter who wanted to give her someone to look up to, someone who never panicked, cried for help, or screamed? Or was it simply an accident, dreamt up by writers who were working so hard and fast, they simply had no time to think of ulterior motives or ramifications?

Kathy Gori, who voiced Katie as well as other Hanna-Hanna-Barbara characters, told me, “Katie’s lines were all scripted, but I was pretty young and I’d been doing voices for HB since I was an older teenager and they knew me well. I was a pretty feisty, snarky kid on my own, so I think they sort of based her on my personality. I never met any of the writers, but the character seemed pretty natural to me so I’m figuring they [got the ‘teenage girl’ part right].

“My favorite character was Rosemary the cop in Hong Kong Phooey. I loved doing her. The thing about Valley was that the cast sort of formed a family and we all just really got along. We socialized outside of the show, which didn’t happen in other shows I did there….except I did date Inch High Private Eye for a while. So Katie would be number 2 for all the stuff I did there.”

Even now, nearly 50 years later, Katie Butler remains a great character for little girls—and boys—who wonder how they’d react in a crisis or emergency. And you can do a lot worse than look a dinosaur up and down and say, “Anything that ugly must be becoming extinct.”

Special thanks to Kathy Gori for talking to me about her voice acting.

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