The threat of moving dinosaurs will send any 2-year-old into a fit of happy but hesitant hysteria. “It’s not real?” asked my son, Mason, literally 20 or so times the night before and morning of the day I took him for a sneak peek of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Dinomania! — a 21st-century dino display of lifelike beasts, educational video games, and one massive skeleton that opened on May 12 and runs through the summer. “No,” I replied repeatedly, “it’s like a robot. It’s not real.”
Upon arrival, the Tyrannosaurus rex sat motionless on the patio between the museum and Fleischmann Auditorium, as the staff feared it might be too frightening of an introduction. But peering through the doors inside, Mason quickly spotted the moving Triceratops family. “I see a baby one!” he yelled. “I see a baby one!” Indeed, on the stage of Fleischmann stood a Suburban-sized mommy Tri flanked by two babies, about the size of beer kegs. Once inside, Mason — like most of the other kids — kept his distance, pointing excitedly and shrieking due to a mix of delight and danger, for the animatronic dinos were disturbingly real. I carried him closer and explained that they were stuck in place, that their legs didn’t move. Then suddenly the mommy Tri‘s legs did actually lunge forward, startling us both.
A while later — after staring up at the huge skeleton named Samson, joysticking around on a “Be-the-Dinosaur” video game, sitting in the jeep to tour through Jurassic Park-like movie scenes, and unearthing dino bones from beneath fake dirt — Mason did stare at the Triceratops family and say, “I like them.” But that was from about 30 feet away, and he wasn’t bound to get one step closer. On the way out, they fired up the T. rex, which tracks you with its eyes, roars, and otherwise menaces the patio. A bit better adjusted to the experience — yet firmly in my arms — Mason smiled at the dino and said he was ready to go, asking one last time on the way back to the car, “It’s not real, Daddy?”
Scare your own kids and experience lifelike dinosaurs at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Dinomania! exhibit, which runs through September 9. See sbnature.org.