Dino Safari brings animatronic dinosaurs to life at North Point Mall

The Spinosaurus at the Dino Safari exhibit at North Point Mall in Alpharetta through April, 2022. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
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The Spinosaurus at the Dino Safari exhibit at North Point Mall in Alpharetta through April, 2022. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@aj

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@aj

The experience continues through April 2022.

Humanity’s fascination with dinosaurs remains unbowed by the distractions of politics and division.

Look at the enduring success of the “Jurassic World” franchise or Fernbank Museum’s dinosaur-packed gift shop or the kid-oriented “dinotorium” at Stone Mountain Park.

Atlanta-based Imagine Exhibitions, well aware of said appeal, has been organizing successful dinosaur displays for years all over the world. Its latest “Dino Safari” exhibition, packed with 30 animatronic dinosaurs, debuted Nov. 19 at North Point Mall in Alpharetta in the old Sears space by the food court. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday until April.

While geared for kids, adults with a child-like fascination with dinosaurs will find the exhibit appealing as well. And at $15 a person, the price point is significantly less than other Atlanta-based experiences featuring Van Gogh, Banksy, “Downton Abbey” and Candytopia.

Tom Zaller, who runs Imagination Exhibitions, said the dino shows his company creates are largely geared to kids 10 and younger but he is amazed how broad the audience can be. “You’ll see grandparents. You’ll see 20-year-olds wearing ‘Jurassic Park’ shirts,” he said. “You can tell they are really fans.”

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Hendrix Mathis looks over one of the animatronic dinosaur displays at the Dino Safari exhibit at Northpoint mall in Alpharetta Friday, November 19, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Hendrix Mathis looks over one of the animatronic dinosaur displays at the Dino Safari exhibit at Northpoint mall in Alpharetta Friday, November 19, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
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Hendrix Mathis looks over one of the animatronic dinosaur displays at the Dino Safari exhibit at Northpoint mall in Alpharetta Friday, November 19, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Besides the dinosaurs, there is a sandbox for kids to “unveil” dinosaur bones with brushes, a toddler-friendly slide, workers working dinosaur puppets and a special play area for young kids featuring a dino-friendly cornhole game and an obstacle course.

“This is more than just looking at rubber dinosaurs,” said Gregory Erickson, a Florida State University professor, paleontologist and curator of Dino Safari who recently gave The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a special tour of his work. “It’s how people learn about plate tectonics and the fact all dinosaurs started when the continents were all together. No matter where you live in this world, dinosaurs were there.”

Erickson, who has consulted with Imagine Exhibitions for more than eight years, conceived the thematics of this exhibit around Pangea, a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic before they splintered into the seven that exist today. Dinosaurs emerged around that time, Erickson noted.

The exhibit features seven separate rooms representing each future continent.

“Pangea gives us a good base for storytelling,” Zaller said. “It’s a story kids can understand.”

What Zaller loves about Erickson is his mix of expertise that comes into play in the exhibition: “He’s a biologist and an engineer and a geologist. He brings a fresh perspective beyond paleontology.”

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Gregory Erickson, the consulting paleontologist, tries out one of the dino-puppets. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Gregory Erickson, the consulting paleontologist, tries out one of the dino-puppets. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
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Gregory Erickson, the consulting paleontologist, tries out one of the dino-puppets. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Erickson said there is a magic to dinosaurs that goes beyond those of dragons or other imaginary figures because dinosaurs actually roamed the Earth far longer than humans have. “It’s hard to believe these things ever lived,” he said. His goal for the exhibit is simple: “As an educator, if someone leaves having learned something, I’ll be thrilled.”

He hand-selected which dinosaurs to feature and ensured their accuracy as best he could, based on the latest research. Some carnivorous dinosaurs, for instance, had bird-like feathers, as illustrated on some of the dinosaurs on display. At the same time, he said paleontologists over the decades have had to guess what colors the dinosaurs actually are so not all the dinosaurs are mono-gray.

“Barney the purple dinosaur,” Erickson noted, “is not entirely unfeasible.” So there are a few dinosaurs with unusual colorations as well.

And he said it’s not entirely clear if the dinosaurs roared like lions though that roaring sound is prevalent throughout the exhibition.

While there are a few newly discovered dinosaurs included in the mix, he had to feature not just one but two versions of the Tyrannosaurus rex, the most iconic of dinosaurs. Its fame came in part, Erickson said, because the first sizable skeletal remains were found more than a century ago by New York paleontologists and it’s been long featured at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

“If you do a dinosaur display,” Erickson said, “you gotta have a T. rex.”

He also makes sure there are real dinosaur bones for people to touch. “It’s always a big hit,” he said.

Zaller loves being able to use former department store space for exhibits like this because the parking is free and located in heavily trafficked parts of town. But many spaces lack the ceiling clearance he needs to show off the bigger dinosaurs. Fortunately, this particular old Sears had storage space with tall enough ceilings to make it work.

Toward the end of last year, during the pandemic, his company held an outdoor drive-thru version of the Dino Safari dinosaur at the same mall for a couple of weeks to test out the dinosaurs. But he thinks the indoor set up is a far better experience. “In a parking lot of a mall, it’s a lot harder to suspend disbelief,” Zaller said.

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Paleontologist Gregory Erickson helped create Dino Safari along with Atlanta-based Imagine Exhibitions. It will be at North Point Mall in Alpharetta through April, 2022. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Paleontologist Gregory Erickson helped create Dino Safari along with Atlanta-based Imagine Exhibitions. It will be at North Point Mall in Alpharetta through April, 2022. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
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Paleontologist Gregory Erickson helped create Dino Safari along with Atlanta-based Imagine Exhibitions. It will be at North Point Mall in Alpharetta through April, 2022. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

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Dino Safari features animatronic dinosaurs and some real dinosaur bones. Paleontologist Gregory Erickson gave the AJC a tour on Nov. 11, 2021, eight days before official opening. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rh

Dino Safari features animatronic dinosaurs and some real dinosaur bones. Paleontologist Gregory Erickson gave the AJC a tour on Nov. 11, 2021, eight days before official opening. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
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Dino Safari features animatronic dinosaurs and some real dinosaur bones. Paleontologist Gregory Erickson gave the AJC a tour on Nov. 11, 2021, eight days before official opening. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rh

Credit: RODNEY HO/rh


IF YOU GO

Dino Safari

11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon-7 p.m. Sundays. $15; VIP tickets $25. North Point Mall in the old Sears space, 1000 North Point Circle, Alpharetta. DinoSafari.com.

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