The exciting news in 2010 that Papo was to release a plesiosaur, their first ever marine reptile, was quickly quashed when I saw the early publicity photograph. The picture revealed a disappointing Nessie-like concoction with a chubby body and a swan-like neck. In the flesh, The Papo Plesiosaurus evokes mixed feelings. At best, the figure represents a moderate restoration of a generic plesiosaur. At worst, this is a monster toy. It all depends on your point of view…
It’s almost unfair to judge Papo’s prehistoric animals from a scientific perspective because anatomical accuracy is obviously not a major part of their remit. Some of Papo’s prehistoric creatures are very accurate so there are exceptions, although I question whether this is by design or simply fortuitous. But Papo’s highly detailed renderings of dinosaurs stem from popular images, irrespective of their accuracy. While some popular images of dinosaurs are accurate, others are not, and this reflects in the palaeontologically hit-and-miss nature of their line. Papo divides dinosaur collectors for this very reason, and it makes it difficult to review Papo dinosaurs on their own merits. The association of plesiosaurs with lake monsters in pop culture, and the notoriously inaccurate popular image of plesiosaurs in general, means we shouldn’t be entirely surprised that the Papo Plesiosaurus looks the way it does. As with previous offerings by Papo, sometimes their source of ‘inspiration’ is obvious (Jurassic Park) and other times it is not (specific paintings from Paleoartists), so one of the interesting aspects of this figure is trying to identify the source (or sources) of ‘inspiration’.
The head is actually rather good if one considers it not as a Plesiosaurus, but as a longer-snouted relative such as Attenborosaurus. It is certainly the most accurate part of the sculpt. The eyes are correctly positioned midway along the skull, the nostrils are accurately retracted close to the eyes, and there are depressions at the back, on the top of the skull that roughly correspond to the temporal openings. The mouth is closed and doesn’t articulate like some other Papo figures. The teeth form a mean-looking interlocking mesh. Some ridges on the skull do not correspond with true plesiosaurian anatomy, but I’m rather impressed overall, it is excellently sculpted and convincingly plesiosaurian. Moving on to the body though, things start to go downhill.
The neck forms an S-shape curve like a Nessie. Although plesiosaurs had some limited flexibility in their neck, this posture is beyond those limits. The neck was held out directly in front of the body in real plesiosaurs. The body of the Papo plesiosaur is short and deep – too short. The flippers are also rather stubby, especially the hind flippers, which are too short again. All four flippers have a distinct ‘elbow’/’knee’, which is characteristic of the plesiosaur Cryptoclidus (but not Plesiosaurus). The overall pose is pretty static and dull, which contrasts greatly to the dynamic poses of many other Papo figures. There are a few small bumps or blemishes along with many scratches on the surface, which add character to the piece.
Peculiarly, the tail has a slight diamond-shape flattened fin. Plesiosaurs are sometimes depicted with a vertical tail fin and there is some evidence to back this up, however, there is no evidence for a horizontal fin as depicted in this figure. A horizontal fin is characteristic of marine mammals and some movie monsters, maybe Papo took inspiration from “The Water Horse” or a similar movie, which could account for this anatomical blooper?
The colouration is dark grey on top with paler grey below. There is a pale patch on the side of the snout and the teeth are picked out in white. The paint is neatly applied with great detail on the head but rather crudely on the flippers and body. The pattern and shades are almost identical to those of a plesiosaur model featured in a BBC documentary on Loch Ness, the model is now on display in the Oxford Museum in the UK. Photos of this highly inaccurate model (arbitrarily attributed to Cryptoclidus) are common on the web, so I’d wager that this was the primary inspiration for Papo. At 23 cm long, this is a sizable figure.
In conclusion, the Papo Plesiosaurus can’t be regarded as a Plesiosaurus, but an unusual mix of various plesiosaur species, movie creatures, and legendary monsters. It’s really not as bad as it could have been, but nor is it up there with the Papo Allosaurus (which I maintain is still the best widely available dinosaur toy). I find it difficult to dislike the figure entirely and the head is almost redeeming, but if I’m going to put my palaeontologist hat on (as I typically do when I write these reviews), then this figure must be regarded as failure. Which is a real shame as this figure had so much potential.
Available on eBay here