Perhaps surprisingly for an animal that was a staple of popular books on prehistoric life for decades (and made an appearance in Walking With Beasts), models of Gastornis are a little thin on the ground. Happily, Safari have stepped forward with this very decent effort – the first toy “Diatryma” in years. It’s the perfect demonstration of how they can pull off a reasonably sized, feathered dinosaur when cultural inertia doesn’t get in the way.
Anatomically, the sculpt’s proportions are a good match for the real thing, from the long legs and neck to the stubby forelimbs and huge head. The rump may not quite be large enough, and the toes are somewhat oversized (the better to maintain balance), but other than that it’s pleasingly well-researched. Muscles pop from the animal’s legs – perhaps the reason that the feathers don’t extend further down is to show off the sculpting – while the body boasts a covering of coarse, ostrich-like (if not quite emu- or cassowary-like) feathers, with wings sporting distinct remiges. The plumage hugs the contours of the body quite closely, which gives the animal a rather svelte and fierce appearance, altogether enhanced by that head. It’s quite a head.
Gastornis is perhaps best known for being a big bird with an enormous, deep, powerful beak to match. While the model is a fairly drab (but entirely appropriate) grey for the most part, Safari have taken the opportunity to go to town on the head, which is a ferocious bright blue, with red rings highlighting the eyes and, of course, a screamingly yellow beak. Together with the pinkish legs, it seems to combine elements of modern ratites – some ostrich here, some cassowary there. With its head bowed and black-trimmed wings outstretched, this could be a male displaying to a mate…or a predator pursuing its lunch.
Whether or not Gastornis was actually carnivorous is up for debate, with some people envisaging it ambling casually about, using its noggin as a handy oversized nutcracker. Of course, whether a vicious killer of doe-eyed proto-horses or a not-so-cuddly veggie (or somewhere in between), Gastornis was a very cool-looking bird, and Safari have done a decent job of capturing those dashing good looks for today’s (big) kids to enjoy. It’s affordable, too, although somewhat small – at a touch under 7cm at the hips, its diminutive size is likely to put a lot of people off. I also can’t help but feel that a more erect neck posture – although more typical – would have added significantly to this figure’s stature (literally) and presence.
Of course, the Wild Safari Gastornis remains a figure I would recommend – and don’t let the oversized toes put you off, either. For a sculpt at the ‘toy’ end of the market, it’s characteristically carefully designed and nicely painted; a real charmer. At this rate, I might even have to forgive Safari for that unspeakable Velociraptor…