My previous review for the dinosaur toy blog was a Therizinosaur, so I spilled the obligatory ink in describing how these were among the strangest-looking dinosaurs known. Today I am reviewing the CollectA model of Stegosaurus, a dinosaur so famous that it is safe to say that any child who could describe what a dinosaur is would also be able to instantly recognise and name Stegosaurus. But the very familiarity of this animal tends to make us forget that it too was among the most remarkable-looking dinosaurs ever to evolve. The huge row of plates running along the back is a structure so unique that there is nothing else quite like them in the entire animal kingdom. Indeed, even among other members of the Stegosaur family tree, Stegosaurus itself was atypical. In other stegosaur species such as Kentrosaurus, Huayangosaurus and Dacentrurus, the rows of back plates, though still present, were much narrower and pointier, and hence closer in both appearance and probable function to spines. Spines are pretty easy things to make sense of in an animal; they are there to make life unpleasant for predators. But in Stegosaurus itself the ancestral back spines had become extremely broad and… well, plate-like. It seems reasonable to interpret this as evidence for a shift in function from defence to visual display. If so, it is surely logical to imagine the plates of Stegosaurus to have been brightly coloured or strikingly patterned; perhaps (in plate colour) the sexes may even have been sexually dimorphic. Such musings are of course speculative, but still, the point remains – even among dinosaurs, our old friend Stegosaurus was a very extraordinary animal.
The Stegosaurus model I am reviewing today is the one by CollectA in their “standard” range (which consists of smaller models, not to a constant scale). To be blunt, this is not a very good figure, because its design seems to harken back to the way these animals was imagined in the early decades of the twentieth century, when dinosaurs were universally portrayed as big, slow and stupid. Granted, the tail does not actually drag along the ground, but it curves down awkwardly as if it wants to. The tail is also far shorter than it should be (a strangely common fault among Stegosaur models) which proportionally makes the body seem rather high, and, shall we say, portly. The tail spikes… (hey! It looks like I’m going to write an entire review of a Stegosaurs figure and resist using the term “thagomiser”. Oh, wait a minute… I just did). The tail spikes are neatly symmetrical, point almost straight up, and are set well back from the end of the tail, as if carefully placed there by an occupational health and safety committee to present the minimum possible danger to anybody. All four feet are planted firmly on the ground and the animal has an unmistakably slow and ponderous air. The colour scheme of drab, dark greens and browns is deeply conservative, which makes little sense if the plates were indeed a display structure. The head, I must admit, has a rather appealingly vacant expression, but this only enhances the impression of an animal that would be outclassed intellectually by most cabbages, and that was about as dynamic in its behaviour as a tree sloth who was feeling a little more sleepy than usual.
All this could be perhaps forgiven if it were not for the plates. These are really badly done and make the model both inaccurate and rather ugly. On the real animal, the plates had a distinctive tapering diamond shape that was both spectacular and graceful. In the CollectA model, this diamond shape has been lost, and instead the plate edges jut almost vertically out of the back. Making this worse, the plate surface is crudely detailed with a lumpy pattern that is unconvincing and rather grotesque. Needless to say, the plates are the most definitive feature of Stegosaurus, the diamond shape being obvious from even the most cursory glance at the fossil skeleton, so there is really no excuse for getting them this wrong.
Am I being too harsh on this model? To be fair, this is a perfectly serviceable and inexpensive toy that kids would certainly enjoy playing with. It also deserves credit for attempting to portray the dinosaur as a living animal rather than a sensationalised “prehistoric monster”. In this respect the figure is in a class above the Stegosaurus monstrosities that some of us will remember from our nineteen-eighties childhood, which universally sported tiny plates and tyrannosaur-sized heads, complete with razor sharp teeth on a herbivore!
This said, in both size and general price range, the Collecta Stegosaurus is directly comparable to the “Wild Safari” rendition of the animal which is vastly superior in every respect (see a review and excellent pictures by Tetonbabydoll here) While I don’t think the wild safari version is perfect by any means, when you place the two models side-by-side, the effect is of an instant “now and then” diorama – the wild safari Stegosaurus depicting the dynamic and strikingly beautiful animal that palaeontologists imagine today, and the CollectA version illustrating the previous century’s “big, slow and stupid” vision of dinosaurs as obsolete reptilian behemoths. The difference in colour schemes alone makes this point very strikingly. CollectA has produced many truly excellent dinosaur models (for example, I have written favourable reviews for their Cryolophosaurus and Nothronychus) but this Stegosaurus, (representing one of their older sculpts) is not one of them. I include it on this blog in the hope that one day a full set of reviews for the CollectA dinosaur range will be complete, and also as an utterly gratuitous excuse to include an appalling visual pun to finish with.
Stegosaurs, as is well known, took great pride in showing off their fancy plates.
Available from Amazon.com here.