Category Archives: Safari Ltd

Archaeopteryx (Wild Safari by Safari Ltd.)


Review and photographs by Patrx.

Archaeopteryx lithographica, the famous “ancient wing”, was named for a single wing feather found in the Solnhofen Lagerstätten in 1861. That feather would soon be joined by more fossils, adding up to a remarkably detailed body of evidence for the creature’s shape, anatomy, and integument. Yet, somehow, popular depictions almost never seem to hit the mark. Happily, this new Archaeopteryx from Safari is here to set things right, dodging all the old “lizard-bird” tropes that we’ve seen before. Well, most of them.

Wild Safari Archaeopteryx

As with the rest of the models from Safari this year, the details on this guy really impress. The animal is, of course, decked out in feathers. But beyond that, there are distinct types of feathers visible on different areas of the body. The head, neck, and breast bear what look like fuzzy, branching filaments which transition (a little abruptly) into “proper” contour feathers along the back, and, of course, on the limbs. The sculptor of this model, Doug Watson, cites a 2004 paper by Christensen and Bonde. The feathers on the legs are quite long, and extend to the ankles, based on N. Longrich (2006).

Wild Safari Archaeopteryx

As expected from a model so thoroughly researched, the proportions and basic elements of the anatomy are spot-on. The wings look like wings; with correct hand anatomy instead of the bizarre “wings with hands tacked on” look that shows up all too often. There are primary feathers starting at the second finger. The skull is the correct shape and size, with accurately-proportioned eyes, tiny teeth, and a subtle pair of ridges of the kind Gregory Paul seems fond of in his Archaeopteryx reconstructions. The leg musculature is appropriate. Interestingly, the feet feature hyperextensible sickle-clawed second toes, which, while debatable, is also backed by a paper (Mayr et al. 2005).

Wild Safari Archaeopteryx

Remember that first feather I mentioned before? The one that was given the name Archaeopteryx in 1861? In 2011, a team was able to detect melanosomes (organelles containing the dark pigment melanin) in the feather (Carney et al. 2012). They concluded that this feather had been black when the animal was living. Accordingly, this model’s feathers are predominantly painted black. It’s far from dull, however. The back of the animal has been given a subtle but lovely iridescent blue color, with a purplish glint on the head, apparently inspired by magpies. It’s a cool thing to see, particularly on a mass-produced figure. Another neat detail is the dark edge along the otherwise white flight feathers. This is seen in modern birds quite frequently – the melanin actually toughens the vulnerable wingtips. It’s also supported by yet another study (Manning et al., 2003 [pdf here])! The unfeathered portions of the animal are painted a really bright orange hue. Maybe a little too bright. I do really like the look of the eyes – vibrant and convincing. The claws are painted black, the tongue is pink, and the teeth are white; simple but effective.

Wild Safari Archaeopteryx

So, what’s not to like? Well, the one thing that really drags this brilliant figure down for me is the pose. Wings splayed, leaning back on its tail, head turned a bit and mouth agape, I expect it’s meant as an aggressive posture. In addition to the dreaded tripod support (why no base?), it’s just not that interesting or natural-looking. It’s the same pose Archaeopteryx so often seems to get stuck with. With that said, I’ve never bought “tripod-tailed” models for my own collection, except for this one. The positive elements outweigh the unfortunate pose, in my book. The claws are also disappointingly blobby and dull, which I chalk up to toy safety concerns. Alas. There are also some design choices that ultimately come down to preference. The feathers on this model were definitely well-researched and well executed, but they’re not as dense as I’d really like to see. They’re very tight to the body, particularly around the neck. Certainly plausible (i.e. the flamingo,) but the necks of most birds are buried in feathers. I would also have liked to see feathers on the snout and digits.

Wild Safari Archaeopteryx

There’s a lot of research behind this little bird, which is fantastic to see! If you’re a fan of maniraptorans, this is one time you shouldn’t let a tripod pose keep you from picking one up. In closing this dreadfully lengthy review, I shall say that this has been a great year for Safari, both in terms of accuracy and detail. The Carnegie line may be extinct, but, as always, Archaeopteryx is a sign of a bright and interesting future.

Available from Amazon.com here.

Wild Safari Archaeopteryx

Woolly Mammoth baby (Prehistoric Life by Wild Safari)


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After completing the 2004 Wild Safari Prehistoric Life Woolly Mammoth review, it was brought to my attention that I should take a look at the retired WS Baby. With this thought in mind, I sat down and took a close look at this little toy. I suppose I could have added a small revision to my first review and added this little figure. Even though it does complement the adult mammoth, this baby is well done and can stand out on its own.

The baby mammoth is 3.5 inches (8.9cm) long and 1.14 inches (2.9cm) high and was retired in 2011. The pose is an attractive one. Its head is looking straight ahead with its trunk stretched out in front of it. It has a classic bugle look to its trunk, as if it is tooting hello, or saying wait up. Of course it could just be reaching out for its mommy’s tail. Interestingly, there is a mop of fur on its head, and above the shoulders there is a very small hump, and then the back slopes downward. These features are typical characteristic of the species, but supposedly these features were not present in juveniles, which had concave backs like African elephants.

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On the head are prominent brow ridges, big wide eyes, and very small ears the stick out on either side. The mouth is open; there is even a small outline of tongue inside. There are some small trunk ripples right in front of the eyes. The small ears are kept close but not flat to the body. As you would expect, it is covered head to toe in fur. There is a long outer covering of guard hairs that cover the upper part of the head, body, and legs. On the trunk and bottom half of the legs you see the shorter undercoat. The tail is short with long bushy end.

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The texture on this model is all about the woolly fur. It has long lines of guard hair covering the upper body, with small, faint lines, for the undercoat. The muscles on the legs do bulge out a little bit, and has a little rounded ribs, but it is hard to notice with all the fur covering it.

The color is just like the adult. It is two toned with different shades of brown, which looks good and is accurate. There is a dark brown undercoat, were the guard coat of fur is a little more light brown. The toes are painted in grey. The eyes are completely brown with black pupils. Inside the mouth is a small line of pink for the tongue.

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As a toy, I can see that this would please the younger kids, and find use for bigger kids. It is an active, and dare I say cute sculpt. It will find play by itself, with its mommy, or in a big herd. If a brother a sister a playing with this little guy, and it happens to wonder away from the toy herd there are plenty of predators such as large cats, or occasional T-Rex which one sibling will probably use to ambush it. So be prepared, as this can lead to one of the kids becoming upset at their sibling. The paint is robust and there are no sharp edges on this toy.

wolly herd1

This is a beautiful piece to have. It is easy to overlook, due to its size, or just being thought of as a companion piece to the adult. For those who have overlooked it, or if you like mega fauna, you might want to take a second look. It currently retails in the 3-7dollar range, so it is very affordable. I would stock up on it if you find some. I wouldn’t say it is a rare toy but it has been retired since 2011, so finding it can be fun challenge.

You can begin your search here:Ebay

Spinosaurus (1992) (Carnegie Collection by Safari Ltd.)


For today’s review, we are going to travel back in time, to such an unimaginably distant era that the world as we know today it simply didn’t exist… specifically, the year 1992. For lovers of carnivorous dinosaurs, this was a simpler and more innocent time. Tyrannosaurus rex ruled with comfortable certainty as the biggest and baddest of them all; Archaeopteryx was the only dinosaur with feathers; a certain movie that was to forever confuse Deinonychus with Velociraptor in the popular imagination was still a year away from release; and we imagined that a relatively obscure carnivorous dinosaur called Spinosaurus looked something like this…

Carnegie 1992 Spinosaurus1

Today I am reviewing the original 1992 version of the Carnegie Collection Spinosaurus, which was in production until 1996. In order to fairly evaluate this model, it first necessary to understand our changing perceptions of the animal itself, so in the interests of being vaguely educational, here is a brief history (readers who already know this stuff may choose to skip ahead). Spinosaurus has quite a venerable pedigree among dinosaur fossils, being first described by the German palaeontologist Ernst Stromer in 1915. But sadly, these original fossils were destroyed in 1944 when their Munich museum was hit by an Allied bombing raid, a poignant reminder (for dinosaur-lovers at least) of the awful tragedy of war. In 1936, Stromer published an influential skeletal reconstruction of Spinosaurus, basically depicting it as a “typical” Allosaurus-like carnivorous dinosaur made remarkable by the sail of skin supported by the extended vertebrae along its back. This was to be the template for the way the animal was reconstructed for decades after. So if, like me, you grew up poring over dinosaur books during the nineteen-eighties, this is how you were accustomed to view Spinosaurus, and this is exactly what the 1992 Carnegie sculpt delivers – a generic-looking carnivore of moderate size, with a kangaroo-like posture, a rex-like head, and sporting a really, really cool-looking sail.

Carnegie 1992 Spinosaurus2

As I recall, Spinosaurus was a pretty obscure dinosaur back then –  everyone in the schoolyard knew Rex and Triceratops, but to know Spinosaurus you had to be sufficiently into dinosaurs to seriously diminish your social standing. The transformation of Spinosaurus began with the description of the related Baryonyx in 1986, which clarified that the skulls of these theropods were long, flat and tapering, superficially resembling a crocodile’s jaws in profile, and filled with conical teeth strongly suggesting these animals made their living by catching fish. Here at last were a group of large theropods that didn’t just look like scaled-down versions of T. rex! In the late nineties, new partial skeletons of Spinosaurus found their way to museums, and a new image of this animal as a gargantuan yet surprisingly-graceful crocodile-headed predator began to emerge. It was now clear that Spinosaurus rivalled Tyrannosaurus in size; it was certainly longer, at around 15 as opposed to 12 metres, but was probably more lightly built. For better or for worse, this “new” image of Spinosaurus was taken up by the 2001 film Jurassic Park III, which has defined the look of Spinosaurus in popular culture ever since.

Spinosaurus as the Jurassic Park monster was enthusiastically embraced by Papo in 2009, while the Carnegie collection issued a “new and  improved”, scientifically informed Spinosaurus in the same year. In their own way, both these models are far superior to 1992 Carnegie reviewed here, a model that has clearly been left behind by the march of scientific progress. As we have seen, we now know the skull is completely wrong for a Spinosaur, and the arms are conspicuously pronated. Another thing about this model I always found odd is the size. At the constant 1:40 scale Carnegie used to stick to in the good old days, a 15m Spinosaurus should be about 38cm long. This model is only around 27cm (along the spine), resulting in a scale closer to 1:55 (perhaps it is a juvenile?). Stromer’s archetypical 1936 restoration is accompanied by a scale bar indicating a length along the spine of at least 14 metres, so we have known this was a truly massive theropod right from the beginning.

Carnegie 1992 Spinosaurus3

In an ironic twist, the 2009 Spinosaurus by Papo and Carnegie are now themselves both dramatically out-of-date. In 2014, to considerable media interest, palaeontologists Nizar Ibrahim, Paul Sereno and colleagues published a new reconstruction of Spinosaurus as a truly semi-aquatic dinosaur that spent most of its time swimming. Their work had some very clever science, such as the observation that the bone density of Spinosaurus was more similar to aquatic animals like penguins than other predatory dinosaurs. More controversially, they argue that the hind limbs were much shorter relative to the forelimbs than  has been traditionally reconstructed, making Spinosaurus an excellent dog-paddler but an obligate quadruped (animal that can only go on four legs) on land. All of this this results in an animal that would have looked and behaved radically differently from the Spinosaurus that Stromer first envisioned, and that inspired the 1992 Carnegie sculpt. To be fair, doubts have been expressed in some quarters that the quadrapedal Spinosaurus is based on an accurate skeleton, and like all dinosaur restorations, the paddling Spinosaurus is a hypotheses, or evolving idea, rather than established fact – hopefully new bones will further clarify the issue. I’m sure that many of us have been struck by the fact that a giant sail that would tend to catch the wind and blow the animal off-course seems a very odd feature to be possessed by a paddling animal trying to stalk fish. Clearly, Spinosaurus has not given up all its secrets yet.

Carnegie 1992 Spinosaurus4

Although the 1992 Carnegie Spinosaurus is now one of the least-accurate models in my collection, it is also one of my favourites! The pose is extremely dynamic and full of life, and the much maligned “tripod” posture of Carnegie bipeds actually works well here… The animal is depicted rearing up aggressively, bracing back on the tail (anatomically improbable no doubt, but it sure looks cool) and something about the posture of the arms suggests that an instant later they are about to lash out and inflict some serious damage with those massive claws. The sail is thinner than in many modern reconstructions (which favour a “fatter” sail based on the broad diameter of the vertebral spines) but from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the thin, Dimetrodon-like sail on this guy looks great and adds a lot of visual impact. But the best thing of all about this model is the colour scheme – a really striking “desert camouflage” of dark brown and ochre. The complex pattern of stripes, bands and dots creates something rarely achieved in dinosaur models – a colour scheme that is both visually arresting, and yet at the same time understated enough to seem eminently plausible as a reconstruction of a large reptilian predator. I think it’s one of the best colour schemes for a dinosaur toy that I’ve come across.

Carnegie 1992 Spinosaurus5

This version of the Carnegie Spinosaurus ceased production in 1996, but was immediately replaced by what appears to be the same figure in a different colour scheme. For purposes of comparison, I have illustrated this below, with a picture from Safari’s own catalogue. Purely from the photograph, I don’t feel that the newer colour scheme is as good as the version it replaced, but since I haven’t actually seen this second figure in person, I can’t fairly review it.

Carnegie 1992 Spinosaurus6

This at last brings me to my real reason for writing this review, which is to bid a fond and  nostalgic farewell to the Carnegie Collection line of dinosaur figures. By now many dinosaur collectors will have heard that, as of March 2015, the twenty-eight year collaboration between the Carnegie museum and Safari toys has come to an end, and the figures will no longer be manufactured. So if you want to buy some Carnegie figures new, now’s the time, as the existing retail stock will not be replaced (panicky types might well use this as self-justification to go on an expensive, online buying spree…. I know I did). Given the profound significance of the Carnegie collection to our hobby,  I thought it only appropriate to spill a bit of ink on the dinosaur toy blog to mourn their passing. Today, when we enjoy such an abundance and diversity of dinosaur toy lines from several quality manufacturers, it’s easy to forget how huge the impact of the early Carnegie Collection figures was. I’m sure many of us have fond memories of the first time we ever walked into a museum gift shop and saw these beauties so temptingly arrayed on the shelf! The collection itself was only four years old when the 1992 Spinosaurus was launched, and it was the first dinosaur figure I ever brought as an adult. All through my undergraduate years, it stood beside my computer, obligingly holding spare pens and pencils in its commodious arms, and I can confirm after much time-wasting… err, practical experiment that it is still unequalled in this role among dinosaur toys today.

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While the Invicta models of the British museum justly deserve credit for being the very first accurate, museum-authenticated dinosaur toys, their monochromatic, unpainted plastic and relatively smooth textures made them more of an attractive statuette then a vividly life-like model. It was the Carnegie collection that really began the idea that dinosaur toys could be exquisitely textured and beautifully painted replicas of dynamic living animals, rather than perpetually snarling and freakishly inaccurate “prehistoric monsters”. Much is made of the “dinosaur renaissance” that transformed our perception of these animals from the 1970’s onward, and in its own way the Carnegie Collection made a real contribution to this, especially in terms of educating children. Regardless of your opinion of individual Carnegie sculpts (many would argue, for instance, that they never succeeded in producing a truly breathtaking rex) our hobby really wouldn’t exist without the market that Carnegie almost single-handedly created, and for that we are in their debt. Their legacy – the idea that children’s dinosaur toys could also be accurate and beautiful replicas – will live on for all of us who have ever picked up a brightly coloured plastic toy and imagined in our minds eye that true embodiment of childhood wonder, the dream of a living dinosaur.

Available from Amazon.com here.