Review and photographs by Stolpergeist, edited by Suspsy
A lot of people feel a special connection to their local extinct Pleistocene megafauna, those mysterious beasts that once roamed where we stand along with the animals we see today. The majestic Irish elk among fallow deer, the American cheetah hunting pronghorns, the mighty giant wombat grazing alongside kangaroos, or the mega lemurs fending off fossa. In France and Germany, people have a special spot in their hearts reserved for cave bears, as their bones can be found in various caverns within these countries. Resulting from this is a long history of cave bear figures from mostly French and German manufacturers, with few other additions being the Geoworld cave bear from Italy where cave bear remains have been found as well and the cave bear by the American company Play Visions.
The first of these is the Starlux cave bear from 1968 as part of the Préhistoire line. The sculpts of Starlux’s extinct Cenozoic animals are holding up to this day and the cave bear is no exception. The forehead is properly pronounced as should be the case for Ursus spelaeus, a large hump is over the shoulders, and the animal looks sturdy and compact overall. The fur is sculpted to look like it is hanging down in shaggy lumps from its body, perfectly equipped for an Ice Age animal. The hind legs, however, seem a bit off, almost looking digitigrade which should not be the case for a bear.
The colouration is quite simple: a light brown base colour and darker brown airbrush application on the back and paws while the face remains brighter with the eyes and nose painted black and red for the inside of the mouth.
The figure has a length of 7.5 cm, a width of 2.5 cm, and a height of 4.2 cm, putting it at a scale of 1:40. This makes it the only existing cave bear figure that scales up with most dinosaur figures or the Wild Safari woolly mammoth. A real life cave bear would be about 3 metres long on all fours and 3.5 metres tall when rearing up. While being of terrifying size, cave bears were opportunistic omnivores that would mostly eat plants and occasionally meat when given the chance, including the flesh of the carcasses of other cave bears that didn’t survive through hibernation.
At the time of writing this review, it is still possible to come across a Starlux cave bear in good condition with a bit of luck. Due to their age, however, Starlux figures often tend to have severe paint wear or sun-bleached colours. In some cases, they may even be broken as the material is extremely brittle; when it’s mammals, an ear or a tail is usually missing, or a horn or a tusk on the woolly rhinoceros and mammoth figures. That being said, it is advised to handle Starlux figures carefully anyway or these miniatures will turn to dust in your hands.
Since the humble beginning with Starlux, many cave bear models from French and German companies have come and gone. From right to left above, you see the Starlux toy, the Bullyland cave bear of the Prähistorische Welt line from 1998, the Schleich cave bear of the Prehistoric Series line from 2003, the Papo cave bear of the Les Dinosaures line from 2017, and the Schleich cave bear of the Eldrador Creatures line from 2018. The last one has been modified by me to resemble more an actual cave bear by removing the elemental crystal collar, as it is originally part of a line of fantasy figures.
The Papo cave bear is a spiritual successor in a sense, as both it and the Starlux version are sculpted in a walking pose with open jaws, and both display the prominent forehead and shoulder hump. Seeing them next to each other shows the progress of French animal toys over the span of half a century. To give some final words, I would recommend the Starlux cave bear to anyone who would be interested in owning a piece of animal toy history, especially those with a love for prehistoric mammals and furthermore those with a love for cave bears. As with Megaloceros, there aren’t many figures of Ursus spelaeus out there, but having quite a number of them on your shelf is a satisfying sight. This is, however, a figure I can only recommend to adult collectors, as its brittle material makes this vintage model unusable as a toy. Even when it was still in production, it would have been a safety hazard near children. I would thus recommend the Papo one as a toy for older children and the Schleich Eldrador Creatures version is good for younger ones, having blunt claws and teeth while still retaining that coolness factor. For truly safe play, Bullyland would have to let theirs re-enter production.