Review and photos by Tim Sosa
This year Schleich followed in the footsteps of companies like Lego and Playmobil in offering an advent calendar, but this one is dinosaur-themed! 24 days of dinosaur goodies sounds pretty attractive, so I bit the bullet and picked one up. I opened it long before Christmas, so that maybe this review can help you decide whether to buy one yourself. If you want to be surprised, maybe don’t read any further, but it’s going to be tough anyway because the entire contents of the box are pictured on every surface.
If this were a video review, I might go day-by-day, but that would be too many photos for a brief review, so I’ll let the photo below give you an overview, and then summarize the contents:
So what do you get over 24 days? You get three dinosaurs, none of which is a new sculpt, although two of them have been repainted and therefore are billed on the box as “exclusives.” The Velociraptor is the same sculpt released by Schleich in 2011 with a new paint job. Previous reviews have dealt with it more thoroughly, but briefly, it lacks feathers, its hands don’t face each other as they should, and the shape of the head is incorrect. You might notice from the photo above that it’s the only dinosaur not in a plastic bag, so during shipping it loses paint to the tray and there are lots of little red streaks on the white plastic. The Compsognathus is the same sculpt as in the “Velociraptor on the Hunt” pack released last year, again with a new paint job. The evidence on Compsognathus feathers is more ambiguous, since its preservational environment had at least a chance of preserving feathers but did not do so. Nevertheless, its relationships to other animals suggest it might have had feathers, and even if you give it the benefit of the doubt on its pajamas, this figure has the same problems as many Schleich theropods: incorrectly oriented hands, distorted proportions, and in this case the wrong number of fingers. The Tyrannosaurus baby is the same as in Schleich’s cave playset, and doesn’t even get a new paint job.
Besides the living dinosaurs, you get the remains of a couple more: a complete Stegosaurus, the same one as in the volcano playset, and a Tyrannosaurus skull. The Stegosaurus is spread out over multiple days. Its stance isn’t perfect, but it has the right number of plates and roughly correct proportions. (I didn’t count ribs and vertebrae, but you can if you like!)
There are a few other animals included in the advent calendar. To my mind, these are actually the biggest draw for this set. None of these is identified by name, but they’re identifiable to varying degrees. You get two ammonites, and to the best of my knowledge, they are the only parts of this set that represent sculpts available nowhere else. I don’t know what kind of ammonite, if any, they’re supposed to represent, although they seem like reasonable efforts, with the basic ammonite shape and correct number of arms. The frog has a stub of a tail, perhaps to indicate that it is one of the earlier, more basal members of the group, something like Triadobatrachus, Mesophryne, or Vieraella. It’s a repaint of the frog included in the volcano playset. Finally, there’s a little fish, painted like a flying fish, but with very different proportions. It’s a dead ringer for the reconstruction of the holotype fossil of Potanichthys xingyiensis by Fei-Xiang Wu. Potanichthys and its relative Thoracopterus seem to have evolved the ability to glide over the water about 240 million years ago, long before modern flying fishes (which aren’t closely related, showing up independently about 66 million years ago). This figure makes for a pretty nice rendition of Potanichthys, although it is missing the anal fin. Like the other small animals, it isn’t labeled, but it strains belief to suppose that its resemblance to Wu’s reconstruction is coincidental.
This set also includes a pair of plants, although they come in pieces that you assemble over multiple days. Both are figures used in plenty of other Schleich products. One is a fern, which makes sense, as ferns were common throughout the Mesozoic. The other is an agave, which is peculiar because agaves didn’t evolve until well after most dinosaur lineages had gone extinct. I would have been happier with another fern (or better yet a horsetail or cycad), but oh well.
Finally, you get four information cards about the best-known animals in the set, and stickers for everything (four days of the calendar, you just get stickers), but sadly no information on the “accessory” animals. I think that’s a bummer because you could use these to teach kids about animals that lived alongside the dinosaurs, but how would you even know where to look if they aren’t even identified?
This set isn’t great if you’re looking for accurate dinosaurs, and doesn’t have much educational value for kids who are into prehistoric life. If you’re the kind of collector who likes the quirky animals that don’t get much press, you might get more enjoyment out of it. It’s a much cheaper way to get the fish and the frog than the very large, very expensive volcano playset due for release later this year, and so far it’s the only way to get the ammonites (and you get two!). That’s the only type of dino fan I’d recommend it to, however–you have better options for Velociraptor, for prehistoric plants, for skeleton figures, you name it. You can get this all over the Internet right now, although I imagine availability will diminish after the 2016 holiday season.