Prehistoric Animals (Panini, review part 2)

4.1 (7 votes)

In part 1 of this review we looked at 12 dinosaur toys (and one pterosaur) from Panini’s Prehistoric Animals line. In part 2 we pick up where we left off to complete the full set of 24 toys.

Panini prehistoric animals and dinosaur toys

Figure numbers 13 to 15 are a trio of marine reptiles, and their dark blue colour works very well for aquatic animals.

Number 13 is Elasmosaurus. Its long neck is raised up, as all plesiosaur depictions were back then. The tops of its flippers have an unusual ribbed texture, but the rest of the body is completely smooth. This is an appropriate texture for animal that spent its entire life under water. In life, plesiosaurs had tiny scales, but the tiny scales at this tiny scale (!) would be imperceptible. I commend this toy for having the eyes in the correct position, halfway along the head, as toy companies so often got this wrong.

elasmosaurus panini

Number 14 is Tylosaurus. This mosasaur is incredibly wrinkled, in stark contrast to the other two marine reptiles in the set. It has a tall row of triangular spines (a crest or a fringe) running along its back and tail. This is a hangover from the early days of palaeoart and palaeontology, when tracheal cartilage was erroneously interpreted as a dorsal frill, and subsequently depicted as such in seminal artwork by Charles Knight and others. Similarly, the Panini mosasaur has a simple tapering tail and lacks the tall caudal fluke we now know was present in derived mosasaurs like Tylosaurus. The mouth is wide open in this figure, which is unusual because all the dinosaurs have closed mouths. The paddles have the same unusual ribbed texture as the Elasmosaurus toy.

tylosaurus panini

Number 15 is Ichthyosaurus. This is a really lovely little figure. The pointed head is very good, with large eyes and retracted nostrils. The body is also rather accurate and the shape of the paddles and fins are excellent, except for the hind fins, which are a little bit too triangular and positioned too far forward. The only really unusual aspect of this toy are some wrinkles behind he skull. I think they are just supposed to indicate the division between the head and the body, but they look suspiciously and confusingly like gill slits. Ichthyosaurs, of course, had lungs and were air breathers, so gills is a big no-no.

Number 16 is Palaeoscincus. “Palaeo-what!?” I hear you cry. This is an invalid ankylosaur genus based on some teeth. In the early days of palaeontology this genus was popularised by speculative restorations, presumably based on better known genera. Even in the 1992 sticker album, it features heavily, which explains why is was recreated as a toy to accompany the Panini album. However, its role in popular culture has greatly diminished today, as it is regarded as an indeterminate nodosaurid. There is little point is assessing the toy for accuracy, but comparison with the Ankylosaurus in this set (see Part 1), show that it is similar in many ways, including the basic arrangement of armour. There are two minor differences. Each of the scutes on the back has a little circle marking, and the tail club is round and covered in fantasy armour plating.

palaeoscincus panini

Number 17 is Polacanthus, one of my favourite armoured dinosaurs. This is an outdated depiction with a humped back and low-slung neck and tail. It is missing the armour plate above the hips, but a double row of beefy long spines are present on the back, and similar but shorter triangular spikes are present along the tail. This representation is clearly inspired by the work of early palaeoartist Neave Parker (1910-1961). Polacanthus is now known to be much more rugged with many more scutes in addition to its prominent spines, but I like the retro-feel of this small toy.

polacanthus panini

Number 18 brings us to our first mammal of the set, Smilodon. Its hunched posture is highly reminiscent of artwork by Charles Knight. The toy has a very long tail, whereas the actual sabre-tooth cat had a rather short tail. The fur is incredibly well sculpted and this is an impressive figure for its size. The sandy brown beige colour works well. It is one of five mammals (or mammal-like creatures) in the set, numbered 18 to 22.

smilodon panini

Number 19 is labelled as Coelodonta, presumably meant to represent the woolly rhinoceros (C. antiquitatis). It certainly has the long nose horn typical of this genus, and the secondary horn just behind it. On the other hand, there are some characteristics in this toy that invite us to question that identity. Most obviously, this figure has a pair of short tusks protruding from its top jaw, as well as a pair of projecting bosses at the rear of its head, above the ears. No species of Coelodonta had these features, but the much older and distantly related Uintatherium does. In addition, this toy isn’t very woolly! Again, Uintatherium is typically depicted with relatively bare skin, certainly less hairy than the woolly rhino. However, while Uintatherium has short paired projections on the top of its snout, they are nothing like the tall conical central horns of Coelodonta and this toy. So, it isn’t a simple case of mistaken identity. The conclusion? The sculptor got incredibly confused! I’m not a mammal expert, so if any reader can identify what species this figure represents please comment below, but in the meantime I believe this toy is a unique chimera of Uintatherium and Coelodonta.

coelodonta panini

Number 20 is Cynognathus. This was a mammal-like therapsid from the Triassic Period. The sticker in the album depicts this genus as a bounding dog-like creature, but the toy is at odds with that. The model has completely smooth, green skin, without a hair is sight. The animal has a grinning mouth full of simple sharp teeth, again, not mammal like at all. If you didn’t know better you would guess this is a lizard toy.

cynognathus panini

Number 21 is Mammuthus. This is a good depiction of a woolly mammoth. Its trunk is raised and its lower lip is visible, as if it is trumpeting. It has small ears and a flat mop of hair atop its head. A solid piece.

mammuthus panini

Number 22 is Moropus. The sculptor seems to have taken significant liberties with this sculpt by adding a large reptilian (or kangaroo-like) tail. Moropus actually had a tiny tail. The toy also has small arms and long legs, whereas Moropus had strong arms that were longer than its legs. I wonder whether the sculptor got in a muddle again, as this toy looks more like a Procoptodon than a Moropus.

moropus panini

Number 23 is Diatryma. This giant bird is now properly known as Gastornis. This toy is impressive except for another artistic liberty: it has been given a long tapering peacock-like tail. This was no doubt added to allow it to balance. Despite this, it is great to see prehistoric birds get some attention.

diatryma panini

Last but not least, rounding up the set, is number 24, Brachiosaurus. This is a rather slender restoration, particularly when compared to the chubby dinosaur figures that make up the majority of this set. The crested head is a touch cartoony, but at only 5 mm long we can give them some leeway. The proportions are good and the tail doesn’t drag along the ground, making this one of the most modern-looking dinosaurs in the set.

brachiosaurus panini

And that’s the Panini Prehistoric Animals line. There doesn’t seem to be any logic behind the numbering system, other than the marine reptiles and mammals being grouped together. However, the story doesn’t end there…the moulds for these toys are not unique to Panini. Variants of these figures pop up all the time in various scales and materials. To my knowledge the Panini ones are the original and seem to be the best quality. The Panini toys are a relatively soft plastic while the other versions are harder and shiny, and slightly smaller. Some versions of these toys also lack the name and number, and could be knock offs.

One variant line was distributed by the Early Learning Centre (ELC) according to DinosaurCollectorSiteA, and was supplemented by some additional figures (e.g. a raptor of some sort and a quadrupedal Iguanodon). Variants of 11 of the Panini figures also reappeared in 1997 as part of a ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park set’ of 16 toys, packaged in chocolate eggs by Tombola. Yet another variant line is sometimes described as “Mech”. I’m sure that this just scraping the surface and I bet there are many other versions out there. Nevertheless, the ones I collected as a twelve year old in 1992 will always be the best to me. Thinking about it, Jurassic Park was released the following year – the early 1990s were truly awesome for kids who loved dinosaurs!

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