Snarling contemptuously, the enormous lion slams his paw against Bellona’s face and rakes it down from her forehead to her nose to leave a series of deep claw marks, including one directly across her left eye. She staggers backward, yelping in pain and dripping blood. Emboldened, the lion rises to his full height and roars right in her face. Yet instead of retreating, Bellona tackles her opponent to the ground. The two cats tumble and wrestle furiously, each trying to end up on top. The lion inflicts another series of bloody slashes on Bellona’s shoulder, then lunges for her throat. But she dodges the bite just in time, plants her great fangs atop the lion’s cranium, and then with the last bit of her strength, drives them right through the bone and into his brain. The lion starts, gurgles, and then collapses dead in a heap with Bellona still on top of him.
Gasping for breath, Bellona forces herself to her feet and limps over to a nearby bush. She gives a gentle growl and two small cubs carefully emerge from their hiding place. Their mother has protected them for another day . . .
Next to the woolly mammoth, the most famous and popular prehistoric mammal has got to be Smilodon, and this is reflected in the large number of toys that have been made of the iconic sabre-toothed cat over the decades. The latest addition to the pack is Mojo Fun’s 2021 version (their sole prehistoric figure for the year), which replaces their previous one.
This formidable felid is sculpted in a walking stance with its head tilting downward and its mouth open to roughly a 50 degree angle, thereby showing off the impressive dentition. Looks not unlike Charles R. Knight’s classic painting. From nose to tail tip, this Smilodon measures 13 cm long and stands slightly over 7 cm tall at the shoulder. Place it with the Safari Ltd. version and you could pretend they’re either S. populator and S. fatalis or S. fatalis and S. gracilus. I have no idea if the Mojo Fun sculptor intended for this toy to represent a distinct species, but I myself chose to consider it S. fatalis for the purpose of that introductory vignette. S. fatalis ranged all the way from Canada to South America, and is known to have coexisted (and competed!) with the larger American lion (Panthera atrox) in the United States.
The main colours on this toy are light orange and white with dark brown spots and black on the tail tip, paws, and ears. The eyes are dull orange and ringed with black. Black is also used for the nose, the markings on the muzzle, and the tissue lining the mouth, which is pink with white dentition. Although there are sculpted premolars on the upper jaw, they have been painted over with pink, which is a shame. There’s also some black airbrushing around the eyes which I think the toy could have done without, as it kind of makes it look like the cat is nursing a shiner on its right side. And finally, there’s some pink runoff on the lower jaw which I might take a stab at painting over sometime. Sloppiness aside, this is definitely a plausible colour scheme for a Smilodon.
The fur on this toy is nicely sculpted, one of the best Mojo Fun products yet. The muscles in the limbs look powerful and the paws feature visible claws and padding on the soles. The leering eyes and snarling visage give this felid a decidedly ferocious appearance and the famous canines are correctly shaped like blades. It has long been speculated that these were too narrow and fragile to be used against other animals like the bone-crunching teeth of other Cenozoic carnivores like Dinocrocuta or Hyaenodon; instead it was suggested that Smilodon used its upper body strength to pin its prey down, then deliver a surgical killing bite to the soft flesh of the throat. But then in 2019, it was revealed that two skulls of S. populator had been discovered with puncture holes right through their craniums, and it appears that the only animal capable of inflicting such holes was another S. populator. Apparently, those fangs may not have been so weak after all! This discovery, along with the fact that this toy appears to represent a female individual, inspired this review’s vignette. I chose the name Bellona after the Roman goddess of war. Seemed fitting.
And now we come to that one factor which can make or break a prehistoric toy: accuracy. I’ve learned more about Smilodon anatomy in the years since my first review of the genus back in 2015, especially by studying the work of Mauricio Anton, who’s probably the best paleoartist in the field when it comes to Cenozoic fauna. First off, the tail and hind limbs on Bellona here look very good, as does her torso with its signature shoulder hump. Her front limbs, however, look a bit too long and too thin. Her eyes also look to be spaced a little too far apart to my eye. More importantly, when compared to this illustration by Anton, it becomes apparent that Bellona’s neck isn’t long enough and her head is grossly oversized. That last one is an inaccuracy common to Smilodon toys, unfortunately. I suppose you could argue that a bigger head means more sculpting detail and a scarier appearance, but I’d sure like to see some company produce an anatomically correct rendition someday.
In spite of her anatomical flaws, I still think that Bellona here is one of the best Smilodon toys made yet. I’d definitely rate her higher than her predecessor, or any of the ones from CollectA or Papo for that matter. She’s well-sculpted, scary-looking, and quite unmistakable. You can purchase her at online stores such as Everything Dinosaur and Minizoo. But in conclusion, I’d like to point out that Smilodon is but one of many sabre-toothed cats known to have existed during the Cenozoic. It certainly would be wonderful if Mojo Fun or any of the other major manufacturers of prehistoric toys tackled Barbourofelis, Homotherium, Machairodus, or Xenosmilus in the future. Here’s hoping!