Knockoffs are an ever-present element of the toy industry, and a persistent quandary for collectors. A knockoff is a product which imitates another, original product, usually without copying it precisely in order to slyly evade copyright infringement. Naturally, this is a rather sneaky practice that plenty of artists and designers might (or actively do) take umbrage with. Of course, some customers are less discerning about their purchases, or unconcerned with the matter in general; but there are questions worth asking about the matter. Where does one draw the line between inspiration and plagiarism? How much does the imitator really damage the original’s value? …And what if, in some circumstances, the knockoff is based on a product that essentially no longer exists anyway?
That last question is of note for the item featured in this review: a Tyrannosaurus rex toy purchased as part of a set from Boley. The toy company Boley has sold and distributed a variety of children’s toys and educational products over time – they even distributed the famous Invicta British Museum line once upon a time – and their website displays a number of child-friendly dinosaur models and bundles for playtime and education (er, so they’re marketed at least – these are hardly the caliber of Safari ltd here). Among their products are small, medium and large sets of “Gosnell Model Authentic Dinosaurs”, with movable parts and delivered in a Boley-branded reusable box.
Gosnell seems to be more obscure of a brand – multiple internet searches have produced little more for me than scattered eBay listings and occasional other products (like Boley’s own Amazon pages), usually in the manner of extremely caricatured animal toys for children. Although one can potentially identify Gosnell products by their logo – a stamp of two paw prints in a circle – not all of Boley’s “Gosnell model” figures feature this. The Tyrannosaurus is one such case; the standard name and “made in China” engravings can be found on the stomach, but no other branding is visible. There is, however, a conspicuously flat circular surface on the bottom of the right foot, which I suspect might have featured branding in a previous iteration of the mold. Don’t you love the clarity of ownership in these products?
Despite the ambiguous nature of the toy’s origins, this Tyrannosaurus is actually a surprisingly decent-looking item. The toy measures 21 cm (8.25 in), placing it in about 1:57-1:61 scale when measured to the largest T. rex specimens such as Sue or Scotty. Proportions on the figure are remarkably close to current skeletals, with a deep belly and distinctive “T-bone” shape to the skull. The arms are appropriately diminutive, but not quite scrawny and properly non-pronated. The lacrimal ridges are enhanced somewhat, but not unreasonably so, and are correctly positioned over the eyes besides. The tail is deep and muscular like the torso, and even a course mane of short feathers runs from the back of the head down to the base of the tail. All in all, this obscure item seemingly accomplishes more rigorous scientific research than some of the bigger brands in the market.
Given the unassuming background of this toy, the question begging asking is: how on earth did Boley and Gosnell produce such a contemporary T. rex figure? The answer is, not very surprisingly, they didn’t – they “borrowed” it. This action figure is a scaled-down knockoff of a toy released by IVS in conjunction with the interactive exhibit Dinosaurs in the Wild, which was touring Europe from 2018 to 2019 before shuttering its doors for good. With the closing of the exhibit, IVS ceased production of the tie-in merchandise as well – but evidently not before Gosnell unofficially acquired materials related to the toy to produce their own version. A larger, static version of the model also exists, as well as a miniature version (which Boley also sells as part of larger dino sets); and while designs aren’t 1:1 with the IVS product, the similarities are all too obvious.
Gosnell is hardly the first to ape a dinosaur design from a piece of major media – Papo has infamously been imitating Jurassic Park for over a decade, and Schleich and Bullyland have produced models which obviously paid homage to Walking With Dinosaurs – but it’s a practice that doesn’t always sit well with people, and understandably so. Dinosaurs in the Wild was a rather short-lived event – I, for one, still lament the exhibit never made it overseas to the United States – and I highly doubt most customers browsing for cheap dinosaur toys will even be aware of the exhibit’s former existence, much less that it’s the source of reference Gosnell derived its toy design from. I admit, in a weird way it actually seems validating to see a design from the exhibit being copied for mass-production (especially in a never-ending deluge of Jurassic Park imitators); but there’s hardly any way the original artists and designers are seeing any royalties from this, which is a real shame.
Boley’s/Gosnell’s 8” figure diverges from the IVS toy in a few small ways, but stays strictly close to the CGI design from the main exhibit. The toy is predominantly plum-purple with a pink face and underbelly – which is, amusingly, more accurate to the “on-screen” design than IVS’s version. Unique to the Gosnell paint scheme is an almost-white wash to the feather mane, sloppily bordered with a thick black stripe. Advertised as an “action figure”, the toy features generally the same articulation points seen in the IVS figure: a hinged jaw, swivel joints in the shoulders & hips, and a rotating tail base. The jaw is poorly engineered, and not only doesn’t close properly (like IVS) but gives the appearance of a severe underbite; it does hold its position pretty well, though. The rest of the articulation doesn’t fare much better; only one arm on my copy budges at all, and the tail joint offers little purpose when the tail is molded more or less straight out in pose. To the figure’s credit, stability is extremely good as long as both feet are planted on the ground, so at least this toy is more tumble-proof than some of its higher-end contemporaries.
There is a variety of good-quality Tyrannosaurus figures available today, in a range of prices; so I can’t say I feel obliged to recommend this figure as one of the first choices. The fact that the mold is obviously ripping off of an authorized, heavily-researched effort without any credit given could be a big sticking point for some collectors as well. With all things considered, however, Boley’s and Gosnell’s “Authentic Dinosaur” Tyrannosaurus action figure is rather decent for its price range. If you’re looking for a slightly novel (and cheap) addition to your rex collection – or simply need an easy dinosaur gift for your kids that’s a step above the usual dreck available – then this toy should suffice, and can be fairly easily found through Amazon, eBay, and other online retailers.