Review and photographs by Funk, edited by Suspsy
This is my first guest review here on the DinoToyBlog. Ever since my mom started throwing out stuff from her attic, I’ve been trying to save my old dinosaur toys, and as a long time DTB reader, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if I had something that hasn’t been covered here before. The first toy I’ll review is the old HG Toys Tyrannosaurus, a company which also made some other very retro-looking prehistoric animal toys in the late 80s.’ I got this one second hand as a kid (and had it identified at the DinoToyForum some years ago), so I don’t know if it came with a small caveman figure as indicated by some online photos, which were part of their Dinosaur Warrior line.
This figure seems to be heavily influenced by the Tyrannosaurus in the famous 1947 Rudolph Zallinger mural Age of Reptiles at the Yale Peabody Museum, if not downright based on it, though there are some curious differences which I will point out later. Some other old toys seem to be based on the Tyrannosaurus in the Zallinger mural, including one from the 1950s’ Marx “Prehistoric Times” play set. I would assume that the figure was not meant to be a replica of the mural. Instead, I think the mural was just a readily available image and therefore easy to copy, especially since it was reproduced in many books and magazines back in the day, as well as copied by other artists. It should also be said that many of the animals in the mural seem to be influenced by earlier works of Charles R. Knight, including his tripodal, lizard-headed Tyrannosaurus from about 1919, which is thereby another ancestor of this toy.
This figure is also rather large, about 30 cm long from the snout to the tip of the bent tail. It is made of hard, grey plastic, with the only clearly painted parts being the eyes (red with black pupils), teeth (white), and lips (red), while there is also a faint, darker grey line running along the back and belly. Various wrinkles and crevices also have faint dark grey in them, perhaps to simulate depth. This colour scheme looks rather dull and almost “rocky,” but apart from the lipstick-like red lips, it is very similar to what is shown in the Zallinger mural, though it is a shame the claws were left unpainted (they are blackish in the mural). Overall, it is a near perfect replica of the Zallinger mural: it is in a tripodal pose, it has a “pot-bellied” look to it, the head is covered in what appears to be scales, and the body is mainly just wrinkled, with scattered “pimples” which are probably supposed to be scales. What appears to be wrinkles and saggy skin in the mural has been interpreted as large veins on the legs of the figure. It also has a row of ridges running along the back (which seems to have been the norm when depicting any dinosaurs back then), though they are more rounded in the toy.
For some reason, older paleoart seems to almost disregard the skull shapes of specific theropods, so the head of this figure is rather generic and lizardy, and it would be impossible to guess which genus it belonged to out of context. The teeth are all sculpted together in rows that have a flat upper surface, giving it a weird, pessimistic grin. This is possibly so that the teeth wouldn’t hurt a playing child if they were sculpted individually and sharp. Though the thighs are huge, the calves or “drumsticks” are quite puny, with the legs terminating in massive feet, which also help the figure stand up.
The main action mechanism of this Tyrannosaurus is that it is able to open its mouth by pulling a a small lever on the back of its neck. While the lever looks a bit jarring, and the screws on the sides of its jaws don’t exactly make it look like a living animal, I enjoyed this chomping feature as a kid, even though the mouth didn’t open wide enough to get a bite of most other toys. The head can rotate at the neck, making quite lively poses possible. The legs can rotate, but it is very hard to get the figure to stand up on a flat surface, and it cannot stand up in anything but a tripodal pose. The tail can be rotated, but this also moves the row of ridges on the back out of place and therefore looks unnatural. The tail is very short and curves to one side, so rotating it seems like a pretty pointless action feature. The front limbs have been moulded separately and inserted into sockets, yet are not able to rotate. Instead, they fell out of my figure, and had to be glued back in.
Being based on vintage palaeoart, this figure was, of course, already outdated by the time it came out in the 1980s,’ but strangely, it gets some additional features wrong that are not seen in the mural, which I’ve speculated about the reasons for below. The first major inaccuracy is that this figure for some reason has three fingers on each hand, which was already known to be inaccurate when the mural was painted (and even the 1950s’ Marx figure gets it right), so why three fingers on a 1980s’ toy? Looking at the Zallinger mural, the hand is shown from the side in an angle which actually obscures the number of fingers. Still, only two fingers are visible, but the person who sculpted the figure evidently extrapolated that one more finger was hidden behind the others. One would assume that most people with even a slight interest in dinosaurs knew that Tyrannosaurus only had two fingers on each hand, let alone someone hired to sculpt dinosaur figures.
Another inaccuracy is that, even though the opposite seems very clear on the mural, the dewclaws or halluxes of the figure’s feet are on the outer sides of the legs rather than on the inner sides where they should be, close to the mid-line of the ankles. It is hard to justify this decision, so it may just have been carelessness, and it is more reminiscent of the 1998 American Godzilla design than a theropod. Lastly, the figure’s tail is ridiculously short, which seems to be due to the tail in the mural being obscured by foliage, so the sculptor had to connect the dots and ended up with this little stump. It is somewhat difficult to make out what the shape of the ear area is supposed to be in the mural, but on the figure, it almost looks like it has been interpreted as similar to mammalian pinnae, with the ears almost looking like those of a sea lion, or the strange ears seen in the dinosaurs of the Land Before Time films.
Although I’m biased in favour of this toy, what with having grown up with it, I think it is interesting despite its flaws simply for being such a close replica of the Tyrannosaurus in the Age of Reptiles mural, and therefore of some of the most famous paleoart ever created. Taken on its own and out of this context, it is pretty ugly, albeit much better looking than the other HG Toys dinosaurs, which almost look like cartoon characters in comparison (some of them also seem to be based on the Zallinger mural, though less successfully). But since these dinosaurs were made for a toyline that included cavemen, accuracy was hardly the goal, and it’s a funny-looking, large toy with a nice chomping mechanism, which would make any 1980s’ kid happy. The figure seems to be available on eBay for pretty low prices, and I’d recommend it for people interested in retro dinosaurs and classic paleoart.