Sunday, 13 July 2014

Playmobil Dimetrodon - 5235

Company: Playmobil

Theme: Dinos
Year: 2012

Price: See “Availability”
Today we look at a birthday present I received a couple of weeks ago that’s very dear to my heart – a Playmobil dimetrodon.

The dimetrodon is one of my favourite prehistoric animals. Living between 298 and 272 million years ago during the Permian period, it was an early precursor to mammals – though sadly, does not have any direct living ancestors today. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the dimetrodon is not actually a dinosaur. You could be forgiven for thinking so, as it does kind of resemble one and it’s often featured in books about dinosaurs, not to mention in amongst dinosaur toys – much like woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers. I didn’t even realise it wasn’t a dinosaur myself until a couple of years ago! But it turns out they lived around 40 million years before the first dinosaurs walked the earth.
One of its most distinct features is the large sail on its back. Theories behind the sail have changed over the years; when I was a kid, one of the most common theories was that dimetrodon was cold-blooded and the sail was for heat regulation. But thought has shifted and it’s now more commonly thought to have been used as a mechanism for sexual display. But until we clone a couple of living specimens, Jurassic Park-style, we’re unlikely to know for sure. That means there won’t be a lot of discussion of “historical accuracy” – which is usually quite silly when it comes to dinosaur toys – though I’ll make sure some gets in there.  


Playmobil playsets are new territory for me. I had a handful of Klickies as a kid, but never any of the playsets, and don’t remember having any great awareness of them either. It’s a shame really, as Playmobil is a great brand and often overlooked.  

This one is pretty simple as they go – it’s a sort of swamp scene – but it’s loaded with accessories with the dimetrodon itself serving as the centrepiece. 
Everything is placed on an irregularly shaped green base, which has a trench cut into it. What’s that for? Well, you have two choices – leave it empty and it can be a dried-up swamp. Or do as the box suggests and click the translucent blue piece into place. Then you’ve got yourself a simple stream flowing in and pooling. It’s so simple, but looks so great!

Then it’s time for the plants – two trees, a patch of leaves/moss/lichen, some reedy-looking things and a flowering bush. I’m no good with modern day botany, and much worse at prehistoric stuff. I couldn’t begin to tell you whether this is an accurate representation of a Permian Age swamp or not, so bear with my ignorance.  
One tree resembles a palm tree with two separate batches of leaves. Both have lots of fronds, which are created by inserting multiple leaf pieces into the top of the two trunks.

The other one looks more like some kind of dead Australian tree – it has two bits of foliage on it, which serve as mounting points for two creatures that we’ll get to shortly. The instructions and the box differ slightly as to how this tree should appear on the display, so I just ended up going with the image on the box – it better facilitates the angle of the vegetation. This tree can also be displayed standing straight up, or lying flat as though it has been knocked over.  

The moss is a single piece, nicely textured to break up the single colour. The reeds are cast in a slightly lighter green, in a flexible plastic. Particularly interesting is the flower bush. Each little flower needs to be put onto the bush separately, which was enjoyable for me but will no doubt annoy many children. The end result looks great though! 
Last but not least is a lilypad, complete with white flower on top. This is an excellent little piece, and you can easily set it “floating” on the river.  

In among the accessories are various fauna to populate the swamp environment – a snake, a scorpion, an enormous dragonfly and a flying lizard. The snake could be a contentious inclusion – evolutionary knowledge surrounding these guys is apparently a bit on the vague side. But consulting with Bob Strauss’ page here seems to suggest that they first showed up in the early Cretaceous, with some arguable precursors well before that. Gasp! POTENTIAL ANACHRONISM!! Scorpions though? A quick bit of Googling seems to suggest that we're in reasonably safe territory.


Now we come to the flying creatures. The first is a large dragonfly-looking creature – probably a Meganeura. Related to the dragonflies of today, they were absolutely massive in comparison to our modern specimens. It’s cast in a translucent plastic, with some slight tampographs. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it doesn’t actually glow in the dark, despite looking like it might. It can be mounted on a couple of different spots on the playset, but the fallen tree is the most logical place for it.
The second flying creature to mount on the tree is a Xianglong – or possibly a Coelurosauravus or Kuehneosaurus. The Coelurosauravus or Kuehneosaurus are probably a little more likely as they was first described in 1926 or 1962, in contrast to the more recently discovered Xianlong, which was first described in 2007.

All of these are species of gliding lizard that you’ll see decorating many a page in dinosaur books. These lizards are almost never the focal point of the images they’re in, but they still look really cool and help set the prehistoric scene. It’s a nice touch, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a toy of one before. The Xianlong lived in the Cretaceous period, in what is now China, while the Kueheneosaurus lived during the late Triassic – and the Coelurosauravus lived in the Upper Permian, so we may have avoided the dreaded HISTORICAL ANACHRONISM on this occasion. 
Jokes aside, my only real point of criticism of these accessories is that there are so many that I can’t help but wonder whether this set is really intended for kids. Maybe you’d give it to a slightly older kid, 9-10 or older, but any younger than that just seems like a recipe for disaster. It does come with a couple of spare flowers, but you can almost guarantee these will get lost too.  The suggested age of 4-10 seems a little on the low side.

As cool as these elements are, it’s the dimetrodon who is the centrepiece of the set, so it’s important that he turns out well. He’s got movement at 3 points – his jaw, and his two forelimbs. It might be nice if the back legs moved too, but Playmobil has always gone for a pretty simplistic aesthetic, and this design fits that aesthetic nicely. Not to mention that younger kids would probably just get incredibly frustrated if they had to try and balance the thing constantly. 

Most of him is cast out of the usual solid Playmobil plastic, giving him a nice chunky feel. However, his fin is cast in a rubbery plastic, presumably for safety reasons. It’s fine, but I would have preferred the whole thing be cast in the same solid plastic – I don’t want the rubbery plastic cracking and ruining the toy and its paint job as it ages.  Still, I’m very, very pleased with this toy.
With the dimetrodon alone, I feel the (reduced) purchase price is justified – I love dimetrodons and am glad to have an awesome one for display. But the swamp is a great set in its own right, and all the accessories are fantastic. Stripped of its prehistoric beasties, this playset could easily serve as a swamp setting for any Playmobil figures you chose – and if you’re willing to fudge the scale a little, it could work for Lego, too.

There’s not a huge amount of paint on any of this set – the vast majority of items are cast in the relevant colours, with the dimetrodon receiving most of the paintwork. Most of the paint has been tampographed. Whether it’s colour-accurate is of course entirely open to speculation, but it’s a good colour scheme that still makes the sail a bit of a spectacle, without being garish. The same goes for the Xianlong’s wings.

The only real dud paint in the set is the snake. Seemingly hand-painted, in contrast to the tampographing elsewhere, it’s a little on the sloppy side. But it’s a tiny accessory, so it can be let slide.  

Though it’s a couple of years old now, this set is still reasonably easy to find at your local Toys R Us – and I saw it at the Australian Museum recently, too. The problem is mainly that it costs an arm and a leg in Australia, usually around $50AUD. I paid about $USD20 – an on-sale price, admittedly – for this guy on Amazon, which seems much more reasonable.

Playmobil is great, but I don’t plan to buy a lot of it. I’m already collecting enough stuff, and there’s only room for so much of this stuff in the house. Add in the relatively high price (not that Lego and NECA figures are cheap, mind you), and it’s just not really feasible. 

But on this occasion, everything was just right – the price, the timing and my mood. So I’m very happy with the Dimetrodon. Dimetrodons rarely seem to get a look-in outside of the lower-end dinosaur toys, so I’m thrilled to see one in a more prominent role. Here’s to more public awareness of the dimetrodon!


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