Ah, Schleich. For a company that was so integral to my collecting, for so long, you’d think it would have come up more. Alas, it has not–possibly because I have found new homes for the vast majority of what I once had. Interestingly, I have discussed another figure from this particular line before, the Giant Ground sloth, also from the 1:20 Prehistoric Mammals line. Like the sloth, it came out in 2003 and was discontinued in 2013 (I had no idea it was around that long, I’m always learning!) The Smilodon was item number 16520.
The whole line is interesting for what it accidentally represents–some of the figures, such as this sabre tooth cat, are kind of reminiscent of animals depicted on the BBC’s Walking with Beasts (AKA Walking with Prehistoric Beasts in some places). This is good, because we never got any official merchandise for the animals on the show, like we did (briefly) with the previous Walking with Dinosaurs program. Those of us who collected prehistoric mammals were really hopeful (at the time, the field was much smaller) and were soundly disappointed. But Schleich came through with a few figures to help with some of that. And they did it quickly!
I remember this set overall being announced for 2002…but not being released until early 2003. This was super disappointing because back then I didn’t have an online source, nor a local source. But I was heading to my home town at Christmas time, and there was a store there that I knew I could count on to carry the full Schleich range (he fed my habit for years before I went away for school…and when I cam back for a few years continued to do so!) I still went in during the holidays to say hi and see what was new and lo and behold–he had the set! All of them! As I was rapidly sweeping them into my arms (because of course I did) I asked how this was possible. It turns out that I was not his only Schleich/animal figure customer–but one of his was apparently much better connected than I was. Or even he was. Somehow, she (I know it was a she…that’s all I know) contacted the Schleich supplier in Canada who confirmed that they were in Canada already (Schleich, for everything else, has always been very good with distribution) but were waiting for January because…reasons? Anyway, something she said convinced them to allow her (and my) favourite store to place an order (or have it fulfilled, more likely) prior to the end of the year! So I ended up with the set just a little early!
So it was very exciting to get a few ‘characters’ out of the WWB show; along with the Bullyland mammals from a similar time, it was the closest we’d get to show-inspired figures. The Smilodon is not quite right out of the show, but has some similarity. The sculpt decided to kind of accept the (then popular) idea of a mane on a decidedly male cat, but kept it limited to more of a pronounced scruff around the neck. The colour is a darker tan with wide, clouded leopard-like large geometric patterns instead of spots, stripes or a plain coat. Given that Smilodon is rivaled by only the woolly mammoth in terms of toy production, this may the only figure I am aware of that has gone this way with the pattern, so that’s something. I have to say that the face looks…a little exaggerated? The canine teeth seem too big for the head, the front incisors are off centre and odd-numbered, and the expression is nearly comical due to the crazy bulging eyes. On the other hand, they managed to keep it more Smilodon-like, instead of just making alion with big canines. So, it’s fine. There’s worse, there’s better.
Like most Schleich prehistoric figures, the Smilodon is a decent size. The line was described as 1:20, but that really depends–if we go with the more commonly made Smilodon fatalis it would be about 1:18 based on shoulder height; if it is S. populator (as it would have been in the WWB show) then it is 1:22. So it brackets fine with most prehistoric mammals figures that seem to tend toward that scale. The pose also gives a bit more life than the more common standing upright, with the appearance that it is lunging forward, so that’s fun. I would think for prehistoric animal fans, you’ve probably got a few sabre tooth cats already, but the Schleich would still make a good addition. It’s certainly different, and might remind you of a pretty decent prehistoric mammal documentary! I just honestly don’t know how easy or hard it would be to find. Some of us have two of course…because our toddler may or may not have made the first one disappear into a hamper at one point (back when they were easily replaced) and then it was eventually rediscovered.