So, you might imagine we’ve all been spoiled a bit lately, what with Prehistoric Planet and all. It’s easy to develop high expectations, and to expect everything to be subject to the same sublime standards of visual quality and scientific accuracy. Lest we get too comfortable, I think it prudent to take a stroll among some good old fashioned ugly Chinese dinosaur animatronics. It’s good to be reminded that dinosaurs in public spaces can still be rubbish, too. Take it away, monsieur Papo!
A year and a half ago I showed you the marvels of the Dino Weeks expo at Zoo Parc Overloon. A different zoo, Dierenrijk (a brisk bike ride away from Eindhoven), part of the same chain, now hosts basically the same event, with a slightly different line-up of animatronics this time. Your friend and mine, the Papo T. rex, returns on the poster. You know you’re going to have a good time with the Papo T. rex on the poster.
Another returning customer is this animatronic T. rex near the entrance, which I described as being close to the top of the list of ugliest T. rexes I’d ever seen. At least, there’s no JP sound effect playing over and over this time, the park instead opting to go with more generic growly sounds. This is the best angle I could get. The overhead power lines are a curious feature of Dierenrijk, which is built beneath a bunch of them. Some of the transmission towers have been incorporated into the animal enclosures.
I love a good zoo. It so happens that Dierenrijk was the last big one in the Netherlands I’d never visited before (there’s no public transport options, so prepare to either drive or cycle) and I’m happy to have crossed it off the list. A young and relatively unknown zoo, its collection is nothing to be sneezed at. It includes Asian elephants, chimps, Indian rhinoceroses and polar bears. I really liked Dierenrijk and definitely see myself visiting more often in the future. The dinosaurs were an added bonus, really.
You win some, you lose some. The Dilo at Overloon had the feared JP frill. This one is not disgraced with such a blatant trope, but on the other hand, it does have a much more generic head and a much less impressive stature. Swings and roundabouts. This one has a funky colour scheme and a photogenic location, next to the big elephant paddock. The bull elephant probably doesn’t know how he feels about this trespasser from another age.
Speaking of trespassers from a different age. Iguanodonts getting attacked by much smaller predators is a given. However, rather than the customary dromaeosaur, in this case the signage interprets the carnivore as “Allosaurus“, making this an encounter 30 million years out of time. The animal is indistinguishable from the Velociraptor elsewhere. Still. It’s less egregious than a Stegosaurus getting ganged up on by a pack of Velociraptors, so progress is being made!
This big bird is one of the most surprising features. It was probably meant to be Archaeopteryx, once upon a time, but the person who made the signs saw that it had no teeth, did some damage control and slapped the name Confuciusornis on. Of course, with Confuciusornis being an unassuming little bird but for its pretty tail feathers, this animatronic is comically huge and menacing. It’s actually one of the largest in the set. I suppose we’re being forced into the perspective of a little bug here.
By contrast, Triceratops is much smaller than life-sized. This is probably the one that looks the saddest, and the most worse for wear, with its head all flattened out and its horns wilting. For some reason, this seems to be the one kids single out to recieve the most abuse. They try to pet it, only to find rips in the outer layers they can put their fingers in and take bits of foam out of.
Also slightly wilted is the sail of Spinosaurus, which probably wasn’t built to be wracked by the endless Dutch western winds. Otherwise, the Spinosaurus isn’t actually too bad for 2003 or so, but what I keep coming back to are those sad little pronated hands with hanging match-stick fingers, complete with those bird-feet scutes that are totally inappropriate for a theropod hand. So many of those Chinasaurs have these same, droopy hands, which gives them all this cheap vibe. This Spinosaurus in particular gave us a lot of grief, having been given an especially loud and repetitive bellow that could be heard throughout most of the zoo.
So, what do you expect this to be? Carnotaurus, no? It doesn’t quite have the right shape for Canotaurus, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary, right? Nope, the sign says we’re looking at Gorgosaurus! I suppose Gorgosaurus technically has horns, but it’s a real stretch. Those are clearly abelisaur hands, and the thorny skin seems to be a nod to Carnotaurus‘ scutes, as well.
The spinosaurs have a pretty strong showing today. This one is said to be Irritator, a name that causes sniggers in anyone who bothers to read the sign. This is a pretty okay one, with interesting colours and at least the right idea of how a spinosaur skull is shaped. Some shrinkwrapping going on and, again, those cheapo flat hands.
Continuing the trend of okay looking spinosaurs, this one’s Baryonyx. I’m particularly partial to the graffiti colour scheme on this one, though the shrinkwrapping is even more noticable here. This one had a broken eyelid. These things are in a pretty sorry state, though I can’t imagine they were built to last in the first place. Still better than the one from Billy World.
Ankylosaur among the trees! It’s cool to see one all forested up, but you can’t see its tail club this way!
So what’s to say about Dino Weeks that I didn’t say back when it was in Overloon? It’s good to have a laugh at the expense of an ugly dinosaur, but something is nagging at me. It is entirely possible that I wear nostalgia glasses, but I do remember the animatronic dinosaurs of my youth – the days of Dinamation and its peers – to be quite a bit better. Have these rubbish Chinese styrofoam dinosaurs, with their no doubt competitive price tag, cornered the market to such an extent that higher quality robot dinosaurs are a thing of the past now? I have certainly seen models like this at serious museums, too. With affordable models like these on the market, Dinosaur-themed attractions are still becoming more common and more popular, certainly in my neck of the woods, which is a good thing. However, the mean quality of the animatronics does not seem to be improving. In general, you’re better off looking at static fibreglass models these days.
But, again, none of this is to slag off Dierenrijk, which is a great zoo with nice and knowledgable staff and great animal enclosures. An unexpected highlight was a huge tank full of Garra rufa fish – the ones that eat the dead cells off your skin if you stick your hands in. I imagine these are kept in rather better conditions than at the average spa. I had a great day here, and I will certainly return.
Zain AhmedMay 28, 2022 at 8:40 am
“In general, you’re better off looking at static fibreglass models these days.”
Agreed 100%. They’re way better from an aesthetic standpoint, as they’re often cartoonish designs can be way prettier. They’re way better from a historic or cultural standpoint, as the majority of them come from the cold war era. They’re better from a standpoint of not being so annoying everytime they stock roar. I’m not even a boomer and I still prefer them to animatronic shows these days.
If one of you ever gets a chance to visit Dinosaur Park in South Dakota, go for it.
Marc VincentMay 28, 2022 at 8:59 am
I love that you used the phrase ‘slag off’. I don’t know what Americans will make of it.
It’s true that these ugly, ugly robots don’t stand up to the elements well. That’s why the ones at Blackgang Chine, stuck on a sea cliff facing the prevailing winds, were looking worse for wear after a single winter.
It’s also true that the Dinamation creations, imperfect though they were, were still miles better than these things. As are the static models from Wolter Design.