Why we all love those prehistoric monsters

DAVID SMITH: When dinosaurs ruled the toy shelves

AS I WRITE this month’s column, I am knee-deep in the Cretaceous period, pondering the timeless appeal of the dinosaurs.

May 27th to 31st was Dino Week on ToyTalk, and it’s given me plenty to think about. Dinosaurs are obviously a major theme in the world of toys and games and we’ve reported on many different variations.

But I can’t help thinking: why? Why are dinosaur toys so popular with children? Strangely (considering we are talking about creatures bigger than buses, many of which would have eaten us on sight), I think a big part of their appeal is the fact that they don’t really scare us.

Dinosaurs are scary in the same way that rollercoasters are scary. There’s a thrill and you may let out a scream or two, but you know there isn’t any danger. Not really.

If you look at a giant spider or 12-foot-long snake, the reaction you’ll feel is down to thousands of years of programming. It’s an instinctive response because spiders and snakes can actually hurt us and their shapes have become imprinted deep down in our subconscious minds (I’m sure an actual psychologist would be able to explain that far more accurately, but the principal is there).

Dinosaurs don’t scare us in the same way because no human being has ever seen a dinosaur, regardless of what you’ve learned from The Flintstones or One Million Years BC. Perversely, this means that there is no instinctive dread when you hold a toy T-Rex, whereas many people can’t even bear to look at a rubber spider.

This allows toy firms to go to town with roaring, romping, rampaging dinosaurs, without any fear of sending children scuttling away in terror. The giant dinosaur on the H. Grossman stand at January’s Toy Fair would surely not have attracted so many visitors if it had been a giant tarantula.

Dinosaurs have also continued to evolve as new discoveries have been made. The idea that they might well have been brightly coloured means that Schleich can create dazzling models that catch a child’s eye, while still being ‘realistic’ according to modern research.

When you add the whole thing up – giant multi-coloured monsters that aren’t really scary and for which we have no instinctive dread – it’s a safe bet that, unlike their actual predecessors, dinosaur toys will never face extinction.

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