Dino-Hunters playset (1993)
Today it’s not one, but two figures and a vehicle AND the most pathetic looking T-Rex in toy history. It’s no stretch to say that kids have always loved and will always love dinosaurs. Hasbro, in the midst of a decline in Joe’s popularity, was trying anything and everything to boost sales. It seems as if every hot topic and toy gimmick of the time was covered in the line: drugs, the environment, ninjas, video game characters, play-doh, spring-loaded weapons, water-firing weapons, foam darts, space monsters, color changing ninjas and with this set, dinosaurs.
Released as a Toys R Us exclusive in 1993, the Dino Hunters set is one of the very few multi piece sets in the line. There had been some catalog exclusives that had two vehicles, but never one with vehicle, figure and an animal. The “Battle in a Box” idea didn’t come around again until the modern line’s Kay-Bee and Target exclusives of the 2000’s. If anything the concept reminds me of the Adventure Team sets of the 1970’s, in which a Joe would be in some far off locale looking for (or being attacked by) an exotic animal. So in that sense, its kind of a neat throwback.
First up is the Dino Hunter vehicle itself, based on the 1988 Desert Fox 6WD. The colors were modified to reflect the era’s more vibrant palette, and the original machine gun turret was replaced with two spring loaded “quick capture” grappling hooks. The launcher portion of the turret was itself modified from the 1992 Flak Viper’s backpack. The idea was that dinos had been unearthed from deep inside Cobra Island and the evil organization was going to turn them loose on the world. It was up to the Joe team to capture the creatures and save them from the hands of Cobra. So not only do we get a cash-in on dinosaur popularity, but we also get a conservation message.
Speaking of dinos, check out the T-Rex star of the set. I think I’m more reminded of the Flintstones’ affable pet Dino than the slavering monstrosity of Jurassic Park. This dinosaur is cute, even to the point of looking innocent. Maybe it’s the drawn in arms that negate any ferocity he may have had. The way his arms are drawn in close to his chest makes him look like he’s just walked into a surprise party, “For me? How sweet, you shouldn’t have.” This figure is a perfect example of the reason that the legal department requires that every box has a small disclaimer on the back that reads, “Actual product and colors may vary.” For this set, it should have warned the consumer, “Beverages being consumed while opening package may be involuntarily blown out of nose.”
Next up, the figures. Low Light is a repaint of his 1991 version, and this time out the Joes’ night spotter is back to his original blond hair. I stand corrected about his specialty; he’s now a dinosaur night spotter. Is it easier to hunt for dinosaurs at night? Maybe that’s why he’s here.
Ambush on the other hand seems like a good choice for the set. Having a camouflage and surprise expert would be useful on a dinosaur hunting mission.
Both figures have been repainted for the set, and while there are a few neon bits, the overall color palette is not entirely garish. There’s no theme or pattern to the color scheme between the two figures, like the Tiger Force subset. The only colors that seem to match in the set are Low Light’s shirt and the vehicle. Neither character includes all of his accessories, but at least the original helmets were part of the set.
The Dino Hunters set is unlike anything else in the vintage Joe line. A one-off concept, a recolored vehicle and figures, and a strange attempt at an animal figure. It’s an exciting concept, and while silly it makes for one of those side trips that make the vintage line so much fun to collect–no matter your tastes, there’s something for everyone.