The seven figures and diorama pieces come crammed inside a long, transparent tube, topped with a sculpted stopper that varies with each set (a shark's head in this case). It stands about nine inches tall and the tube is roughly two inches in diameter. A yellow cord sticks out of the side for easy carrying/hanging. A colorful, paper insert, at the bottom of the tube, gives you the "Natural World" title, some artwork, choking hazard warning, and little else. This thing is really easy to open--too easy actually--all you have to do is pull the top off and pull/shake your goodies out (the trees require a little more effort to extract, due to their size/design). No tape, nothing. What's so bad about that you ask? They're very theft prone; at the store, I noticed one of the snake sets had its top missing and looked like it might have been pilfered. The trees/rocks are packed at the bottom of the tube in every set, leaving the creatures farther up, where you can get a relatively good look at them through the unobstructed plastic. I don't normally buy toys of this nature so I have to give credit to the unique packaging attracting my attention as I passed by, perusing the pegs/shelves.
In the store, it took me a while to decide which set I was going to buy. Having an educational background in biology (zoology was always one of my favorite branches) and a love for critters, both real and imaginary, many of them appealed to me. I ultimately chose the ocean animals one because I felt it had the best variety of organisms in it. Some of the sets, like the snakes and frogs, looked like they consisted of multiples of the same sculpt, with only paint to differentiate them, which I found to be a turn off.
You get a diverse selection of marine critters in this set: A blue shark, brown crab, red lobster, brown ray, blue-green eel, brown seal, and green-brown sea turtle. The crustaceans, turtle, and eel are my favorites, the ray/shark fall in the middle, and I find the seal the least appealing (not because it's bad or anything, I'm just not a seal person). All of the animals are made with a rubbery off-white plastic. Unfortunately, the mold lines are readily apparent and there's a bit of flash, left over from the injection process, sticking out on some of them. They're not articulated in any way, but the thinner sections have enough give to them that you can bend them a bit--of course, they just pop back to their original positions when you let go/stop applying pressure. They all have cylindrical holes on their undersides too, so that you can pop them on your favorite pencils/pens if you feel so inclined (I should note that not all of the Natural World figure sets incorporated this feature, probably due to anatomical/size limitations of the subject matter). I was impressed with the quality of the sculpts, considering the price point. They're not mind-blowing or anything, but they're pretty accurate/realistic and some of them sport a considerable amount of detail (like the individual scales/shell pattern on the turtle)--looking at them, I can tell the sculptor(s) used reference material/photos of the real thing rather than just doing the animal anatomies from his/her head. The lobster, crab, and sea turtle are the most intricate, while the three fish are the smoothest/least detailed; the seal falls in between. Only the top halves of these figures are painted, but it works for the most part, as many organisms have pale undersides. The majority of the operations look like airbrush work to me, and while the application is simplistic and can get sloppy, it still ends up looking fairly good.
For the purpose of this review, I'm going to consider the trees, rocks, and the tube stopper as accessories, as I feel the animals are supposed to be the central focus of these sets.
- Trees. You get two and they're both molded in green plastic. They stand about four inches in height. Unfortunately, due to the tube packaging, they come out a bit warped, which can make getting them to stand frustrating. It might be a good idea to employ the tried-and-true method of hot/cold water to reshape them so they're a bit straighter, and consequently, stabler. The sculpt is adequate, sporting many branches, individual leaves, and even some blades of grass on the base. They look convincing from the front/back, but terrible from the sides, as they're "flat". Some paintwork would've given them a bit more life and made them less toy-like in appearance.
- Boulders. There are two of them, they're molded in gray plastic, and hollow. They could have benefitted with some cracks/projections sculpted on them, as they're quite plain in appearance--a paint wash, to imply some weathering, wouldn't have hurt either. I've seen this kind of toy rock design before, in my youth, and I can tell you, once you crush them, accidentally, or on purpose, it's quite difficult to get them back to their original shapes. On the upside, being hollow and light, they're unlikely to do any damage if you happen to throw them as someone/something. If you bought a bunch of these sets, and accumulated a great many rocks, I imagine you could make a fun "dead fall" trap with them, to "crush" your unwary action figures.
- Stopper. This consists of a circular blue plastic ring base with a hollow, rubbery shark's head inserted through it. I haven't tried, but it looks like you could disconnect the ring from the head if you wanted to. The glossy airbrushed paintwork on the shark noggin, while relatively sloppy, looks pretty realistic and is better than I expected on a one dollar toy package. I don't know if it was Polyfect's intention or not, but I think this thing makes a great finger puppet. The rubbery plastic it's made of is fairly rigid, but it has enough give that you can make the jaws open and close by squeezing it. I do like that they went to the trouble to make a different stopper for every set; it sets them apart on the shelf and gives you something else to collect/play with in addition to the figures proper. As an aside, you might want to hang onto the tube too, as it's a convenient place to store the figures and boulders when you're not using them (you probably won't want to put the trees back in if you went to the trouble of unbending them with hot/cold water, as I mentioned previously, because they'll just get bent again).
One dollar, plus tax. That's a very nice deal for seven small animal figures, four diorama pieces, and a finger puppet stopper. Admittedly, these aren't the highest quality toys you'll ever find, but you're getting a good value for you money here in quantity if nothing else. As far as toys go, you could certainly do worse with your portrait of George Washington. As they're cheap, I considered buying several of these at once, but decided to go with one to see what I thought of them first.
- Excellent value. While there are shortcomings, Polyfect really did accomplish a lot here, considering the price. These would make great stocking stuffers/party favors for children.
- Attractive/unique packaging that draws your attention in the store.
- Fairly detailed sculpts on the animals, plants, and stopper.
- Nice variety of critters including a mammal, two crustaceans, three fish, and one reptile. Polyfect could have taken the easy way out and just filled this tube up with different colored sharks with no paintwork; I'm grateful they were more ambitious than that.
- The option to use the figures as pencil/pen toppers is a nice bonus.
- The shark is on the small side, unless you want a baby shark, but the rest are in scale with a number of other toy lines and could be used for accessories (sea buddies for DC Comic's Aqua-Man or Nickelodeon's Spongebob Squarepants perhaps?) or customization purposes. Considering the subject matter, they'd probably make good bathtub toys too--just make sure they don't go down the drain, as they're fairly small.
- Individuals not interested in using them as decoration on writing implements may not like having big, round holes in the bottoms of their figures.
- While extra accessories are always nice, the rocks are as basic as toy boulders can possibly be.
- The package is extremely easy to steal from. All you have to do is pop the top off the tube; they should have been taped shut at the very least. Make sure you look yours over in the store, comparing it to an identical sample, if possible, to make sure everything is there.
- There's some plastic flash left over on a few of the creatures and mold lines are noticeable.
- The paintwork could definitely be better, but considering the price, it's reasonable.
Where to Buy:
Family Dollar is the only place I've seen these so far. You should find them standing up in a green display box, or, alternatively, hanging from a peg by their cords. My Family Dollar had two boxes of these, one full and one half empty (I'd say there are about 20 tubes to a box). In addition to this ocean animals set they had assortments with cats, dogs, horses, dinosaurs, insects, spiders, frogs, snakes, farm animals, and zoo animals, each with a different sculpted tube cap (a T-Rex head on the dinosaur one, cow head on the farm animals, ladybug on the insects, etc.)--with that amount of variety, there ought to be something to interest almost any child. Happily, the cases looked like they had an even distribution of sets, so you have a good chance of getting the one(s) you want.
Polyfect Toys recommends these Natural World toy sets for ages 3 and up, due to the choking hazard small items entails. They're a nice alternative for those that don't like their children playing with more violence-orientated toys (although, granted, sharks and other predators can be plenty violent too). Who knows? Maybe your purchase will subtly influence an interest in marine biology.