Today I’ll be reviewing my first Vinylmation figure in a little while, the brand-new 9″ Tree of Life design released at the parks and online Friday, February 18th. It’s taken 5 series of Park Vinylmations, but Disney has finally released a design in honor of what is unquestionably the iconic image of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park: the Tree of Life. The 9″ Tree of Life figure represents the 14-story, 50-foot wide sculpted tree that’s the centerpiece of Animal Kingdom. This figure is a limited edition of just 800 pieces produced in the entire world, and was created by artist Lin Shih. Tree of Life is already sold-out online, but according to reports there are still many available within the parks, and he’s also selling for just above his original retail cost on ebay at the moment.
The attention to detail on this design is absolutely outstanding. Whereas the initial photography and concept illustrations released for this piece only showed off the designs on the front of the figure, the carved animal depictions actually go all the way around the entire figure, including under his arms and to his back. The designs on the back of the figure include an elephant, an owl, and the ever-popular Hidden Mickey symbol (right in the middle of Tree of Life’s butt!).
The figure’s right arm can be lifted to reveal what I think is a wolf head. (Or maybe it’s a baboon head? I dunno, I’m not a wildlife biologist.) Meanwhile, the figure’s left arm can be raised to reveal an otherwise-obscured chameleon! (Rather fitting for a chameleon to be hidden by his surroundings, don’t you think?)
Like most of the 9″ Vinylmation figures, Tree of Life includes an artist card showing the original artist concept by Lin Shih. This is one instance where the finished product actually goes far beyond the original concept, easily improving upon it and making it much more compelling than what’s shown on the artist card. Lin Shih did a great job with this design, but it’s really one that requires three-dimensions to work properly.
Still, having a big 9″ figure of a tree seems a little bit awkward taken out of context. This is one of the few 9″ LE Vinylmations I can think of that’s really dependent upon other pieces to get the full effect. There was an Animal Kingdom set of 3″ figures released last fall representing a dozen exotic wildlife species such as lions, tigers, zebras, and giraffes. Ideally, this figure would be surrounded by those 3″ figures and I suspect he would be an absolutely amazing centerpiece for that display. Unfortunately, that 3″ set was a limited release that’s pretty much totally sold-out in the parks now and next to impossible to find. I surrounded Tree of Life with some random “animal” designs from my collection and he looks great, but I know he’d look much better as the centerpiece of the Animal Kingdom collection.
Overall: Tree of Life is not a design that a lot of Vinylmation collectors were talking about or heavily anticipating. From the Park 5 series, there was a lot more discussion and anticipation of some of the 9″ Limited Edition figures, in particular the Fantasmic, Mad Hatter, and Dreamfinder/Figment designs. When this figure went on sale online at DisneyStore.com last Friday, he lingered for the better part of the day whereas the 9″ Fantasmic design sold out within hours. But lack of popularity does not make this a bad design. I bought Tree of Life on a whim, and am extremely pleased with the attention to detail, paint quality, and design of this figure. As a standalone piece, Tree of Life looks a little bit lonely or out of place. However, when surrounded by various Disney “animal” designs, he looks great and has quickly become one of my favorite designs. This figure is highly recommended to anyone who wants to build any sort of “animal” display with their vinyl figures, or just anyone who loves Animal Kingdom or the Tree of Life in general.