The second "riding animal" to be released in the vintage line (after the Patrol Dewback) was the Tauntaun, released in "Empire Strikes Back" packaging. The example in my collection happens to be a Kenner Canada item. Let's have a closer look!
"Contents: One marsupial mammal." Oddly specific, isn't it? I quite like this line, probably the Marketing Department's idea of a clever little joke. "One creature" or "one riding animal" just doesn't have the same ring, does it? Interestingly, this directly contradicts (!) the ESB script which reads:
EXT. PLAIN OF HOTH - DAY A small figure gallops across the windswept ice slope. The bundled rider is mounted on a large gray snow lizard, a Tauntaun.
Being a Kenner Canada item, French and English coexist in easy harmony on the box. Unfortunately some English infiltrated the French side as the "Action figures sold separately" appears in both languages on both box ends.
Back of the box demonstrates play features. Those reins... I have three Tauntauns in my collection and I think every set of brown rubbery plastic reins is broken and repaired, right at the top of the "loop". One of them is from my childhood collection and I remember that the reins broke soon after I got it. Superglue effects a repair but any flexibility in the repaired area is gone.
Typical Kenner escalation in this photo... two Rebel Soldiers, OK... but what kid is gonna have THREE TAUNTAUNS??
This is quite a nice picture of the Rebel Soldier grooming and saddling his smelly disgusting Tauntaun.
Now, the main thing people remember about Han's rescue of Luke on Hoth is stuffing him into the carcass of Han's dead Tauntaun. It was gross in the movie, and it's equally disturbing as a toy. However, by '82 the Tauntaun toy may have been getting a bit stale, and adding another play feature was a great way to invigorate sales.
No longer a "marsupial mammal", now just a mammal. Perhaps "marsupial" was removed so as not to create the impression that the open belly feature was some sort of joey pouch? Because reference to a natural birth process would be disgusting and inappropriate, not at all like a reference to cutting open a dead animal and stuffing your friend inside the carcass...
Ugh... nice close-up. We get the idea.
Recycled top picture from the Tauntaun box, with a re-imagining of the Hoth Rescue, this time with Rebel Commander and two Rebel Soldiers as witnesses to the horror. What is seen cannot be unseen!
Further recycling from the Tauntaun box.
Another difference between the toys is that the saddle on the open-belly version (top) has a much thicker strap than the standard version (bottom). Presumably this is the result of real-world feedback on the flimsiness of the plastic strap. Kenner really does care!
Anyway, there you have the comprehensive survey of the Tauntaun in both versions. For me, I'll take the original recipe. The open belly just freaks me out.