The Pen Pal line of BFC Ink dolls were released late last year. These dolls retail for $19.99. In theory, they can be found at Target, Walmart, K-Mart and Toys R Us, however, as far as I can tell all BFC Ink dolls have disappeared from Toys R Us. I actually haven't seen any of the Pen Pal dolls at my local Target or Walmart, either, but they can be purchased at Target.com (where they are called "Moxie Pen Pals" for some reason). *Update 8/26/13: these dolls have been discontinued.
The Pen Pal dolls each represent a different country. These dolls are meant to be the pen pals of the original club dolls. There are 5 Pen Pal dolls: Britt (England), Carmen (Mexico), Nicolette (France), Elsa (Sweden) and Lily (South Africa). I like Britt's combination of dark hair and blue eyes, so I ordered her.
|BFC Ink Pen Pal Britt|
On the back of the box, you can see all 5 of the dolls. Although there is a male BFC Ink character, "CJ," all of the Pen Pal dolls are girls:
I saw this doll, Elsa, at a Target in upstate New York when I was there for my birthday:
|They've airbrushed out the articulation in her arms.|
She looked really appealing and I wanted to buy her, but she had some tragically wonky eyes. The eyes were so bad, there was no possible way to imagine that they could be overlooked. I walked away empty handed, even though I had a purse full of birthday money. So, beware of buying these dolls without seeing the eyes in person.
Have you noticed that these dolls seem to enjoy raising their hands?
|Raise you hand if you're Sure!|
Britt comes in a tall window box with a cardboard insert. The box looks harmless enough. In fact, the first stage of de-boxing isn't alarming at all--you just slide the insert out of the box:
|Raise your hand if you want to get out of the box!|
Even at this stage, however, you can see hints of the horrors that are about to unfold:
|Hmm. Look at all of that plastic around her arm...|
Admittedly, I might be a bit of a box wimp, but this was the worst de-boxing experience of my entire life. I wrestled with this doll for so long, pinching fingers and jamming scissors, that I wasn't even sure I still had it in me to be objective about the doll at the end.
I mean, I was even getting irritated with the doll's smile. Her sweet smile. She seemed to be mocking me and all of my travails.
This picture right here...
|Hee hee! Nah nah! You can't get me ou-out!|
...that was my breaking point. Just when it seemed like Britt was finally free from all of her 5 million plastic shackles, I discovered that, in fact, her hair was deviously sewn into yet another wall of plastic with brown thread that had to be painstakingly snipped out. One. Stitch. At. A. Time. I had to take a break and come back later.
|It'll take me another 15 minutes to get that horrible thing ready for recycling.|
This is exactly how the doll looked when she was finally free:
|Um...could I just excuse myself for a sec and freshen up?|
After she stood up and shook herself off:
And then finally after I ran a Liv doll brush through her hair (she doesn't come with a brush):
Whew! So, let's look at this doll. The first thing I noticed was that her hair has quite a bit of goopy whitish stuff in it, especially near her face. It must be some kind of paste designed to work with the thread and rubber bands to keep any single part of her hair from moving even the slightest tiny bit while she's in the box.
|It's hard to see in this picture, but...eeew.|
The hair is rooted and has several different shades of brunette mixed together. It has a decent cut and doesn't shed much. It looks very nice, and moves pretty well. The feel of the hair is coarse and unsatisfying, though. It's like a costume wig from a Halloween store. It does not have the lovely sheen or softness of a Lorifina wig or a Karito Kid wig.
|Looks can be deceiving.|
Her outfit is very simple. It consists of a light pink cotton top with gathered sleeve details, a pair of plain navy blue legging capri pants, and a pair of pink rubbery shoes:
|The sleeve detail is a nice addition to an extremely basic outfit.|
|The shoes fall off really easily.|
There's no creativity in the design of these dolls. It doesn't seem like there was any effort to incorporate the nationality of the doll's character into the elements of her outfit or styling. Britt could be the girl from France, for all I can tell. And, come on--"Britt" from Great Britain? Ugh. That doesn't even make the top 100 baby names of 2011 in the UK. Why not Matilda or Keira? Imogen?
Anyway, Britt has a pleasant expression. She has a soft smile and wide, innocent eyes. I lucked out in that my doll's eyes are only minimally askew. Her coloring is very natural and subtle and the plastic eyes are a nice realistic blue color with some depth and detail. The brush strokes of her eyelashes and eyebrows are a bit crude, but it looks fine:
|Slightly off kilter eyes.|
My only issue with her face is that it seems to be the face of a child--maybe a five to eight year old. Her body, on the other hand, is more that of a teenager:
The body is made out of hollow plastic and has 14 points of articulation:
The head and torso joints can be swiveled a full 360 degrees. The neck joint is very loose and her head spins and bobs around a bit too easily, especially with the weight of the hair to get it started.
|Her preferred head position.|
She stands really well on her own, which is a feature I love to see in a larger doll. The lateral range of motion in the limbs is also good:
She can easily pose on bended knee:
And can also kneel on both knees, with a little fiddling and balancing:
|I got this. Don't breathe.|
The wrist joint movement is not as good as that of a Liv doll or a Monster High doll, but it is better than the MiM doll wrists, and certainly better than no wrist joint at all:
Britt can sit very naturally, both on the ground:
|I love that her toes can touch! Very endearing.|
And on a chair or bench:
|Knees together, chin up!|
However, the rotational movement of her torso and neck allow her to assume some very bizarre poses!
|At first this might look fine...but look again.|
Her hands seem chunky and awkward to me. I think they're too big for the rest of her body. They look in proportion to her head, maybe, but not the rest of her. Usually these big-headed dolls have hands that match their bodies, not their heads.
I already have an extra BFC Ink outfit, so let's see what it looks like on Britt:
It took a bit of wrangling to get this outfit on. The hardest part was pulling the sleeves of the shirt and the coat over her huge hands. This could get frustrating for a smaller child. As I wrestled with her, her tendency was to go all Exorcist on me:
|That head can really spin.|
The outfit looks nice on her, but the shiny purple material of the coat is not aging very well. It's prone to snags.
|Stop! In the name of love, before your big hands break my heart...|
|Notice in this picture how the area where her lips meet isn't painted.|
Not sure if that is intentional or not..?
This doll is extremely posable, which is fun:
|I like that the soft boots don't restrict her ankle movement.|
I bought the extra BFC outfit to see if it would fit my Lorifina, so I thought it might be interesting to compare Britt to my Lorifina doll. First of all, they can't trade clothes. Lorifina rocks Britt's outfit, but Britt can't pull Lorifina's shorts up:
And she doesn't quite fill out the camisole top:
Lorifina looks very Princess Diana in this, I think. Probably because of the big shoulders on the shirt, and her serene expression:
Here's a body comparison of Britt and Lorifina with my MiM doll thrown into the mix. The most striking things to me in this picture are:
1. The different colors and qualities of plastic.
2. Britt's head is HUGE.
3. Britt's hands are big and her arms are loooong. This looks strange to me because her legs are relatively short.
|MiM wins this lineup for me, hands down,|
despite looking ghostly pale by comparison.
With their original outfits:
|Best outfit = Lorifina|
MiM can wear Britt's clothes, but not the other way around (there's no way Britt's mongo paws are fitting through MiM's sleeves...).
Their prices are so varied, it's difficult to say anything definitive about them as a group. Ling should cost about $100 (even though I got her for $30) and Nahji reatils for $29. Of the three, Ling is definitely the best doll by a long shot. Everything about her is superior to Britt. Nahji is also a better quality doll than Britt, both in terms of the materials she is made out of and the quality of her clothing and accessories. Let's leave the packaging out of it so I don't get upset. Britt is the least expensive doll of the three (even if you completely ignore any charity donation calculated into the retail price) and it shows.
One last question I had was, how do American Girl size clothes hang on Britt? Her body is much slimmer than the American Girl body, and yet surely children who enjoy American Girl dolls will also be drawn to the BFC Ink girls. Well, I tried the blue Springfield Collection dress on Britt, and it is a bit sack-like without the sash:
It looks pretty nice with the sash tied, but my guess is that, for the most part, American Girl sized clothes are not a safe buy for the BFC dolls at all.
|Cinched in back.|
Bottom line? Well, the packaging certainly got me off to a rough start with this doll. It is abysmal. Once you get past that hurdle, though, there are several things to admire about Britt. Her best feature is that she has a very high level of articulation for a $20 18" play doll. The joints move well and Britt can strike a ton of interesting and realistic poses. On the down side, some of the joints (like the neck) are very loose, and this means that she is often torquing her body into strange and slightly disturbing positions when you'd rather she didn't.
Her face is pleasant and appealing, and while I don't feel that it matches her body type very well, it seems like the open and honest face of a good companion. The inset eyes are a realistic color and have nice detail and depth. However, you have to be careful about ill-set eyes in these dolls. My doll's eyes are not set perfectly, and I know from personal observation that some of the dolls on the shelves have eyes that are so poorly placed that they are no longer acceptable at any level.
The outfit is so simple that it is barely worth mentioning. There are no special details or accessories that help distinguish this as a doll from another country--she is very generic. The BFC Ink outfit that I bought separately is difficult to get on over Britt's large hands. It seems to me that a child might become rather frustrated with this. The shoes fall off pretty easily.
The hair is the biggest disappointment. The hair on play dolls is perhaps their most important attribute. Kids (and adults!) love to style and pet the hair of their dolls. Britt's hair looks nice from a distance, but the coarse, cheap feel of the fibers and the strange white paste that is used throughout the region framing her face are extremely off-putting. It is bad hair.
Britt's $20 price tag makes her more accessible for a wider range of shopping needs than many of her competitors, however, of all of the dolls in this approximate size range that I have reviewed, Britt is my least favorite. I don't think she's a bad doll, necessarily, and I certainly find her more appealing than many of the American Girl knock-offs, but she doesn't quite make the grade in my eyes. I'd love to know if the quality of these Pen Pal dolls is significantly lower than the quality of the original and more expensive BFC Ink dolls.
My advice? If you can only spend $20, buy a Liv in Wonderland doll instead--while you still can. If you can afford to spend a bit more, buy a Hearts 4 Hearts doll and you'll be teaching your child something about another culture, sending a little bit of money to charity, and getting a higher quality doll.
6 and up
Fair price at $20
This is a relatively inexpensive 18” doll, especially with the high level of articulation, so I don’t expect amazing quality, but the hair is pretty bad and I find poorly placed eyes of the degree I saw at Target unacceptable at any price. Many elements of the doll seem cheap and rushed.
Horrible. Way too much hard-to-manage plastic. Tons of thread and paste in the hair. I wonder how much they could knock off the price of this doll if the packaging was simpler? Hmm.
No. This is a play doll.
BFC Ink dolls have unique measurements among the 18” play dolls--they are very slender, with large hands. American Girl or similarly sized doll clothes are too big. Britt can’t fit into some of the slimmer doll’s tops because of her large hands. The high level of articulation makes these dolls very versatile in terms of posing, and the faces and wardrobes are pleasant, generic and adaptable.
Cute and articulated, but generic and uncreative with low quality hair. I'd spend my money on something else.