Little Apple Dolls are 14 inch vinyl dolls with an eerie, minimalist appearance that conjures Japanese kabuki theater and goth horror. These spooks are the creation of British artist Ufuoma Urie ("Yurei"). Yurei's strange, otherworldly dolls were sold by Underground Toys until 2008, when the company decided to drop the L.A.D. line. Currently, Little Apple Dolls are being made in small editions by Yurei and sold through her company, Screaming Matriarch (love that name). The new dolls have clothes that are designed and hand sewn by the artist herself.
From what I can tell by looking at pictures, the difference between the Underground Toys dolls and the newer Screaming Matriarch dolls is mostly in the quality of the clothes. The prices are also notably different, with the older dolls retailing for around $25 and the newer dolls selling for three or four times that. I'd love to have found a newer Little Apple doll for this review, but price and availability forced me to settle for the Underground Toys version. Check out this picture of the first doll Yurei made independently, though. She is called Supernae. Now, compare Supernae to the doll I bought. My doll is called Erro and is from 2005:
|Little Apple Doll, "Erro."|
The front of the box has a flap that is secured with velcro (like the earlier Liv doll boxes).
Inside the flap, you can start to learn something about what the Little Apple Dolls are all about. There's a short story on the flap, told by a weird girl with sparse hair and buggy eyes named Kook:
Kook is friends with a bird, Charles, and also with the apple, which is apparently not a snack, but rather a character named Little Apple Red.
It turns out that Little Apple Red used to be a regular apple, but then he (it?) got chosen by Sine (who is the Keeper of the Inbetween Place) to be the protector of children who are lost in the Inbetween Place, whatever that is. So...it follows logically that Erro must be one of the kids lost in the Inbetween Place, under the noble protection of an apple.
I'll get back to all of that in a sec, but first, let's look at Erro. She is attached to a blood-red cardboard insert that slides out of the grey box:
She is held in the box by a cable tie around her neck and two wire ties around her legs. The cable tie holding my doll was cut (I'm thinking she was not as mint in box as the seller wanted me to believe...) and the two wire ties were very easy to get undone. Erro's accessories are held in place with plastic holders and tape and have to be cut out. Here's everything removed from the box:
Her hair is held in place with two of those awful stitched plastic strips. It was also apparently taped to the cardboard at some point. The tape on my doll is yellowed and crumpled with age and was making a sticky mess.
Little Apple Red had apparently been in that plastic holder for way too long, because it was stuck in there. When I pulled it free, some of the foam from the apple peeled off and stayed attached to the plastic:
|Your basic foam apple.|
The apple comes with a bag of pins:
|Because every apple should come with pins.|
Erro also comes with a beautiful little storybook:
The illustrations are black silhouettes against colorful graded backgrounds:
The story is a mysterious, disturbing tale of how Erro is stuck wandering in what is presumably the Inbetween Place, trapped by a malevolent female presence. I am guessing that Erro was rescued from this nightmare-like scenario by Little Apple Red, and she is sharing her experience as a kind of memoir. That's what I hope, anyway.
I enjoy dark stories and mild, cult horror (Steven King's The Shining or Buffy the Vampire Slayer--that kind of thing) but I have to admit that one element of these dolls that doesn't sit well with me is that they are meant to portray little children who are stuck in between the living world and the dead (hence the "Inbetween"). The Little Apple Dolls are a much, much milder interpretation of dead children than, say, the Living Dead dolls, but I am finding that as I get older, I have a shrinking tolerance for themes like this. If I felt differently, I might be very tempted to check out Yurei's book, Welcome to the Inbetween, to learn more about this dark fantasy/horror world. Yurei's ideas are definitely fascinating and creative and almost seem like an interpretation (or memory?) of how a young child would deal with the scary unknown that surrounds death.
Anyway, after I removed those irritating plastic strips from the hair, I had to brush it. The hair on this doll is almost exactly the same as the hair on the new BFC Ink Pen Pal dolls. That is to say, it is Halloween costume hair and it is almost impossible to keep neat. You can't comb it through from scalp to tips one single time without tangles getting in the way. The tangles seem to form spontaneously and spitefully out of thin air. The hair also sheds like crazy:
|You could knit a sweater with that.|
Here's one of the rare moments when the hair was almost behaving:
But if you look closely, there are always strands of hair falling out:
The hair has a life of its own. It is constantly trying to fly away or tangle.
And if you aren't vigilant about incessantly smoothing and brushing it, chaos takes over:
|That took, literally, two minutes to happen.|
I thought two braided ponytails might be a cute and practical solution to Erro's hair trouble, but her hair is too sparsely rooted for this style to look good:
I may be spoiled, but in my opinion this hair is awful. I find it especially frustrating when a doll with bad hair has excessively long hair. That just magnifies the problem. I also think that since this doll has very few details or features besides her hair, her hair should have gotten more attention. I am hoping and guessing that the newer dolls that were made under Yurei's watchful eye have better hair.
Erro's featureless face is the most fascinating thing about her. Her eyes are alien-slanted black sockets and she has just the slightest suggestion of a nose. She is an unnerving mix of cute, mysterious and downright scary:
Her bangs are uneven, and again, when so little else is going on with her face, any small flaw is magnified:
She doesn't have any ears:
Lighting makes a huge difference when photographing this doll. I find that if she has any shadows cast across her face at all, she takes on a very sinister expression:
Little Apple Red is meant to be filled with small needles. These are blunt (which is good) and therefore hard to get into the apple (which is bad). I thought at first that this was some kind of voodoo pincushion, but the story on the flap of Erro's box explains that pins, while destructive in the real world, are actually symbols of protection and friendship in the Inbetween. Who knew. Further evidence of Yurei's off-beat imagination.
Even if the story had declared pins to be the symbols of rainbows and happiness, this still looks to me like a possessed little demon girl practicing black magic on an apple:
|You'll be sorry, Mr. Apple. Oh yes, you'll be sorry.|
But wait a minute--try looking at another picture of Erro and this time, try to see the wandering, lost little girl searching for a magical apple's protection. It's there, isn't it? There's an innocent sadness in that strange face. It's neat how an absence of features can make a face open to very different interpretations.
|Help me, Mr. Apple, you're my only hope!|
Erro's outfit is a simple bibbed dress. I like the style of the dress, but the material is very thin and feels stiff and inexpensive. You can see the pattern of the dress through the white material of the bib:
My dress has dirty smudges in some places. Hmm.
|It's a little table-clothy|
Erro has cream colored knee-high socks and black textured plastic shoes. I am not sure why the socks are cream and not white. Nothing else on this doll is anything but black or white.
|Maybe it's to contrast with her white legs?|
The shoes are extremely difficult to get off. I had to brace the doll and pry the shoes off with my thumbs. Then I had to re-brush her hair for ten minutes. The shoes look cute, though, and the bow detail is a real fabric bow, not plastic.
Erro's body is all white semi-soft vinyl and has 5 points of articulation. Her posing is very limited:
She can stand on her own if she is completely upright and everything is balanced perfectly. If she leans against a wall, she can accomplish a few more elaborate poses:
Predictably, the black in the outfit causes a few problems with the white vinyl. She has some dark staining on her neck and arms:
If Erro puts on her mask, it alters her appearance significantly. The mask gives her a nose with nostrils, a mouth and some detail in her eyes, but these features make her decidedly more creepy:
I wasn't sure if the bangs should go over or under the mask, so I tried it both ways:
The handprints are clever--it looks like she was just covering her soul-sucking red eyes with her hands...except that the hands are backwards. Someone else was covering her eyes. Sinister.
|Peek a boo.|
There is clearly a rich imagination behind this doll line. Each doll has her own individual nightmare-like back story told in a beautiful little book. The group of dolls is united as a whole by the disturbing idea of the Inbetween and the strange characters that exist within. Erro's story reads like a fable, yet rather than a moral at the end, there's an uneasy sadness and a some confusion. Despite being turned off by the concept of dead children wandering around lost and alone in the Inbetween, I do find myself transported into this dark realm and curious about the other components of Yurei's vision. What are the other dolls' stories? Do they tie together in some way? I can see the appeal in having several of these odd creatures sitting on the shelf...if only so they aren't alone anymore.
The design of the Little Apple Dolls is interesting to look at and undeniably unique. There's a balance of human and otherworldly features. The vacant, black hole eyes and lack of facial definition make it clear that there's something sinister about the doll, but the plain features, in particular the absent mouth, also mean that the doll's demeanor can be interpreted in contrasting ways. The simple, childish dress softens the alien features. Erro's mask adds another dimension to her already intriguing character. The quality of the doll does not match the design, though. The dress is simple and cheaply made and the hair is a horrendous mess. The shoes do not come off easily, and the socks are a careless departure from the black and white theme.
The mix of a great concept but substandard execution make me happy to learn about the current state of affairs for this doll line. If Yurei continues to produce these dolls in small, well-made (?) artist editions, I think they could become an enduring contribution to the diversity of modern dolls. I would definitely consider buying one of the newer versions of this doll, but with no new activity on the website for about six months, I worry that we might have seen the last of the Little Apple Dolls.
Update: you can see pictures of one of the mini Little Apple dolls over on facebook.
10 and up
Fair at $25. Some of the secondary market prices are too high.
The simple clothing and unmanageable hair on this doll are its weaknesses. These features detract from what is a very artistic design and concept.
Stylish and well-conceived. Could easily be the box of a much more expensive collectible doll.
Yes, because of rarity and a unique niche.
Not at all versatile. This doll is a very stylized character intended for display.
If it weren't for the hair, I could unreservedly recommend this doll, particularly to those who appreciate Monster High, Living Dead, Emily the Strange and other off-beat, dark themed dolls.