I am a big fan of wholesome, beautiful, happy-ending fairy tale princesses that aren't even the slightest bit dead, and yet I love watching The Walking Dead, and I enjoy playing video games like The Last of Us and Plants vs. Zombies. So, I guess I have to admit that I've fallen under the spell of the recent mainstream zombie craze. I prefer zombie scenarios where there's a cure (as in Warm Bodies) but I'm also interested in the pseudo-science behind all of these stories, and I enjoy the challenge of imagining the moral dilemmas and survival tactics that such a horrific apocalypse might provoke.
I never would have though that portraying beloved princess characters as zombies would be a good idea. And yet, right after Natalie's tip, I rushed to one of my favorite online stores (Think Geek) to see these dolls...and it was fascination at first sight. These spooky princesses have inset eyes, blueish grey skin, lots of articulation, and tattered royal gowns that fit the theme of the character they are depicting. Somehow these dolls are silly, lovely, tragic and creepy all at the same time:
|Once Upon a Zombie "Zombie Rapunzel."|
$24.99 at Think Geek.
What I didn't realize until I was de-boxing Rapunzel is that Once Upon a Zombie dolls are also under the umbrella of Toon Studios and S-K Victory...just like Fairy Tale High. I realized this not because I was carefully doing my background reading, but because as I was ripping into Rapunzel's box, I began to notice a lot of similarities to the Fairy Tale High packaging. Here's Zombie Rapunzel:
And here are the two boxes together:
The boxes are the same size, and they are both made mostly out of plastic and have plain cardboard backs.
It was the graphic on the front of the box that really struck me, though. There's a cartoon of Zombie Rapunzel right in the same place as the picture of Teen Rapunzel--and the art has a similar style. I love this picture of Rapunzel--she looks eerie and vulnerable:
There's a similar picture on the Once Upon a Zombie website homepage, but that version has cat eyes and blonde hair...and she blinks every once and a while, which is freaky:
The front of the box also advertises the presence of a stand, which is great news. The Fairy Tale High dolls don't come with stands.
I inspected the back of the box, starting to wonder if there might be a new template for doll boxes that everyone was using or something like that? I mean, remember how the Fairy Tale High box had a group picture of all the princesses? Same thing with the zombie dolls:
There are six dolls in the Once Upon a Zombie series: Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Snow White. I wonder if there are copyright issues preventing Toon Studios from using Ariel and Aurora's names? Hm. In any case, unlike Fairy Tale High, I think the dolls in this series look better than the box pictures--a few of them significantly so.
As many of you have pointed out, the color schemes on these dolls are not true to the Disney Princesses. I think Belle is the most strikingly different, with her red dress, green eyes and red hair. I have actually seen Zombie Belle in real life, and she's fantastic. Way better than the catalogue pictures and the box images.
I eventually took the time to read the fine print and figured out what was going on with all of these similarities--although I can't say that I understand the production and manufacturing situation perfectly. I've read some press releases and know that both Toon Studio and S-K Victory are involved in the Once Upon a Zombie brand (which includes books, backpacks, trading cards, etc.) and that WowWee manufactures the dolls...and might have designed the dolls, too.
I want to read the Once Upon a Zombie books because, although the box's description of why the princesses are zombified is better than nothing, it's a little vague:
When it says that the princesses are ready to "Rise, Empower and Claim..." (all capitalized, of course..), what does that mean, exactly? Are they going to rise, empower and claim back their world as zombies--by turning everyone else into zombies? Or are they going to find a cure and then rise and empower? Does rising and empowering imply that they're already cured? It's a little confusing. I definitely need the book.
There's an app advertised on the back of the box that is supposed to turn normal pictures into zombie pictures, but my son and I couldn't get it to work. Also, it seems like it just makes the picture green and allows the addition of little scar designs.
I recommend The Walking Dead "Dead Yourself" app if you want to make some disturbingly messed-up zombie pictures of yourself or your friends. I have my students to thank for introducing me to this little gem...and for giving my darling children the tools to make nightmarish pictures of my dogs:
|No poodles were harmed in the making of this picture.|
Anyway, let's all forget we just saw that.
Here's another nice box graphic of Rapunzel to distract you:
Here's Rapunzel free from her plastic shell, but still attached to the cardboard back of the box:
She comes with a large folded pamphlet that contains warrantee information in several languages:
It also has instructions for installing the app:
There are a few instructions pertaining to the doll, too. This picture gives away the fact that her hands are removable. I think this is a great feature:
There are a few more pictures with information about assembling the stand, putting the doll on the stand...and how to make zombie motions with the doll's arms.
Most of what attaches Rapunzel to her box are small, clear rubber bands. I find these very easy to deal with. She also had two plastic ties in the back of her head...which are a little harder to deal with.
Here's everything that was in the box--Rapunzel and her assortment of grey plastic accessories:
The stand is assembled from three separate pieces. The waist grip piece locks into the stand at the very top and then can't be moved up or down.
This stand is nothing special, but it holds the doll at just the right height, keeps her standing straight, and doesn't mess up her clothes. Good enough for me:
There's also a silly little plastic brush with stitches molded into the top and what looks like a bow decoration at the base of the handle:
Rapunzel's strawberry blond hair is tied to her hand with a clear rubber band:
Her hair is very long and arranged into a twisted pattern that's fairly simple in its construction, but looks quite fancy:
The bottom of the hair did not make me optimistic about its texture. It's a bundle of frizz:
|Not a good sign.|
As with the Fairy Tale High doll, I will leave the hair in its factory style until the end of the review. Just in case it makes a big mess.
The hair around Rapunzel's face is short and asymmetric. The hair on the right side of her face is longer, and is tied back with a small loop of thread:
She has wide, staring blue inset eyes and colorful eye makeup:
Each eye has a layer of smoky light grey eyeshadow that extends all of the way up to the eyebrow. Closer to the eye, there are thinner layers of purple and pink.
There are painted lashes above and below the eyes, and a strip of applied lashes as well.
The lashes are attached to the eye, in what looks like a small slot just above the iris:
I think you can see the eyelash attachment point best in this shot:
My doll came with a stray hair stuck into her eye socket, but I was able to pull it out with some tweezers. You can just barely see it in this picture:
And here it's gone and her eye is lovely and clear:
The eyes are a pretty mixture of blue and purple. From a distance, the line and dot details within the iris make the eyes look very realistic and three-dimensional.
Rapunzel's profile is very distinct--and very familiar. It's basically a Monster High profile.
In direct comparison with my Lagoona, the similarity is clear, but as with the Fairy Tale High dolls and their resemblance to Winx Club, the shape is not exactly the same. In fact, dare I say it, I think I like the zombie face shape better. It's slightly less exaggerated:
These two also have very similar mouths:
An eye comparison isn't fair here, because this Lagoona's eyes are horribly wonky. I chose Lagoona for that picture because I was eager to compare her skin tone with Rapunzel. I think Ghoulia's color is actually more similar.
These zombie dolls also remind me a little of the Tonner Tim Burton dolls I saw at the FAO Schwarz in Manhattan--especially the Corpse Bride doll, Emily:
Emily is still on my wish list, but she's sold out, hard to find, and tends to cost over $200. It's nice to have found a $25 doll that reminds me of her!
Zombie Rapunzel has a few painted details on her exposed body. She has lines on her left arm that look like cracks, but might be trying to convey loose or damaged skin:
I love this doll's dress. It evokes the classic Disney Rapunzel's dress, but it manages to be darker and more dramatic by placing a black tulle layer over the purple satin skirt:
The purple underskirt has a jagged, unfinished hem and a hole cut in the middle:
The tulle sleeves reveal the slightly uneven cut of the attachment to the purple bodice--intentionally or not, this detail adds to the worn, deteriorating feel of the dress.
The shimmery bodice is seamed and perfectly fitted. There's a drop-waist belt ornament that accents the transition from bodice to skirt:
The doll's legs are protected from the dark skirt by a plastic cover:
The tulle sleeves on the dress would make dressing and undressing a huge pain if it weren't for the fact that Rapunzel's hands are removable. Removing her hands prevents her fingers from getting stuck in the holes of the tulle and makes dressing and undressing a breeze.
Here are the disembodied hands:
I like the shape of these hands. They're expressive, but not elegant. They're zombie-ish:
Here's the dress on its own:
The black tulle has purple glitter scattered over it and is edged with gold stitching:
Here's a close-up of the wonderful square-neck bodice:
And the gold belt-shaped decoration:
I don't know about you, but I was incredibly curious to see how much this doll's body resembles the Monster High body. I was pleasantly surprised to see some significant differences.
She has eleven points of articulation.
There are definitely similarities to the Monster High body, don't get me wrong, but the proportions are different, especially in the lower torso. This doll has a wider hip and belly region than a Monster High doll, and her body is also longer. I can picture taking a graphic of the Monster High body and just tweaking it in certain areas to get this new fuller shape, but I'm not sure if that's how doll manufacturing works.
She has hips!
Her underwear is the same color as the rest of her body, but it has a molded fabric texture:
This doll's legs have funny proportions. Her lower legs are much skinnier than her thighs, and they seem short in comparison. It looks like she has a slightly ill-fitting leg transplant:
The only painted detail on her legs is a circle of stitches around her left ankle:
The body is hard plastic but the lower arms, hands, and lower legs are made out of bendy vinyl. The lower legs are not as bendy as Brazillaz legs, but they're fairly bendy:
Zombie Rapunzel has rotating knee joints, just like Monster High and Fairy Tale High:
She has a great range of flexibility:
Her arm and leg joints can easily bend to 90 degree angles, and her head can look up and down:
She can kneel on both knees...
...or just on one:
She can't touch her face, which I think is the only real disappointment in the articulation. Well, that, and I wish she had ankle articulation so I could bend her feet into peculiar positions.
This doll can run and jump and strike all kinds of wild and crazy poses:
She can sit on the floor...
...and she can also sit nicely in a chair, although I don't think that this is a typical zombie activity. Maybe there are some princess manners left in there somewhere?
Or maybe not.
Here she is in a lineup so that you can see how tall she is, and also appreciate how long and wide her torso is in comparison to most other similar dolls:
|Liv Hayden, Bratzillaz Meygana, Zombie Rapunzel, Winx Club Flora, Monster High Clawdeen, Ever After High Apple White.|
Not many of these dolls can reliably share clothes with Zombie Rapunzel. Liv is the closest match, but her chest is broader than Rapunzel's, so Rapunzel can wear Liv's clothes, but not the other way around. Winx Club Flora is the next best match, and her situation is the opposite--she can wear Rapunzel's clothes, but not the reverse.
|The bodice is a bit big on her.|
Here's a shot with Barbie because I forgot to include her in the previous picture. I'm a little concerned that Rapunzel is getting hungry...
Here's a picture with two of my other Rapunzel dolls, Fairy Tale High Teen Rapunzel and the Disney Store's Rapunzel from last year:
It's interesting that both of the Toon Studio Rapunzel dolls have strawberry blonde hair. I prefer the darker shade of Zombie Rapunzel's hair, even though this isn't the color I'm used to seeing with this character. I read through the Grimm Brother's version of the Rapunzel tale to check some of the details, and although the hair is described as "fine as spun gold," a specific color isn't mentioned. Blonde seems like a logical choice.
The other thing I noticed about the original fairy tale, by the way, is that Rapunzel isn't actually a princess--unless she marries the king's son. The story doesn't specify whether or not they ever get married. The other little twist is that by the time the prince is reunited with Rapunzel at the end, she has given birth to twins--a boy and a girl. Whoa.
Sorry--that was a tangent. The dolls are getting bored waiting for me to get on with the review...
Down, zombie girl! Teen Rapunzel is not your lunch!
Sheesh. Working with zombies is tough. I guess that's the last we'll see of Teen Rapunzel.
Anyway, I was most excited to see whether or not the Disney dolls could share clothes with this new Rapunzel. Unfortunately, Zombie Rapunzel's dress is too small for Disney Rapunzel:
But the Disney dress fits Zombie Rapunzel well enough. It's just a bit loose:
This is great because Zombie Rapunzel can pretend to be any of the Disney Princesses. I think she looks especially nice in Belle's yellow dress:
And Snow White's rag dress is perfect for the zombie theme:
Here are a few picture of Zombie Rapunzel back in her own dress, showing off her beautiful hairstyle before I take it down. This doll has a bit of an identity crisis, which makes her an interesting subject to photograph...
|Oooh! A photo shoot! How nice. How's my hair?|
|La, la, la, birds and flowers! Dreams! Love!|
|Uuurgh. Prince brains....|
|Oopsies! Wait! Forget I said that.|
|When will my life begin...again?|
|Mmmm...tasty flesh...wait, no...I mean...|
|Argh! Brains! Bunnies! Glurgh! Lanterns!|
Then I untwisted the rest of her hair:
I wanted to leave the smaller twist in place, but it was too difficult to brush the hair with it in the way. Here's the hair with no twists, all brushed out:
The hair is very similar to the Fairy Tale High Rapunzel's hair, in that it has a nice texture at the top, but gets quite frizzy at the bottom, and is prone to impressive mega-poofiness. The big difference is that this hair has very little styling product in it (just a tiny bit at the top) and so it is much, much easier to brush and handle. It's also nowhere near as inclined to tangle, and there's no sticky residue all over the place after I brush it.
I actually think the frizzy hair works well with the zombie theme, making this doll look even more dramatically crazy:
The hair is plenty thick, and the rooting is ok. It was neat to see that there are lines drawn on the doll's scalp to direct the placement of the hair rows:
The hair is densely rooted around Rapunzel's face, and then more sparse in back.
It's easier to see her ears and her full head profile with the hair out of the way:
|Very much like Monster High.|
Still, it's possible to get a decent result.
Here are a few more pictures of this undead un-princess:
Bottom line? It's hard not to look at the Once Upon a Zombie Rapunzel without making comparisons to the Fairy Tale High Rapunzel. This is not just because both of these dolls are attempting a new spin on the Rapunzel character, but also because the dolls share an association with the same company. Whatever the reality, I can't help but imagine the initial plan for these dolls being something like this: hey, let's copy two successful dolls and slap a few popular themes on them, like, oh I don't know, princesses, zombies and teenagers? Repetitive themes and imitated designs are nothing new, but what's interesting here is that the two doll lines got very different results from using this same strategy. Fairy Tale High fell flat because they didn't improve on anything Winx Club already offers--and they actually make several things worse. In addition, they didn't keep a close enough connection to the princess characters that everyone loves. In contrast, the Once Upon a Zombie dolls use the best features of the Monster High body (the articulation and expressiveness) and mix in just the right number of recognizable traits from the fairy tale princesses. WowWee took things one step further by manufacturing a high quality doll and adding a bunch of creative new details. All of this makes the Once Upon a Zombie line a legitimate and exciting new addition to the play doll market.
Zombie Rapunzel's articulation is one of my favorite things about her. She has eleven well-designed joints that give her a vast repertoire of poses and a huge amount of personality. Her head can look up and down, her wrists are articulated, her knees rotate, her hands are removable and all of her limb joints can bend to at least 90 degrees. The only changes I'd make are to tweak the elbow joints so that the doll can touch her face, and also add ankle articulation. Ankle articulation seems especially appropriate for a zombie doll since the undead don't always have perfectly pointed toes.
Another striking thing about Zombie Rapunzel is her inset eyes. Her eyes are quite lovely and realistically detailed, and yet they have a glassy, vacant stare that suits the zombie theme perfectly. Rapunzel's hand shape is also a very clever feature. Her hands are a brilliant mix of elegant and creepy. These hands offer a similar level of expressiveness as the original Monster High hands (which I see as the gold standard in this department) without bearing much actual resemblance to Monster High hands. I also think Rapunzel's dress is wonderful. I was a bit concerned about the quality of the clothing on these dolls because the promotional pictures make the fabrics look stiff and cheap. Rapunzel's dress is beautifully made from a nice diversity of materials, creating an overall look that is familiar and elegant...with a dark twist. I actually like this dress better than the traditional Disney Store Rapunzel's dress.
Rapunzel's hair is a slight disappointment. It's frizzy, coarse at the ends, and has a lot in common with the Fairy Tale High doll's hair. Two things make Zombie Rapunzel's hair more acceptable than the Fairy Tale High version, though. First of all, there's very little styling product in this doll's hair, so it's much, much easier to brush and braid. Also, messy hair actually fits well with a zombie-themed doll, rather than being a huge contradiction, as it is with the supposedly fashionable and trendy Fairy Tale High dolls. Still, this hair doesn't seem very conducive to play. It should probably be left in its original twist, or re-braided to keep the tangles in check.
Evaluating this doll's hair made me wonder about her intended market. In many ways, she doesn't strike me as a play doll, even though (aside from her unruly hair) she's clearly engineered for play. It wouldn't surprise me if she finds her niche as more of a display piece, appealing to older kids and adults. I see her as being a better-made and less creepy alternative to something like the Living Dead dolls, which certainly aren't being made for young children. As I mentioned before, she's also a decent substitute for some of the high-end fantasy fashion dolls like Robert Tonner's Tim Burton or Sinister Circus collections.
Whatever demographic she was meant to tempt, this doll definitely suits me. I think she's wonderfully weird, while having enough conventionally pretty features that she's believable as a cursed princess. There are sure to be more of these brain-eating beauties in my future--honestly, it's all I can do not to buy the whole line.