The dolls have a brand new body design and are advertised as being extremely posable. They all share the same face mold, which has a much more stylistic look than Tonner's previous 16" fashion dolls. One of the most exciting things about the Déjà Vu line is the beautiful period clothing that is available for Penelope's historical manifestations. I am particularly fond of the Louis XIV style dresses (and dramatic hairstyles) that Anne De Légere wears. However, the intricacy of the outfits is in direct correlation with the price of these dolls...and none of them are cheap. The options range from $99 for a basic doll (in undergarments) to $209 for the most dramatically dressed Anne De Légere ("La Vie de Versailles"). My favorite doll is La Vie de Versailles, but her price is so high, I opted for "Around Town" Penelope Brewster instead. She's right in the middle of the price range, I like her face paint, and she comes with a full outfit.
|"Around Town" Penelope Brewster LE 500 ($159.99).|
Penelope is packaged in a fairly simple cardboard box. I like the graphics on the Déjà Vu box: it's a clock with all of the numbers pooled at the bottom and falling out. There are too many numbers to have all come from one clock, but I still like the design and how it hints at Penelope's story:
Penelope is tied into the box with three white satin ribbons. Her waist and ankles are protected with a layer of foam. There is a stand secured to one inside edge of the box and accessories stapled to the other side.
Penelope comes with quite a few separately packaged accessories:
|She looks overwhelmed.|
All of the accessories are stored inside plastic bags. With the plastic gone, it's easier to see what this doll comes with: the saddle stand, shoes, a scarf, a wrist band and a necklace:
I love this doll's shoes. They are brown imitation leather pumps with crazy high heels and tiny zippers down the back:
Two of the shoe straps have upside-down hearts cut out of them:
The zipper is such a nice detail for something so tiny. As it turns out, it's not necessary to undo this zipper to get the shoes on and off, but it looks amazingly neat.
I also like the design of the necklace that comes with this doll. It is a long silver chain with a butterfly charm on the end.
Both the chain links and the charm are very large in scale for the size of this doll, but the butterfly is ornamented with rhinestones and is quite pretty. It's a good fit for Penelope's spring-colored outfit.
Penelope comes with a jersey knit striped tube scarf. The fabric of this scarf is stiff, but the colors are fun.
To me, the wrist band is the least impressive accessory. It's made out of textured vinyl with a fuzzy white backing. It is decorated with a small metal stud that has a blackened antique finish:
|You can see a reflection of my camera in this picture!|
It closes with a single metal snap:
Penelope herself comes dressed in a bright three piece outfit. Her long hair is contained within a hair net and her arms and hands are protected with plastic bags. I slipped her shoes on and tried to get her to stand on her own. She stands fairly well, but has to bend a little bit in the knees to get perfect balance.
|It looks like she's slouching.|
I also really like the style and fabric of Penelope's jacket. It's bright blue and has a woven checkered pattern with a slight sheen. It reminds me of the unconventional materials challenges in the TV show, Project Runway--when designers are asked to make gorgeous clothing out of things like vinyl placemats.
The jacket causes a bit of a problem, though. I wanted to remove the plastic that was covering Penelope's arms, but I couldn't do that without removing the jacket, and I couldn't remove the jacket without removing Penelope's hands...and I had a hard time removing Penelope's hands without removing the plastic!
|Get these off of me!|
I finally managed to pull the jacket's sleeves up far enough to get the plastic un-taped, and was able to remove the hands. The hands come off easily, and are apparently interchangeable with Tonner's Tyler doll hands.
|These hands look familiar to me...|
The piqué jacket has lined sleeves, but the main body of the garment is unlined. It doesn't close in the front, but is nicely constructed and seems very fashionable, with a tailored fit and an oversized lapel collar that stands up straight:
With the jacket removed, it was easier to get a close look at Penelope's neck and head. She has a very long, slender neck and an oversized head:
Her eyes are hand-painted with blue, black and white. She has black painted lower eyelashes and long, dark applied upper lashes:
Penelope's thick lips are parted, revealing a broad band of white teeth:
Some of the Déjà Vu promotional pictures made me worry about the prominence of the black paint that outlines this doll's teeth. With my doll, at least, the black outline of the teeth is faint and only partially there. It looks a little funny up close, but from a distance it gives nice definition to the teeth without being obvious or unsightly.
Penelope has an exaggerated pout, with a crease under her large lower lip:
Collectors have commented on similarities between the Déjà Vu dolls and Wilde Imagination's Evangeline Ghastly. I guess I can see why--both dolls have large heads, dramatic eyes and prominent mouths.
Penelope's face isn't perfectly symmetrical, so she has a slightly different look in each of her profiles. I think the left side of her face (the right photo, below) has a more irritated or focused look, probably because of the lower placement of the eyebrow on that side. The jut of Penelope's lower lip is also more pronounced on her left side.
Penelope has long, straight, blunt-cut blonde hair:
The hair fiber feels wonderful and silky. The hair tends to clump into large sections, though, which is easy to see when the doll is upside-down:
|The hair is also very static-prone...at least in my house!|
There's a short side part rooted into the top of the doll's head, but if I comb the hair to accommodate this part, it leaves the back and top of the head showing some unattractively obvious hair plugs:
"Deja Vu" is inscribed on the back of Penelope's scalp:
Under her blue jacket, Penelope is wearing a lime green tank top with a flower applique:
The tank hangs down over the waistline of the pants, and closes in the back with metal snaps.
The combination of the long tank top and the thick waistband of the pants does not accentuate Penelope's waist:
The tank top is made out of a very thin, stretchy jersey knit.
The flower design is bright and fun:
One edge of the shirt is folded over and secured with the four metal snaps, but the other edge is left unfinished:
Penelope is wearing pastel blue twill skinny jeans with a wide waistband:
The pants close in back with a single metal snap:
These pants fit like a glove and have real pockets in front. Despite their snug fit, they are fairly easy to get on and off--at least once you get the bottom area pulled over Penelope's feet. I love the stylish fit and design of these pants, but am not crazy about the color.
Penelope's hard plastic body is very fair (she has the "bisque" skin tone). She boasts 12 points of articulation--most of which are rotating hinge joints. Her head can swivel around and also look up and down. She has more head flexibility than the other 16" Tonner dolls I own.
Her arms and hands have good mobility, although her wrists stop shy of reaching a 90 degree angle.
This doll can't easily touch her face, which I find a little frustrating. She seems like she should be able to reach a finger up to her mouth, but it's actually impossible.
I realized at this point why Penelope's hands are familiar--and why I seem to automatically expect her to be able to strike poses that she is unable to strike.
She has Monster High hands:
|Hey! Tall human! You stole my hands!|
But clearer with Ghoulia's simpler grey hand:
I mean, the hands aren't exactly the same, but I would say that it's pretty clear the Déjà Vu design team took some inspiration from the wonderfully expressive hands of the Monster High girls.
In fact, once I noticed this similarity, I realized that other things about Penelope's body design resemble Monster High, too. She has a very long, narrow-hipped torso (no swayback, though), a small chest, a long neck and an oversized head with heavily-lashed eyes and exaggerated lips. Maybe it's just me, but I think of Freddy Tan's Monster High repaints when I look at Penelope.
It's almost like Penelope Brewster is what would happen if Monster High cartoon characters were turned into real people...or something like that.
Anyway, Penelope's torso joint moves from side to side, and also has a small amount of front-to-back movement:
She has ball-jointed hips with excellent forwards and backwards leg flexibility:
But she cannot do any kind of side-to-side splits. This is Penelope trying to do a split:
Her legs can be rotated upwards to achieve some sideways movement:
She can kneel very nicely:
She also sits well, both on the ground:
And in a chair:
In order to get her thighs at a right angle to her body, though, she has to sit with her knees apart:
Her knee joints are hinged, but have rotational movement, so she can tuck her feet off to one side and then sit with her legs closer together:
If this doll's legs are rotated so that the toes are pointing inwards, the upper part of the joint doesn't handle it very well. After only posing my doll for a few minutes, you can see that there are some white stress lines above the joint, and the midline thigh seam is separating:
The strain on this joint is even worse if the knees are bent while the leg is rotated inwards:
Overall, this doll has a great repertoire of poses. The restricted movement in her hips, her inability to touch her face, and the worry of damage to her knee joints are the three things that hold her back from being perfectly articulated.
Here is Penelope with a Tonner Cami doll on the left and a Tonner Cinderella doll (with the bending wrist Tyler body) on the right:
|"Fare Game" Cami, Penelope, "Amy's Cinderella."|
Of these three dolls, Cinderella has the oldest body, then Cami, then Penelope. Cami is the only doll with ankle articulation, although this joint doesn't add very much to her posing capabilities. I think Cami's body is the most realistic overall, with the exception of that funny area at the tops of her thighs.
There's a clear progression through time with these dolls. The newer the body designs have increasingly slimmer chests and hips. I also think the joints become more and more natural-looking as the dolls get newer.
I never thought of my Cinderella dolls as being inelegant or limited in their articulation. However, next to Penelope, Cinderella looks a little robotic:
Penelope can't share clothes with Cinderella because the difference in their upper bodies is too great.
Penelope's body is most similar in shape and articulation to Cami's. Penelope's head is much more flexible than Cami's, but Cami has slightly better arm articulation (she can't touch her mouth, either, but she can touch other areas of her head). Cami is also completely unable to do side splits.
Penelope can wear Cami's clothes pretty well--at least the ones I tried. The tops are a little big on her, especially near the neck. Here's Penelope in the 2011 basic Cami's pajamas:
And in Gold Label Cami's sequined dress. Notice that the straps are a little loose and there's a little bit of sag in the back:
Penelope's clothes are tight on Cami, but I was able to get the skinny jeans on and even fastened in back (however briefly)!
Here is Penelope next to a 16" Poppy Parker doll by Integrity. Aside from Poppy's larger chest, these two dolls are quite similar is size and proportion.
|Poppy Parker "Spring Morning," Penelope.|
Poppy's articulation is superior to Penelope's. She has highly mobile ball-jointed hips, very flexible arms and much more fluid movement overall.
...and of course she can do some fairly impressive side-splits.
Penelope can share clothes with Poppy (and presumably with the 16" Tulabelle dolls and discontinued AvantGuard girls, too). Here are the two dolls dressed in each others outfits:
Those pants fit Poppy almost perfectly:
Penelope looks gorgeous in Poppy's beautifully made yellow dress:
Here is Penelope in an AvantGuard dress. This fit is slightly less flattering--it gapes a bit in the neckline...but Penelope looks fabulous in black:
|Wearing "On Edge's" black dress.|
After seeing how Penelope looks in some of these beautifully constructed Integrity outfits, I feel less impressed with her plain ensemble. I find the tank top shirt, in particular, to be underwhelming.
Here is Penelope in the tee shirt with her necklace and wrist band added. The necklace gets lost in the design of the shirt, and I don't feel like the wrist band fits with the pastel, flowery theme of the rest of the outfit:
Also, Penelope can't sit in these pants without popping the snap in the back. Even when she's standing straight, the pants frequently pop open.
And I've already mentioned this, but I don't think the pants offer a very flattering profile, especially now that we've seen how skinny Penelope's waist is.
The scarf adds more to this look than the butterfly necklace. I really like this mix of colors and patterns:
One of the best surprises with Penelope is how well she can share clothes with the other 16" fashion dolls I own. For her final photo shoot, I decided to put her back into some the other dolls' outfits and try some mixing and matching.
Here she is in the Gold Label Cami dress:
And in the Poppy Parker Spring Morning dress (with her own necklace):
And in the Poppy Parker dress with her own versatile blue jacket:
And with the scarf added in (I think this is my favorite combination):
I also tried basic Cami's pajamas with Penelope's jacket (this is definitely not the most stylish combination...):
And here she is back in the AvantGuard dress:
And last, the AvantGuard dress with the jacket:
Bottom line? There are things about this doll that I just love, and things that leave me feeling hesitant. The funny thing is, sometimes it's the exact same feature that I love one minute and struggle with the next. For example, I think Penelope has a beautiful, unique face with gorgeous hand-painted details. As I was photographing her, I would sometimes pause--viscerally struck by her glamorous, editorial face. However, especially after looking at this doll for a long time, that same face would strike me as bored and vacant. There were times when I found myself wanting to tell Penelope to either smile or close her mouth.
Overall, this doll has an attractive body design and fantastic articulation. She has many of the things I look for in a fashion doll--a highly movable neck joint, rotation in all of her limbs, and very expressive hands set on bendable wrists. However, Penelope has some hiccups in her articulation. Most notably, she can't touch her face, and she has stiff knee joints that show troubling signs of stress in certain poses.
It's great to see a completely new body design--especially if can fit into clothes from other dolls that I own. It's wonderful that Tonner is branching out to incorporate a more stylized doll into his 16" fashion empire. I even think it's fun that this doll takes some of the exaggerated traits of a Monster High doll and blends them with Tonner's own recognizable features. And yet, the level of similarity in the hands (Penelope's hands are virtually identical in shape to Monster High hands) detracts from this doll's originality.
Given my fluctuating reactions to several of Penelope's features, it was hard to pull my thoughts together to form a solid impression. In the end, I think that Penelope's face, despite having some blank moments, is her best feature. Her eyes are mesmerizing and realistically painted, and her unusual mouth can come across as both haughty and vulnerable. This new head mold offers something quite different to the Tonner fashion doll lineup. Penelope's shapely, articulated body is easily her second best feature. Little frustrations aside, she can strike some gorgeous, expressive poses. I would say that Penelope's outfit and hair are her least impressive qualities. I guess I am just not that excited about the outfit's pieces or its color palette--with the exception of the blue jacket and the brown zippered shoes. The hair feels great and is comparable to other rooted Tonner doll hair I've seen, but the side-parted style reveals too many unattractive hair plugs.
The most telling bottom line, I suppose, is that owning Penelope has significantly increased my lurking at the Tonner site. I've been back at least six times since I started this review to covet the expensive "La Vie de Versailles" Anne De Légere doll. She seems to share Penelope's best features while replacing the mundane Around Town outfit with a gorgeous French ball gown. She also has an elaborate hairstyle to conceal any rooting deficiencies. I think that this face mold takes on a wonderfully romantic quality when it is mixed with the historical details of Anne's 17th century character. I like Penelope enough that I wish I had spent more money and gotten my favorite Déjà Vu doll from the start. At these prices, it doesn't make sense to settle for features that you don't absolutely adore.