Mattel introduced the Midge Hadley character in 1963 as a way to offset Barbie's sexy image and give her a more well-rounded personal life. Midge is Barbie's best friend from their fictional hometown of Willows, Wisconsin. The first Midge doll was introduced over 50 years ago, but versions of this character have been relatively scarce through those years. There were several reproduction vintage Midge dolls made during the last decade, but Life in the Dreamhouse Midge is the first modern version of this character to be offered since the controversial (often pregnant) Happy Family Midge was discontinued 10 years ago. A fun, picture-heavy history of Midge dolls can be found here.
In this review, I will look at the new Life in the Dreamhouse Midge doll, but I'll also take a trip back in time to de-box the 2003 pregnant Happy Family Midge so that we can see how both the appearance and the backstory of this endearing character have changed.
|Life in the Dreamhouse Midge (2013), Happy Family Midge with baby (2003).|
I will start by looking at the new Life in the Dreamhouse Midge doll. I bought my doll at Walmart for $14.99. I was shopping yesterday and saw the dolls for $17.99 at Target and Toys R Us. There is also a Barbie and Midge doll set that costs around $25. This set was on a huge clearance sale at Target after the holidays but I don't think that Midge doll is as attractive as the one that is sold on her own. There's already a new Midge doll for 2014 and she's called Glam Midge and can be found for $19.99 at Target.
The Life in the Dreamhouse dolls come in distinct pink packages with pictures of the webisode characters prominently displayed around the edges.
Midge's animated character is adorable, with a quirky smile and lots of freckles. The doll captures the coloring and hairstyle nicely, but she's missing the cute smirk:
The back of the box has a picture of the other main characters in the series and a small amount of text:
Even though these new dolls live in modern-day Malibu, Midge comes from Willows Wisconsin, a town that is (literally) stuck in the 1960s. In Midge's first Life in the Dreamhouse episode (A Smidge of Midge) Midge shows up at the Dreamhouse to announce that she's moving from Willows to Malibu. At the beginning of the episode, she's drawn in black and white with a hairstyle that is reminiscent of the earliest Midge dolls. By the end of the episode, Barbie has given Midge a full-color makeover. Even after her transformation, Midge retains a special fondness for 1960s style. This is such a cute episode and a great way to acknowledge the character's roots.
|You can see a glimpse of black and white Midge |
in this picture.
Midge's box has Raquelle, Summer, Theresa, Nikki, Ken and Barbie peeking out from behind the Dreamhouse's big pink door:
The box art changes from doll to doll--so the back of Raquelle's box, for example, has Midge peeking out from behind the Dreamhouse door.
Inside the outer package, Midge is attached to a plain blue sheet of cardboard. Her extra dress is mounted next to her:
Midge is strapped down to a complicated plastic brace that holds her hair and clothes in place. This seems like packaging overkill.
Midge is attached to the plastic holder with clear rubber bands around her body and two plastic ties anchored into her head:
Even when she's free of the cardboard and the plastic holder, Midge still has several clear rubber bands securing her accessories:
Her purse is solid red vinyl and does not open.
Her necklace is tied to her chest with more rubber bands:
I found the rubber bands around her knees the most difficult to remove. I had to cut them out of the joints:
Here is Midge with most of her attachments removed (her shoes are still tied to her feet with rubber bands):
It is possible for her to stand on her own, but her small feet and bendable knees make it tricky.
I think side-glancing eyes would have been great on this character. I saw the FAO Schwarz 150th anniversary Barbie yesterday at Toys R Us and was amazed by how appealing her face is with those side-glancing eyes.
Midge has forward-facing bright blue eyes with dark, thick applied lashes. She has ginger colored eyebrows and plain pink lips. Her freckles are delicate and look great:
Midge has a subtle, broad line of silver eyeshadow above her eyes, with thinner streaks of brown and pink underneath:
Midge's lips are parted, but the uniform application of opaque pink paint de-emphasizes the unique shape of her mouth. My doll has a small area where the eyebrow paint has run down towards the nose. You can just barely see the defect in this picture:
Here's a look at Midge's face with her bangs pulled back:
|That's a big forehead.|
Midge is wearing gold plastic dangle earrings:
Clearly, I have not owned a lot of Barbie dolls in my life, because I was shocked to learn that the earrings are not removable. I tried for quite a while to pull them out. It makes total sense that a play doll's earrings would be permanent since earrings are so easily lost. However, dangling permanent earrings on a doll with long hair is a terrible idea. I spent way too much time de-tangling Midge's hair from these pesky earrings:
Midge's hair comes out of the box matted down with some large curls at the bottom:
Her bangs are heavily coated in styling gel and hang in big clumps. I have observed a lot of variability in the bangs of the Midge dolls in the stores. My doll's bangs are quite good compared to some:
The hair brushes out easily, and even the bangs can be relaxed with just a little manipulation.
Midge's hair is a beautiful red color, and the hair fiber feels soft and silky. It gets a little coarser at the ends where the hair has some curl, but overall this is very nice play doll hair.
Midge is wearing a two piece outfit that consists of a polka dot cardigan and a mini skirt dress:
The cardigan is made out of a simple knit fabric. It feels stiff, as do many Barbie clothes. I think the style is frumpy and it ages Midge's appearance considerably.
There are also a few areas of loose stitching:
The tiered skirt is made out of a denim-like fabric and has a bold rose print:
The skirt's ruffles do not continue to the back of the dress:
Midge's shoes are unremarkable black high heeled clogs:
Barbie dolls have ridiculously small feet. This is from a girl who wears size 9 shoes, though.
Midge is also wearing a thick gold bracelet (that falls off really easily...) and a matching necklace.
The picture of animated Midge shows the necklace with some color. This reminds me of Bakelite jewelry from the 40s:
The doll's necklace is plain gold, but it has the same pattern as the necklace in the picture:
Midge's second dress has a blue polka dot knit top and a coordinating plaid skirt. The seams are all stitched in pink, which brings out the hints of pink in the skirt.
I like the ruffled sleeves, but they tend to stick up when the dress is first put on the doll. Also, my doll's dress has a ripping seam under her left arm:
This is a very simple dress, but I like it better than the red dress.
As a bit of an aside, I was looking forward to comparing Midge to Poppy Parker, my other 1960s inspired doll. I thought that Midge might be a fun alternative to the more expensive and hard-to-obtain Poppy. The two dolls have some similarities, like the shape of their mouths and their level of articulation, but Poppy is a much higher quality doll.
|Manhattan vs. Willows|
Midge has the same body as articulated Fashionista dolls like my In the Spotlight Artsy. I have included a few other popular dolls in this lineup just for fun:
|Bratzillaz Meygana, Monster High Clawdeen, Midge, Artsy, Ever After High Apple.|
Midge's body is made out of lightweight hard plastic. It feels especially light after handling Tonner's
Déjà Vu doll, Penelope Brewster.
However, this body sports 12 fantastic points of articulation. Midge's head can look up and down a little bit. It can also tip to either side and swivel all of the way around her neck. She has rotational movement in her shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips and knees. She can sit in a chair better than most dolls I own--she can even cross her legs to some degree:
She can almost sit cross-legged on the ground, too:
Her chest joint has an excellent range of motion:
About the only thing this doll can't do is touch her face. Her arm mobility is limited for a doll with so many joints. This is only really a problem when she's trying to hold something (as we'll see later).
Overall, Midge's articulation is wonderful.
Before I move on to look at Happy Family Midge, let me summarize some of my thoughts about Life in the Dreamhouse Midge.
Midge has a great backstory in the Life in the Dreamhouse online series. Her quirky, enthusiastic, (slightly clueless) persona is fun and endearing. Midge's retro style is a wonderful reference to the history of the character. The doll has a sweet, approachable look, but is missing some of the appealing goofiness of the animated Midge.
There are an impressive number of clothing pieces and accessories with this set. The quality of the clothing is not great, with some loose stitching here and there and a lot of stiff, synthetic fabrics. However, the design of the clothes is nice (except for that dowdy cardigan...) and the pieces offer a lot of play value.
Midge's articulation is wonderful. She can't stand very well on her own, but she is fun to pose and very expressive. She also has a well-painted face with pretty eyes and thick, applied eyelashes that give her some extra realism. Her hair is a beautiful color and is fun to style. The hair fiber feels soft and silky, although the slightly coarse ends will probably worsen with time. The stiff bangs can look bad in the box, but they relax nicely after a little bit of play.
Overall, I think Midge is a fantastic doll for her $16 price and I highly recommend her.
I was particularly interested in the last incarnation of Midge--Happy Family Midge. This version of Barbie's best friend was not a teenaged Malibu resident, but a young wife and mother. While Barbie was taking on a startling number of diverse occupations out in the world (a fact that is joked about in Life in the Dreamhouse...) Midge was getting married and starting a family. The Happy Family doll line features versions of Midge getting married, spending time with her husband Alan, taking care of her toddler Ryan, and being pregnant with her younger children; Nikki and Cassandra.
The pregnant versions of Midge were controversial because some consumers felt she was too young to be a parent and that her presence on the shelves was encouraging teen pregnancy. I don't agree. I mean, first of all, in 2000 Barbie was old enough to be president, so I think Midge was old enough for a family. Also, every time we buy our kids a baby doll, aren't we encouraging them to play mom? I don't see how this is different. In any case, the pressure on Mattel was great enough that the pregnant Midge dolls were pulled from the shelves at Walmart and replaced with ultra-skinny Midge dolls that had just given birth. Because that's so much better than showing a healthy pregnant woman.
The Happy Family pregnant Midge dolls are not super-rare (there are usually 30 or more on eBay), but they can be quite expensive. I paid $80 for mine:
I was actually not going to spend this crazy amount of money on a Barbie doll, but then I saw that this particular version of pregnant Midge has a baby that could be a boy or a girl!
|It's a SURPRISE!!|
As you might recall, this type of surprise makes me a little giddy. The instant I saw that baby and the worlds, "boy or girl?" I think my finger just clicked the Buy it Now button on its own. I had to know if it was a boy or a girl!
I should have been paying a little more attention, though, because the rest of the box seems to carelessly give away the gender of this baby.
On the family scrapbook at the bottom of the box, there's a photo of Midge with Alan, Ryan, the grandparents...and a baby girl:
|Noooo! You ruined my surprise!|
(I like those grandparent dolls, though!)
|Alan has very...dramatic hair.|
Furthermore, the back of the box has a note written by Midge. The note makes it clear that Midge currently has only one child (Ryan) and that she's expecting her second:
The note says Midge doesn't know what the gender of the baby is, but who else can the baby girl on the scrapbook be? It doesn't seem like much of a surprise. What I don't know is if some of these sets actually came with baby boys, or if maybe it was called a "surprise" because the world didn't know the gender of Midge's second baby yet? I don't think this was the first pregnant Midge doll, though, so that reasoning doesn't make much sense, either. Hm.
If anyone out there got a pregnant Midge doll with a boy baby, I'd love to know more about it!
So, anyway, the back of the box also has a few more family snapshots, including a portrait from Midge's wedding and a picture of Barbie as the family's obstetrician. All of these dolls are from other Happy Family playsets that were available in the early 2000s:
The set comes with a lot of accessories, including some nursery furniture, a diaper bag and the scrapbook:
There are some cardboard accessories including a pink birth certificate saying "It's a Girl." I suppose they could have included blue certificates with the boy babies?
The scrapbook and the small album that come in this set also have gender specific references, making me really start to think that all of these dolls came with baby girls.
The scrapbook has a few pages filled in with moments from the family's past--like when Alan proposed to Midge:
And when the baby girl (revealed here as "Nikki") was born. Strangely, there is no reference to Ryan's birth or any of his milestones prior to Nikki's arrival.
The back pages of the scrapbook are left blank to accommodate future memories.
There's a sheet of small stickers to help with the scrapbook decoration:
To keep this review a reasonable length, I am not going to de-box the baby's accessories. They include a changing table that converts into a crib, a diaper bag, a small shirt, a baby bath and bunch of toys and necessities.
Even though I knew that baby Nikki was a girl, I wanted to get a good look at her and see what her gender-determining characteristics might be. She's very easy to remove from her cardboard support.
She comes wrapped in a yellow lightweight fleece swaddling blanket:
|Gender neutral blanket.|
The blanket has a small square of velcro so that it can be re-folded and held in place:
All babies are cute at some level, but this baby has a couple of strange features. I think it's mostly that her lips seem very grownup for a newborn, and she has very wide eyes and distinct eyebrows. Newborns tend to have thin lips, fuzzy eyebrows and squinty eyes.
Baby Nikki has five points of articulation, which is pretty impressive for a tiny toy. Her head moves back and forth and side-to-side, and each of her limbs has some simple pendulum movement.
She can sit up nicely on her own, which is very precocious for a newborn:
Her diaper is very (very!) faint pink, and I guess this is the final clue that she is a girl.
I think she looks like her dad:
One of the accessories that came with this set is a tiny white tank top shirt with a little bear appliqué. I had to get this out of the packaging and try it on Nikki:
It also has a square of velcro for easy dressing and undressing:
|That's pretty cute.|
I have to say, Midge is impressively pregnant. I am glad Mattel did not try to make her unusually trim.
This Midge shares many basic features with Life in the Dreamhouse Midge. She has bright red hair, freckles and blue eyes. This Midge has paler eyes and not as many freckles, though:
The hair on this doll is a similar color and length to the Life in the Dreamhouse Midge, but it is styled differently. This doll does not have bangs, but rather has hair from the top of her head pulled back and tied into a ponytail. She also has sections of hair from either side of her face pulled tight and tied at the back of her head. The hair fiber isn't as nice as it is on the other doll. It doesn't feel as smooth right out of the box, and it's coarser and more prone to tangles.
Midge has a simple face with pale blue eyes and detailed eyebrows. Her lips are large and are painted a nice dark pink color. She has a serene smile on her face:
Midge's pink stud earrings are more more practical than those silly golden dangle earrings:
This Midge does not have applied eyelashes, but she does have a nice amount of painted detail around her eyes. She shares the shimmery silver eyeshadow of the Life in the Dreamhouse Midge, but has another band of brown paint over it.
Midge is wearing a pink knit maternity dress. It looks like a separate shirt and skirt outfit, but although the shirt section lifts up to reveal a white liner, it is attached to the rest of the dress in the back and cannot be removed separately.
There's a gathered, elasticized neckline with a small pink satin bow accent:
Midge comes with very simple slip-on pink wedge sandals.
I was most excited to see the pregnant belly on this doll. The belly comes strapped to the doll with several clear rubber bands:
|Notice how the painted underwear continues onto the pregnant belly.|
I was worried that the belly would fall off when the rubber bands were removed, but it's actually held in place with two magnets:
The magnets are not very strong, so it's easy to remove the belly:
The magnets were coated with some silver paint, but this is peeling off on my doll:
Underneath the belly, Midge does not have a cavity in her stomach for the baby, she just has a regular Barbie torso (with some black smudges where the magnets were sitting):
The baby fits right into the belly:
If the baby isn't positioned in the belly just right, the belly doesn't lay flat against Midge's regular stomach:
Fortunately, there are instructions showing exactly the right way to fold the baby so that everything fits together nicely:
|Find the typo.|
With this positioning, the belly with baby fits on Midge perfectly:
Midge's body has nine points of articulation, including internal knee joints.
Her elbows have hinged and rotational movement, but the lack of wrist articulation can make her look a little robotic:
The elbow joints have visible metal hinge pins:
She does not sit anywhere near as nicely as Life in the Dreamhouse Midge:
Midge has a silver wedding band painted onto her left hand:
The ring does not wrap around the whole finger, though:
Here are the two Midge dolls together:
Life in the Dreamhouse Midge has a larger head. Happy Family Midge has a solid body with rubbery legs, while Life in the Dreamhouse Midge's body is hollow plastic. The dolls have very similar body proportions:
Life in the Dreamhouse Midge can wear Happy Family Midge's belly, but since she does not have internal magnets, the belly has to be strapped on:
With the belly in place, Happy Family Midge's maternity dress fits Life in the Dreamhouse Midge:
Without her pregnant belly, Happy Family Midge can wear Life in the Dreamhouse Midge's clothes (and shoes!):
Here are a few picture of Happy Family Midge pregnant, and back in her own outfit:
|The belly makes it hard for Midge to sit...which is pretty realistic.|
|Without the belly.|
Midge can't hold baby Nikki very naturally. Her lack of wrist articulation is part of the problem, but it's also that her elbows don't bend past 90 degrees.
I always want to position babies on their parent's shoulder, like this:
But Midge's hands can't reach up to hold the baby when she's in this position:
Even with her articulated wrists, Life in the Dreamhouse Midge can't hold the baby on her shoulder any better:
She does have a slightly easier time holding Nikki in other positions, though:
To me, the most compelling thing about Happy Family Midge is her family. Everything from her wedding to Alan (and the dolls associated with that event) to her pregnancies and her three children would have been absolutely irresistible to me as a child. I use to love thinking about babies and baby names and families-- I still do, in fact. Don't get me wrong, I also liked that Barbie could be an astronaut, a president or a doctor...but there's something comforting about having a character whose family life is featured. I really enjoyed reading and learning more about Midge's husband and kids.
Midge's pregnancy belly is a very unique feature and I think it makes this doll quite special. Few other doll lines have attempted this. The magnets aren't quite strong enough to hold the belly securely in place during rapid dressing and undressing, but they work fine. I like that the doll doesn't have a big baby-holding cavity in her torso, but rather has a regular body under the belly so that the character doesn't always have to be pregnant. I also appreciate that Midge's pregnancy belly is realistically sized.
Midge's outfit is carefully constructed with no obvious flaws. It is a practical, attractive maternity dress. I wish this doll had come with an extra outfit for after the baby is born.
This doll doesn't have fantastic articulation, but she has a pleasant, serene face and her red hair and freckles make her appealingly different from most other Barbie dolls. As much as I love the color of her hair, the fiber seems a little coarse and will probably tangle easily.
I'll end by sharing a few more pictures of the two dolls wearing the Life in the Dreamhouse outfits.
First here's Life in the Dreamhouse Midge:
And here's Happy Family Midge:
And both of them together again:
Bottom line? I found both of these dolls very appealing. My appreciation for them was significantly enhanced by their backstories, which is odd considering how strikingly different these stories are. I like how Midge is portrayed in the entertaining Life in the Dreamhouse series. She's goofy and funny and refreshingly naive. The episode where Midge appears in black and white and has to be updated for life in 21st century Malibu was very well done and memorable. I was even more fascinated to research Happy Family Midge's life as it played out in a series of family-oriented dolls and playsets. I think this doll, more than the modern version, would have appealed to me as a child. I can imagine waiting for the wedding dolls to be released--planning the details of Midge's big day. I can also picture being beside myself waiting for Midge's babies to be born, wondering what gender they would be and what names Midge would pick.
If I ignore the backstories and Happy Family Midge's unique pregnancy feature, the newer Life in the Dreamhouse Midge is clearly the superior doll. Her hair quality, facial screening and articulation are all wonderful for a play doll that costs under $20. I think she's cute, versatile and fun, and the only thing I would improve is the quality of her wardrobe. I really enjoy this lovely doll and her young, modern personality...but she makes me a little sad. I feel like I have gotten to know the older Midge pretty well this past week. As I looked at pictures of the Happy Family dolls and tried to piece together all of the elements of Midge's life, I grew attached to her growing family and got caught up in her story. I can only imagine how much more attached I would have become if I had been following Midge closely for over a decade. It would have been neat to see if there were any more kids added to her clan, what those kids looked like as they grew older, or even what outlandish careers they chose as adults. Instead, the family seems to have been completely erased.
This is a great new Midge doll, but the older Midge was special, and it's sad that we had to lose her in order to bring this enchanting new character to life.