By the time McDonald's released Liv mini dolls in 2011, I had figured out that I could simply go to eBay and purchase a complete set of Happy Meal dolls without having to set foot in a McDonald's at all. This approach takes away the questing excitement of driving all over the place to try and find certain toys, but it also saves time and money...and cuts down on my French fry consumption.
When I saw that American Girl was doing a series of mini dolls for McDonald's, I was pretty excited. American Girl already has 6 inch versions of their iconic 18 inch dolls, so I was really curious about the scale of the Happy Meal dolls. At first I was hoping for recursive scaling, with the McDonald's dolls scaled to the minis in the same way that the minis are scaled to the full-sized dolls. This would have made the Happy Meal dolls only about 2 inches tall, though, which is pretty tiny. It turns out that the McDonald's dolls are about 3.25 inches tall, which is a nice size.
|American Girl mini doll, "Kit," with a pile of American Girl Happy Meal toys.|
The American Girl Happy Meal collection consists of eight unique toys, four of which are dolls. The dolls are all miniatures of the Girl of the Year character, Isabelle. I wish the collection had included eight different American Girl historical character dolls rather than four versions of Isabelle and four random toys. Still, I was interested to see all of the different dolls.
I paid $19.99 (including shipping) on eBay for all eight toys. Since a Happy Meal currently costs $2.49-$2.99, this isn't a bad deal--especially because I don't eat the food, and purchasing the toys with an actual Happy Meal makes it hard to get a complete set of toys without accumulating duplicates.
The toys are numbered from 1-8, and the dolls are numbers 1, 3, 5 and 7. In this review I will look at all four dolls, and I will show them in order, starting with "Signature Isabelle:"
Each doll comes packaged inside a molded plastic support and is accompanied by a collector's card:
The cards all look the same on one side, with an advertisement for the American Girl movie, "Isabelle Dances into the Spotlight:"
Each card has a different back. Signature Isabelle's card has a picture of the actress who plays Isabelle in the movie (Erin Pitt), and it describes a little bit of her situation:
The mini doll is protected by the plastic packaging, and also by a band of plastic across her face:
It's very easy to free the doll from all of her packaging:
I couldn't get her to stand on her own at first, so I had to support her left foot with a small square of tape:
I was pleasantly surprised by this doll's cute face. She is clearly recognizable as an American Girl character:
Isabelle's eyes are sage green with black pupils and tiny white iris lines:
She has ginger brown painted eyelashes and eyebrows. Her eyebrows actually have individual hair lines drawn in, which is impressive detail for such a tiny doll.
Her nose is barely there, and she has a small pink mouth with a white rectangle of teeth printed on her upper lip:
Isabelle's rooted hair is surprisingly nice. The other Happy Meal dolls I have owned (Madame Alexander and Liv) have terrible hair, but Isabelle's hair is smooth and silky--very much like the full-sized American Girl dolls' hair.
From the back, however, a bald patch is visible where the hair was pushed to either side in the package:
I parted the hair even more to get a good look at the rooting pattern. Isabelle's side part is densely-rooted, as is the hair all of the way around her hairline. In between these areas, she has two or three (it varies by location) additional rows of hair that are spaced pretty far apart.
It's possible to brush the hair over the bald patch a little bit, but the yellow scalp is still visible in a few places:
Signature Isabelle's hair is mostly left down, with two small ponytails on either side of her face. The ponytails are held with pink thread:
Isabelle's hair is blonde, and it looks like there are some darker lowlights...however, this could just be the visual effect of differences in reflected light. It's very hard to tell. There's also a patch of pink hair at the back of her head. The color is confined to just the outermost row of rooted hair:
This doll is wearing a pink ballet-themed top with an asymmetrical hem.
Under the shirt, she is wearing grey textured leggings with thick cuffs, and simple silver shoes.
All of the clothing is molded in place and does not come off.
Isabelle herself has three points of articulation. Her neck rotates from side-to-side, and can actually spin all of the way around (like an owl). My doll has a neck defect. The head still moves, but it sits too far away from the body, and the joint seam is exposed:
Isabelle's right arm is permanently raised in the air, but her left arm can move up and down:
It can also rotate back behind her body:
Her hands are nicely molded with distinct fingers and even little palm lines and joint creases:
Isabelle's legs attach to the flat underside of her skirt. Her right leg is set straight up and down, and her left leg is set at a bit of an angle--as if she's dancing.
At first, I didn't realize that there was any movement in her legs, but she can actually rotate her right leg:
Once I figured out that Isabelle's leg can move, I was able to find a position that allows her to stand on her own. This made posing a lot easier.
I decided to take Isabelle's hair down, but here's one last picture of the original style:
With the hair down, it's easier to see the nicely-rooted side part:
The hair has a good thickness, and can be smoothed down...
But after a little bit of manipulation, the doll tends to look like this:
I decided to pull her hair back into a smooth single ponytail:
I tried securing this with grey thread, but it didn't last very long.
This hairstyle hides the bald patch in the back very nicely:
It's a little easier to photograph Isabelle's face with her hair out of the way, so here are a few more close-ups:
Looking at the picture above, I think her left eye is set slightly too far away from the midline. However, this kind of small imperfection is barely noticeable in person.
Look at how flat her profile is. The painted teeth also look a little strange from this angle:
Here's one last picture of Signature Isabelle before I move on to the next doll:
The next doll (#3) is called, "Prepped to Perform Isabelle."
The phrase, "prepped to perform" sounds funny to me...almost like she's getting prepared for surgery...or cooked up for supper. Maybe I've just been watching too many medical dramas?
This doll's card has a picture from the movie with Isabelle in a fancy ballet costume. The text describes Isabelle's strategy for overcoming her nerves.
The doll is wearing a less elegant ballet outfit and comes with her hair in a single long ponytail. My doll's ponytail came wrapped around her waist:
A bun would have been more practical.
This doll can't stand on her own very well because her left leg is shorter than her right. Once again, I had to use a small tape square to prop her up:
This Isabelle came with a tangle in her hair that disrupted the smooth pulled-back ponytail style:
Isabelle's outfit has a black leotard with a yellow tutu and black leggings:
|Bumble bee colors and a basket skirt.|
The tutu has a molded tulle design and large decorative flowers:
Isabelle has bare ankles and is wearing black lace-up ballet shoes:
The skin color on her ankles is painted over black plastic, and there are a few areas where the underlying color shows through:
The skin color on Isabelle's chest is painted over a lighter yellowish plastic, so the areas where the paint is chipped don't look as obvious.
This doll's neck joint is normal, so you can see what this region is supposed to look like:
Prepped to Perform Isabelle has four points of articulation. Like Signature Isabelle, she has one arm that is raised and stationary (her left) and another arm that can move up and down. This doll's moving arm has a good range of motion:
|She looks like she's landing a plane.|
The legs are attached to the flat underside of the tutu, and both legs can rotate around:
This allows Isabelle to hold her feet in a range of poses, unfortunately none of these poses make it easy for the doll to stand on her own:
I took Isabelle's hair down to see if I could get rid of the tangle. Like Signature Isabelle, the hair fiber on this doll is silky and easy to work with. It has the same two-toned blond color, but does not have any pink highlights.
The ponytail style hid the fact that this doll also has a bald patch on the back of her head:
She also has a vague rooted side part, but it is nowhere near as organized as the part on Signature Isabelle:
After I cut away the tangle in Isabelle's hair, I tried to style it into a bun. Although the hair can handle a lot of tugging, pulling and twisting, I wasn't patient enough to get a very elegant bun:
With her hair up off her back like this, it's a bit easier to see some of the doll's other features.
For example, she has a conspicuous raised copyright mark on her back:
She also has an obvious midline seam along her neck that has pulled apart a little:
The best thing about this hairstyle is that is makes it easier to see Isabelle's cute face. This doll has sage green eyes, and (whether it's intentional or not) she also has a slight side-glance:
Her mouth is the same as Signature Isabelle's mouth--complete with the white tooth bar, although this doll's teeth are printed onto her lower lip:
Even though the colors and style of face paint are very similar to Signature Isabelle, this doll has a very different appearance, I think:
|She looks worried.|
I will do a comparison of all four dolls' faces at the end, but for now here are the first two together:
Perhaps the biggest differences are that Prepped to Perform Isabelle has lighter (and more delicate) face paint and a shinier face than Signature Isabelle.
Here are a few more pictures of Prepped to Perform:
The next doll (#5) is called "Set for School Isabelle:"
This doll is the only one in the set who is wearing a hat. I don't generally like it when mini dolls have unremovable hats. Many of the McDonald's Madame Alexander dolls had this feature, and I felt like it made them much less versatile. Despite my reaction to the hat, I thought this might be my favorite doll when I first saw her. She is wearing a lovely outfit, and the hat keeps her hair from sticking up.
I also really like the image on this doll's card. It's another picture from the movie, and Isabelle looks really happy here. In some of the other pictures she looks a little too posed and made-up, but in this scene, she looks like she's having a blast:
The message on this card is about finding a unique fashion style. The card gives two "tips" on how to wear clothes that express your style: mix and match prints ("be brave and have fun!"), and don't copy your friends. To me, it seems like the card is suggesting that you copy Isabelle's mix-and-match style...but then it tells you not to copy anyone.
The doll's outfit is nowhere near as fun as the outfit on the card. Isabelle is wearing a butter-yellow dress with grey leggings and pink accessories:
Her hair is long and straight and has a layer of pink underneath the blonde:
This doll's face is pretty much the same as the other two dolls, but the hat casts shadows on some of the contours and makes them more distinct. It also frames her face in a very different way than the rooted hairlines:
|The hat also looks a little bit like exposed brains.|
I think that of the three dolls I have shown you so far, Signature Isabelle and Set for School Isabelle are the most alike:
Of the three, School Isabelle has the prettiest face. Also, her eyes are very well aligned and her teeth are in the right position.
Her plastic hat is permanently attached to her head, and is molded to look like it's floppy and fuzzy--maybe knitted? It has a large flower decoration on one side:
Isabelle's dress is pale yellow and has an interesting draped design in front:
The dress is accented with a pink belt and has a raised (flower?) pattern along the hem that's hard to see:
Isabelle is wearing grey leggings and pink slipper shoes:
So, at this point I was playing around with Isabelle's hair, trying to see if I could get a few strands to hang closer to her face. As I was moving the hair around under the hat, I noticed that some of the strands were falling out:
I pulled a little bit more aggressively, trying to see how much of the hair was loose...
And before long (without much effort at all) Isabelle was completely bald.
I couldn't pry the hat off the head (even with the help of a screwdriver), but I did peek into the hole to see if I could figure out how the hair had been attached:
It's hard to see, but there's a plastic rod inside that runs up and down along the length of Isabelle's head. My guess is that the hair was looped around that rod. There was also a folded metal wire inside the head (rattling around) that I suspect might have been wrapped around the rod in attempt to keep the hair secure. It didn't work.
Even without her hair, Isabelle looks pretty cute, but the hair incident removed her from the running to be my favorite among these dolls.
Before I move on to the next doll, let me tell you a bit about this School Isabelle's articulation. She has three points of articulation: her neck moves just like the other dolls, but neither of her arms can move enough for me to count.
Her legs can both spin around through a wide range of poses:
The last doll (#7) is called "Ready for Rehearsal Isabelle:"
Her plastic packaging wouldn't balance on the ground, so I had to prop her up against a chair:
It's odd how only two of the four dolls came with protective plastic over their faces. This doll and Signature Isabelle are the only two.
This doll's card is the least visually interesting one among the group, but it has some very practical information:
Isabelle can even follow the instructions on the card and strike "first position" herself, thanks to the fact that she, too, has legs that move:
This Isabelle is dressed in an outfit that looks pretty fancy for rehearsal: she's wearing a purple sequined dress with white tights and leg warmers. She is holding one of her arms straight up and the other one rigidly out to the side. The left arm can spin around in place, but it can't move up or down.
The poor arm articulation on this doll is off-putting, but she does have nice hair and a good face:
Her teeth are printed half on the upper lip and half on the lower lip. This looks ok, but I prefer the dolls who have the teeth mostly on their upper lip.
This doll's eyebrow shape is a bit more severe than some of the others. Her eyebrows have very distinct lines in them and they slant in towards her nose.
Here are all four dolls together:
The lip and eyebrow/eyelash paint varies slightly from doll to doll, but this is incredibly subtle and I never would have picked up on it by looking at the dolls in person. Holding them in my hand, the doll that stands out as the most different is Performance Isabelle (with the yellow tutu). Her face is the shiniest, her teeth are low-set, and all of her features are slightly paler and finer than the other dolls. I'm sure some of these differences are just doll-to-doll variation, regardless of which numbered doll it is.
I think Rehearsal Isabelle has one of the nicest faces. Her head isn't shiny, and all of her features are well-positioned.
Rehearsal Isabelle also has nice hair. She has the fun pink streak at the back of her head, and the same pretty blonde color as the rest of the dolls. Her hair is nicely side-parted and hangs straight down.
She has the yellow bald spot on the top of her head, but this is fairly well-concealed by the smooth hairstyle.
Isabelle's purple outfit has a detailed geometric neckline and cap sleeves. It almost looks like a leotard with a wrap-around skirt, but the top seems a bit fancy for this. The skirt has a molded sequin pattern and a dark purple belt:
Isabelle's shoes are the same color as her tights, but she has two purple leg warmers to break up the monochromy:
Here are two more pictures of Rehearsal Isabelle. Her rigid arms really limit her posing options:
In fact, this doll's arm position is so stiff, she looks like she's trying to send a message in semaphore:
When these dolls all stand together, I can't help but wonder if they're actually spelling out a secret semaphore message.
Let's figure out what letter each of the dolls might represent, and then see what they're trying to say:
I think School Isabelle is clearly an "L:"
Rehearsal Isabelle is a "J:"
Performance Isabelle can be either a bent-armed "K:"
Or a skewed "P:"
Signature Izzy is either a slightly lame "U:"
Or maybe "Y?"
Or a signal that means, "cancel the last message."
Forget I said that.
Ok, so! What do we have here?
"July!" Which it is!
Aside from spelling gibberish with semaphore, the raised hand position on these dolls is also good for giving high fives:
I want to quickly show you these American Girls next to some other Happy Meal dolls. First, here's Rehearsal Isabelle next to the Madame Alexander mini, "Wendy as the Blue Fairy:"
Wendy is much larger, and she has conventional arm and leg articulation. She also has a real cloth outfit that is quite pretty. On the other hand, she has a permanent hair ornament and terrible hair fiber, the combination of which has made her hair pretty unattractive and unmanageable over the years:
Here's Signature Isabelle next to my Liv Danielle:
|Hey, tall person, can you strike this dance pose?|
Of course, they're not very high-quality inset eyes....but that's to be expected with this kind of toy.
|Not very high-quality painted lips, either.|
And here she is next to the China Girl mini doll:
For me, the best part of this review was comparing these McDonald's mini dolls to other American Girl dolls. My American Girl doll, Keira, is pretty excited to have a miniature doll that resembles her:
But these new Happy Meals toys are best suited to my American Girl mini doll, Kit, who seems to have found a beloved companion in the color-coordinated Rehearsal Isabelle:
So, while these new McDonald's toys don't offer dolly recursion, per se, it's really fun to have all three sizes of American Girl doll in the house together:
Bottom line? It's hard to justify a formal review of a toy that is essentially free. Furthermore, so many of the Happy Meal toys are disposable, these little dolls shine simply because they stand head and shoulders above the typical fast food toy selection. So, rather than drawing sweeping conclusions about these four, I'll just tell you which one I like the best and why. I'll preface this by saying that any of the four are a treat and would be fun to have, particularly for an American Girl fan...just don't start tugging on School Isabelle's hair.
I'll rank the dolls according to a few categories, and then tell you which one is my favorite.
Hair: All of these dolls have hair fiber that exceeded my expectations. I don't think I have ever seen a McDonald's toy with hair this nice. The exception to this is School Isabelle, whose hair feel great, but pulls out way too easily. Of the remaining dolls, the hair is very similar. It is rooted, handles very well, and can be styled in a few different ways. I prefer the dolls with the pink highlights, since this is one of the Isabelle character's unique features. That means the contest is between Rehearsal Isabelle and Signature Isabelle. Rehearsal Isabelle wins the prize by a hair (ha, ha) simply because her hairstyle lays more smoothly against her head, covering the bald spot at the back of her scalp.
Face: The dolls all have similar faces--as they should. The small differences are in the thickness and color of the eyebrows and eyelashes, the placement of the features (particularly the teeth), the color of the lips (very subtle) and the shine on the face. It's hard for me to tell which of these things is typical of a specific doll, and which are just random variations. Of the dolls I have, the best face is School Isabelle, with Rehearsal and Signature Isabelle close behind. Performance Isabelle's face is shiny, her features are faint, and my particular doll's tooth placement is bad.
Outfit: None of the outfits are removable, but I like the style and colors of School Isabelle and Signature Isabelle's outfits the best. Performance Isabelle's tutu is unnaturally full and round, and Rehearsal Isabelle's outfit is plain. Because School Isabelle's outfit doesn't allow her arm to move, and because she has a permanent hat, I like Signature Isabelle's outfit the best.
Articulation: All of the dolls have neck articulation, and then each doll has varying degrees of limb articulation. Rehearsal Isabelle is my least favorite because her arm position is stiff and unnatural...and she is unable to change it. School Isabelle is next in line because her arm has only very minimal movement, but her arm position is nice. Performance Isabelle is second best because both of her legs and one of her arms move. I like Signature Isabelle the best in this category because her pose looks natural--as if she's dancing, and she is able to move one arm and one leg in ways that can significantly change her pose.
Because pose and articulation are so important to me, I like Signature Isabelle the best. She has it all: styleable hair, a nice face, a dance-related outfit that looks modern, and articulation that allows her to change her pose and stand on her own. To me, she's definitely worth the $2.50 I paid, and I know if I ever get a hankering for a McDonald's cheeseburger, I'd be absolutely thrilled to find another one of these dolls in the bag with it.
|Left to right: Rehearsal, School, Signature and Performance Isabelle dolls.|