Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Project Mc2 Update with Ember Evergreen

Well, this is the last week before I take my eldest son to college, so the blog is getting ignored a little bit.  It's a crazy, emotional time and I don't want to miss anything with my kid.  I should also explain my delay in posting the conclusion of the My Twinn Project.  I haven't lost enthusiasm for my rejuvenated 23" girls by any means, it's just that I'm finding it difficult to choose a space where I can photograph four large dolls.  I'll figure it out, though.

Some of you might be a little surprised to see that I'm reviewing more Project Mc2 dolls today.  Even though I'm a huge fan of science and S.T.E.A.M.-related toys, I didn't have a completely positive reaction to the first wave of Mc2 dolls.  As a quick reminder: I reviewed McKeyla McAllister and her lava lamp almost exactly a year ago, and was disappointed by the doll's floppy, flaky articulation and bad hair. I was also underwhelmed by the science content that accompanied the lava light project.  However, the line redeemed itself somewhat because of the fun assortment of geeky clothing, the nice faces and inset eyes on the dolls, and the entertainment value of the project accessories.

I managed to observe the release of the second wave of Project Mc2 dolls with only mild interest and no purchases.  However, when MGA Entertainment added a redheaded character to their most recent collection of dolls...my self control crumbled.  Not only do I love the look of the new Ember Evergreen character, but I was also tempted by the most recent version of my favorite Project Mc2 girl, Bryden Bandweth.  In this review I'll take a look at both of these dolls and their S.T.E.A.M.-related accessories.

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"Bryden's Speaker" Bryden Bandweth (left) and "Ember's Garden" Ember Evergreen (right)
$24.99 each.
Of these two, I was the most excited about Ember and her hanging garden accessory.  I love redheaded dolls, and I also found the idea of a garden project very appealing for the summer.  I'll review Ember first and then take a brief look at Bryden and her speaker project at the end of the post.

The overall design of the Project Mcpackaging has not changed since the first wave.  Ember is enclosed within a heavily-decorated cardboard box with an inset plastic window:

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The packaging is excessive on these dolls, but I can't deny how visually appealing it is.  I really like looking at the boxes.  It's almost a shame to open them.

There's a photograph of the new character from the television series (I haven't watched this show since I wrote my review last year):

I bet she loves wearing that headband.
The actress is lovely with gorgeous hair...so perhaps it wasn't the best idea to display her photograph right next to the doll:

The doll speaks Netflix, though.
I'm not saying this is a bad-looking doll (she's very pretty), but I find her exaggerated features much more jarring when I'm comparing them directly to a beautiful real human.


What strikes me most is that if the doll's eyes weren't so huge, all of her facial features would be quite realistic.

Ember comes with a hanging garden project that looks great.  There's a gem-shaped terrarium visible in the box.  The terrarium is decorated with a lot of colorful cardboard cutouts that describe the project:


The back of the box is decorated with a large photograph of the doll and a more detailed description of the hanging garden project:


The bottom of the box displays the full lineup of third wave Project Mc2 dolls, including the two new characters: Ember Evergreen and Devon D'Marco:


Here's the description of Ember's project:


This segment describes water evaporation in a terrarium.  This is an easy-to-grasp piece of the science behind gardening.

There's a lot more science behind gardening, though.  As a former biology teacher, the thing I'd most like to see on this panel is a super-basic description of photosynthesis.  It was surprising to me how few of my college students had a firm grasp of this world-shaping, life-sustaining process.

Next to the blurb about evaporation is a full-body picture of the Ember doll:


I'm not positive about this, but the doll on the box looks like she has McKeyla's face mold:


At least it looks more like McKeyla than it does like the actual Ember doll.  Here's a comparison:

McKeyla doll and Ember from the box.

Actual Ember doll vs. Ember doll on the box.

I'll check this again after I get Ember out of her box and can take a better picture of her face.

The box also has directions for the terrarium project--or at least a simplified version of the directions (I'm hoping there are more detailed instructions and a collection of supplies in the box):


The gist is basically: dump stuff in, plant lots of seeds, do over and over again.  I'm not sure how this happens over and over again, though, unless the plants keep dying.  Or maybe they get transplanted into the great outdoors?  It's not discussed.

I opened the box by carefully detaching the plastic window tabs from the cardboard frame.  Many of these tabs were taped in place.  Once the tabs were disconnected, the plastic window folded down to expose the doll:


After this stage, the de-boxing was fairly simple and straight-forward...with one exception.  The head is mounted to the backdrop with at least three very tight plastic ties.  This is becoming the norm for doll packaging and it drives me nuts.  

I tried the "pull-really-hard" method of de-boxing this time (since I couldn't easily reach between the head and the cardboard with my scissors).  A few of the plastic ties pulled out of the cardboard, but at least one of them stubbornly stayed put:


I finally managed to get some fingernail scissors wedged behind the head so that I could cut the last plastic tie.  It was a pain.  

Look at all of the holes in the backdrop:


The three holes at the top were for tight plastic ties that went into the head.  The other holes were for plastic bands that held the hair in place.  These bands were excessive, but they were much easier to cut than the ties.

Here's Ember out of the box:


Look at her amazing hair!!

One of the nice things about this doll is something I noticed right away: her boots allow her to balance on her own really well.  She doesn't even come with a stand.  The first wave deluxe dolls all came with stands, but the stands were really wimpy and flexible.

Ember also comes with a small (useless) beaker-shaped comb and a vinyl backpack.  The backpack is attached to her left wrist:


This backpack has a fun molded fringe design and a lot of tiny painted details:


The straps have a stitch pattern along the edges and the buckles are even painted silver!



The backpack opens with a peg-and-hole clasp:


I often criticize doll accessories for their lack of painted detail.  This backpack is a beautiful example of how accessories can be improved by a detailed paint job.  I really like this pack.


There's even a small compartment inside:


The original McKeyla came with a notebook and tablet that could fit inside her pack, but Ember does not have these little extras.

The straps detach to make it easy to put the backpack over Ember's shoulders:



That handle hits poor Ember in the back of the head, but otherwise the backpack fits well and looks good.

Here's Ember on her own:


I noticed two things about her right away: first, her eyes are really wonky:

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Second, her skirt is stuck to her legs in a strange way:

Static cling?
The skirt came packaged with several little tacking stitches holding it close to Ember's legs in a series of seemingly-random folds:

What's going on here??
When the stitches are removed, the skirt hangs nicely--longer in the back than in the front:


That's better.
There's one pleat in the back that remained even after all of the tacking stitches were removed.  This pleat causes a permanent fold in the hemline of the skirt:


There's no print on the back of the skirt fabric, so a patch of white shows at the bottom of the fold.  

There's something about the design of this skirt that doesn't seem right to me.  I wonder if my doll's dress has a construction error?  It's certainly a different design from the promotional pictures:

There's no fold in the back of that skirt.

Here's a close-up of the stitching along the back fold:


The seam doesn't look neat and tidy, but it does look intentional.  Maybe if anyone else out there owns Ember you could let us know if your doll's dress looks like this?  I'm so curious!

I'll take a closer look at all of Ember's clothing in a little bit, but first let's admire her face and hair.

Ember has the most beautiful light ginger hair color, complimented by a full face of freckles:

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Her extra-long hair is pulled back at the side and ornamented with a vinyl daisy wreath:


The daisy wreath is sewn into the hair, but it also has three peg-and-hole attachment sites at the back, suggesting that it's meant to be removed:


(You can still see one of the plastic ties from the packaging sticking out of Ember's head):


The wreath was held in place with a total of four areas of tight stitching--two in front and two in the back.

Here I've snipped the back stitches, but the front two are still in place.
Here's the wreath on its own:


It has delicately-painted daisies with tiny yellow centers.  

The wreath detaches at the back with three pegs...although I'm not really sure why it even needs to come apart.  After detaching the pegs for this picture,  I used the wreath many times without ever unfastening those pegs again:


I guess these pegs make the wreath adjustable, which is cool.  It could be shared by other dolls.

The process of snipping all of the thread and pulling the wreath out of Ember's hair left her hairdo in a bit of a mess at the back:


I decided to let the hair down and smooth it out.  

Small pieces of hair were twisted and pulled back from around Ember's face. These pieces were anchored to a section of hair from the back of her head, and the whole bundle was held in place with a clear rubber band:


Ember's hair is long and silky smooth.  It's so much better than McKeyla's hair.  There's no comparison.


The factory hairstyle left a bit of wave in some sections of hair:



This is amazing hair--with beautiful color.  The light red shade is achieved through a mix of blonde and ginger-orange strands.  

The hair is rooted into a colored scalp.  The scalp paint actually has a bit of metallic shimmer to it, which is fun:


The heads on these dolls are very hard with no compressibility.  I have no idea if this is because of glue, or if it's just the texture of the vinyl.  Maybe I will do brain surgery some day to find out...?

I tied Ember's hair back into a ponytail so that I could see the shape of her face better:


By the way, it's definitely not the same face mold as the one on the box:


The shape of my Ember's face is much narrower than the picture...and there are a lot more freckles on the actual doll!  Yay!

Other than her enormous eyes, Ember strikes me as having a fairly natural-looking face.  I really like her profile:



Ember has large inset eyes that are a pretty turquoise color.  Her face (and even her forehead) are covered with scattered, asymmetric freckles that I think look great.

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Her eyes are really wonky, though, and I don't see any way to fix this.  It looks like the pupil on her right side is set too high up on the iris.

She has both applied and painted eyelashes on the tops of her eyes, with just painted lashes underneath.  Her eyes are accented with some subtle silver eyeshadow.


The applied lashes stick straight out and then curl upwards.  They are very...ah, impressive:


Ember has a natural lip color and some small molded lines in her lips that add a lot of realism:


One of my favorite things about the first wave Project Mc2 dolls was their endearing and distinct face molds.  When I first saw Ember's face, I was surprised by how narrow her head is.  Now that I've had some time to get used to it, though, I really like her face.  I especially like that she has her own distinct features instead of--as the box implies--sharing a face mold with McKeyla.

The other new character--Devon--also has a very narrow face (at least according to the box picture):


Now I'm curious about whether or not Devon and Ember share a face mold.  I probably should have purchased Devon to investigate this, but Devon's puffy paint project didn't really appeal to me in the moment.

Ember is wearing a belted plaid dress with a denim shirt and boots:


The denim shirt is tied just above Ember's waist so that it looks like a cropped top:


The inside seam that connects the collar to the shirt is exposed on my doll, and this makes the shirt look poorly-made.  The construction is actually quite good, it's just that the bulky seam sticks out and exposes the unraveling edges of the fabric.

The front part of the shirt is tied together--it's not a decorative knot.  It might have been better if the shirt wasn't actually tied, though, because that knot is small and hard to untie!  Perhaps littler fingers would have an easier time with this?


Here's the shirt on its own:


You can see that all of the edges are finished and there's even some nice dark thread to accent the shape of the shirt.  I just wish that the designers had found a better way to hide the collar seam.

Under the shirt, Ember's dress is sleeveless: 


Look at the large red stripe in the plaid that runs from Ember's left shoulder down to her opposite hip:


This dress is made out of two pieces of fabric--one for the bodice and one for the skirt--so it's pretty impressive that this stripe lines up across the waistline of the dress.  Perhaps that was a lucky coincidence (?), but it looks great.

The waistline is decorated with a colorful vinyl belt.  Juts below the belt are two seams in the fabric that give some shape to the otherwise basic cut of the dress: 


The back of the dress has that strange fold in the skirt and also a velcro seam above the belt:



The belt is made out of brown vinyl, but it has a painted silver buckle with blue flower accents:


The sides of the belt are decorated, too:


The belt has three different holes for the insertion of the peg on the opposite side, but I only ever used that middle peg.  I guess the adjustability is so Ember can share her belt with friends?

Ember is good at sharing.
Here's the dress without the belt:


Ember is wearing pink gingham socks and colorful cowboy boots.  It's a fun combination:


The boots have big slits up the back so that they're easy to get off:


Like the other vinyl accessories, these boots have a lot of painted detail:



The soles and heels of these boots are made out of a darker vinyl, which I think looks great:


The socks come up to about mid-calf.  They stay up pretty well, too.


I was a little surprised to see that Ember has fashion-heeled feet!  My first wave McKeyla has flat feet--although my basic Bryden from that first wave has fashion feet.  Hm.  From the promotional pictures online, it looks like all of the versions of McKeyla have flat feet, so perhaps the foot shape is a character-by-character feature that has nothing to do with the year of production?  I need more data!

The rest of Ember's body looks the same as McKeyla's, although her underpants are painted white:


Here are my McKeyla and Bryden dolls for comparison:

Lava light McKeyla and basic Bryden (first wave).

Ember has the same eleven joints that the first wave articulated dolls have, so the way she moves is almost exactly the same as the way McKeyla moves. 


I did notice a few small differences between these two dolls, though, which I'll attribute to normal variation within this line.  

For example, Ember can sit on the ground with her feet close together.  McKeyla's hip joints tend to move her feet apart:



Also, Ember's right elbow can bend and hold its position...


...while McKeyla's right elbow is floppy and cannot hold a pose:


Ember has difficulty bending one of her wrist joints all of the way into a 90 degree angle.  Notice how her left wrist can only bend a little bit towards her head in this pose:


McKeyla's wrists joints are fine, but--again--she's got that floppy elbow:


McKeyla's neck joint is also loose and floppy while Ember's neck is fine.  Overall, Ember moves better than McKeyla does, but I suspect this is entirely by chance.

I suppose the best way to summarize my updated view of these dolls' articulation and movement is to say that it's unpredictable...but slightly better than I thought in my original review.


Here are a few pictures of Ember back in her outfit:

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She's an adorable doll who is very fun to photograph.  That hair reminds me of Disney's Rapunzel and Ever After High's Holly O'Hair.

Now, let's take a look at Ember's hanging garden project!  Every time I see a new wave of these dolls, I have to admit that it's the projects I get most excited about.  I love seeing the variety of things that MGA comes up with.  It's such a creative and unique accessory idea for a doll line.  

I had a lot of fun with McKeyla's lava light activity and I was hoping that planting Ember's hanging garden would be equally entertaining.

Here are the instructions that came in the box:


The first surprise was that the only items included in the box were the plastic terrarium and stand.  I assumed that there would at least be an appropriate seed and some decorative stones included.

The "household items" that I'm supposed to have on hand are listed at the bottom of the leaflet:


Ok, let's run through that list:
1. Water.  Check!  Yes!  I have water.
2. Succulent potting soil.  Uh...I have some dirt outside?  I don't normally think of potting soil as succulent, though.  Yuck.
3. Small pebbles.  Nope.
4. Activated charcoal.  If they mean what's left over in my fireplace, yes!  Otherwise...no.
5. Sheet moss.  As if.
6. Plant seeds.  What kind?  How many?  I have a few acorns and an avocado pit.
7. White sand.  Again--no.  I have a lot of beach sand in my entryway...but that's it.

I might be lazier than the average parent, but I have to say that this list is intimidating.  What are the real odds that I'm going to run out to the garden store and buy big bags of all of those things?  Slim to none.

I also looked at the instructions for how to use all of these items, and it didn't make me any more enthusiastic:

Cover the play area to avoid possible damage??!
First of all, the middle panel of the directions shows a picture of everything crammed into the small terrarium.  It looks like I need about four small pebbles and an eighth of a teaspoon of everything else.  That's not increasing my eagerness to run out to the store.

I think the soil goes above the moss and under the sand, but the written instructions leave that part out completely.  And that seed looks like a sunflower seed?  Really?  No better suggestions for what kind of plant seed might be appropriate for this tiny space?

And also--why does everything get layered in that order?  I want to learn something.

There's only a small area at the bottom of this terrarium, so the part where it says, "push soil to the back to prevent spillage" is the last straw.  Ugh.  Spillage?  Really?  I don't want to deal with spillage. Spillage is bad.

Let me show you the terrarium so you see what I mean:


It's very easy to put together and it looks nice.  


The stand is not as flimsy as the Project Mc2 dolls stands, so that's encouraging.

hanging garden

The pipette is for watering the plant.  It seems all good...but it's not.

You can see that there's very little planting space in this terrarium.  I measured the depth at the bottom an it's 1 inch.  


Call me a wimp, but rather than doing the project as suggested, I looked around for cheaper, easier, and less "damaging" ways to fill the terrarium.  

Here's one option:


For $4.99 at my local pet store, I found this cute "succulent" that looks like it will fit into the terrarium.  It also seems hardy...given that it's been living in a small plastic tube for goodness knows how long.

Succulent, by the way, can mean that something is juicy and tasty, but it's also another name for a plant that has a thickened area for storing water over long periods of time.  Cacti are succulents, as are aloe plants...as are jelly doughnuts.  Succulent plants get the water they need from mist or dew, so they're perfect for tiny terrariums that can't hold much water in the soil.

This little cactus even comes with its own small pebbles and soil:

Bonus!
It's a really cute little plant, too:

I'll name it Izzy.
This plant would have worked fine for the terrarium, but I was still intimidated by the thought of trying to fit everything into the tiny chamber.  The threat of spillage was looming large.

Also, even though this cactus is less than two inches tall, it would have been a real challenge to cover all of the roots and give the plant enough support with less than one inch of soil.  I ended up planting it in a larger flower pot.

Poor strange Izzy.
The plant I did decide to use for the terrarium is actually a species of air plant called Tillandsia bromeliads.  The term "air plant" comes from the fact that these plants don't require any soil (or sand, or pebbles or moss or activated charcoal...or spillage).  

Rather than getting the nutrients and water they need from soil, air plants get everything they need from the air.  It's like magic.

Tillandsia bromeliads.
Well, actually it's not magic, but more that the air carries enough tiny particles of dirt to fulfill the nutrient requirements of a plant.

What on earth is a nutrient, you might ask?  Well, that's an excellent science question!  Basically, nutrients are the chemical building blocks of life--in this case, the atoms necessary to build a plant.  

Plants are made of large carbon-based molecules like carbohydrates, proteins and DNA.  These big molecules are themselves made out of tiny atoms like carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.   Here's a quick visual:

Bdna cropped

In that spinning model of a section of DNA, the little colored balls represent the atoms--the building blocks.  As a specific example, the little purple balls up there show the location of nitrogen atoms.  Nitrogen is a really important nutrient for plants.

So, when a plant grows or reproduces, it needs to be able to make more big molecules like DNA...and to do this it needs atoms from the environment.  It needs nutrients.

To take this idea one more step, when plants (or animals) die, their big molecules are decomposed and broken back down into the building blocks again.  So, soil and dust are basically made up of dead and decomposed plants and animals (ew, I know) that have been broken back down into their nutrient building blocks...ready to be used all over again.  It's the circle of life.


Air plants have special hair-like projections on their leaves called trichomes.  These structures collect water and dirt (nutrients!) from the air.  Since my air plant will be living in the relatively clean indoors, I might have to give it some fertilizer as an extra nutrient source.


Here's a close-up of the white feathery projections that I think must be the trichomes:

They look like fuzzy little funnels.
This species of plant is called an epiphyte because it will usually root itself to another plant for stability.  It doesn't steal any resources from that host plant (so it's not a parasite) but it doesn't need to be rooted in the ground.  The ability to set up housekeeping on another (taller) plant has a couple of big advantages that might be fun for an older child to think about...

My little air plant cost $6.99 and fits pretty well inside the terrarium.  No spillage and practically no set-up time.  For best results, it's suggested that these plants be soaked in water every week or so, but this can be done by just immersing the whole terrarium pod into a coffee cup full of water and leaving it for fifteen minutes.  Easy.

You won't even need that pipette, Ember!
Kids might have more fun watching a seed grow over time, but for those who want a plant project with no mess, I highly recommend the air plant approach to this activity.  There's plenty of science to learn when taking care of any kind of plant.


Ok, now let's take a quick look at the third wave Bryden Bandweth doll and her "panda speaker" project!


When I reviewed McKeyla and her lava light, I did a short review of the first wave basic Bryden doll.  I ended up liking Bryden more than McKeyla, mostly because she has much better hair and her unarticulated body feels a lot more sturdy in my hands.  I also have a soft spot for this character because of her tech-savvy personality.

This particular Bryden doll is especially appealing to me because she comes wearing an incredible-looking quilted, multi-color coat:

I would wear that.
Bryden's project involves making a speaker that looks like a cute panda, so that was an attraction, too:


As if I wasn't already hooked, look at Bryden's silly yellow backpack!

Awesome.
Unlike Ember's box, this box has a photograph of the television character on the back--not a photograph of the doll:


There's also a short description of electrical circuits:


The main concept in this paragraph is that electrical circuits have to be complete.  I've never thought much about why circuits have to be complete, though, so reading this paragraph caused me to ask myself some neat questions.  In my opinion that's an excellent outcome for any S.T.E.A.M. toy.  Questions lead to learning.

I also asked myself some fun questions about how sound waves are converted into electrical pulses (and then into digital data).  There are many neat ideas here.  Ideally, the box would have posed a few leading questions to start kids on their own path of discovery, but I wasn't really expecting that level of engagement after my McKeyla review.

The back of the box also has a colorful summary of the instructions for the panda speaker project:


That looks fun, and I'll try it out in just a little while.

For now, here's Bryden removed from her box:


I love her cute backpack...


...but it doesn't have quite as much painted detail as Ember's backpack. And it doesn't open.


It simply has a molded zipper design along the sides:


Bryden herself comes wearing an impressive multi-piece outfit:


The highlight of the outfit is the colorful winter coat.  The pattern on this coat is not symmetric--each side is different!


Unfortunately, Bryden does not have the same crimped hair as the first wave basic doll.  Her hair looks a lot more like first wave McKeyla's hair...which is not a good thing.

Tangled mess.
Bryden is wearing sneakers with a game controller design. They're awesome:

(Bryden also has fashion-heeled feet).
These remind me of the Nintendo 64 controller, but I'm not super-knowledgeable about vintage game systems.  I'm more of a PS4 kind of girl.

These shoes are not as good as as Ember's boots for balance, but Bryden can still stand on her own.

Bryden comes with two tendrils of hair sewn to the sides of the coat.  This seems like an unnecessary detail that runs the risk of leaving holes in the coat:


A few careful snips with my fingernail scissors freed the hair from the coat:


The thread did leave a few tiny holes, but they're not too bad:


This coat is amazing.  The colorful design is printed on the fabric (it's not pieced together from small rectangles of fabric...) but the blocks of color are actually quilted, which looks great.

Have I mentioned how much I love this coat?
The fabric has a soft white backing that makes the coat look really warm:


I love how one side of the coat is muted--with mostly black and white--while the other side is full of color.  I also like how the collar and front edges of the coat have their own color patterns.  It really is a remarkable piece of clothing for a $20 play doll.


Underneath the coat, Bryden is wearing a long sleeveless tee shirt with computer code written on it:



Here's a close-up of the code:


I ran this by my tech-savvy kid, and he said that the program is probably written in something like Java Script.  It's designed to display the words, "Stand back I'm Trending!" with "trending" capitalized for some reason.

For other coders out there, his analysis is also that this program is inefficiently written.  Here are the two alternate versions he suggested to me:

//Nice concise version
if(trending) {
window.alert(“Stand back, I’m Trending!”);
}

This is the simple version.  It avoids assigning letter variables to each word...which my kid says is pointless.

Even if the designers insisted on the longer version with variables (it does look cool on the shirt!) apparently the code on Bryden's shirt left out spaces and punctuation so that the output would actually be: "StandbackI'mTrending!"

Here's the correct version:

//Correct expanded version
var m2 = “Stand”,
a2 = “back”,
b2 = “I’m”,
c2 = “Trending!”;

if(trending == true) {

window.alert(
m2 + “ “ + a2 + “, “ + b2 + “ “ + c2


);

}

I can't confirm any of this, of course, because I know precisely nothing about coding.  In fact, I thought that the winking frowny-face at the bottom there must be a cute add-on, but my son told me it's a legitimate part of the code.  I'm learning things like crazy here.

The shirt opens in the back with a partial velcro seam:


Under the shirt, Bryden is wearing some sparkly silver knit leggings.  These accent the outfit nicely.  The only problem with them is that her painted underpants show through pretty badly:

Better keep that shirt pulled down, Bry.
Bryden's hat was attached with a small collection of plastic ties that I had to cut.  They left small holes in the knitted fabric:


I like this hat--it really compliments the colorful coat, and it stays on Bryden's head well.


Underneath the hat, Bryden's hair is littered with the cut ends of plastic ties.  I think there were about five of these sticking out of her head.  The one right in the front was the most irritating to me.


Here's a closer look:


And here are the four ties in the back of her head.  I don't like these because they poke my fingers when I try to smooth Bryden's hair:


I cut the tie stubs down as close as possible before I brushed out the hair.

The hair comes in a matted clump of coarse curls:


And after I brushed it...

Stand back, my hair is frizzing!
...it became a huge, frizzy mass with a life of its own.

Dang.
I tried to tame the hair by tying it back into a ponytail, which was reasonably effective.  It at least cleared the hair away from Bryden's face:


This doll's face is very similar to the first wave basic Bryden's face.  The only differences that I can see are in the lip color and eyeshadow:

Bryden's Speaker doll (left), first wave basic Bryden (right).

I slightly prefer the older Bryden's coloring, mostly because of the darker lipstick.

Here's a close-up of the new Bryden's face:


She has sage green eyes accented with metallic gold eyeshadow:


I'd be interested to see these dolls with either just their applied upper lashes or just the painted lashes. The double-lashed look is a bit excessive.

Stand back, I'm lashing out!
Of my three articulated Project Mc2 dolls, I'd say that Bryden has the best joints.  Both wrists move well, she just has slightly restricted movement in her left elbow:


I took Bryden's unruly hair out of its ponytail and smoothed it down with my hands so that I could get a few pictures.  

I found that I really like the way this hair looks for photographs--it's fabulously dramatic.  However, I suspect that this volume and texture of hair would be really hard to care for if the doll was played with a lot.


Here she is showing off the muted side of her personality...


...and the colorful side!


Bryden definitely loses some of her personality when her hair is under control:


The hat restrains the hair the perfect amount.  I think this is Bryden's best look:


I tried several poses where Bryden was reaching for her hat or touching her face, but her arm joints do not hold their positions well enough to capture these moments:


She's better off with her hands politely folded in front of her.


The unusual mix of colors in this doll's face and clothing are her best quality.  She's a treat to look at:


Now--finally--let's see what this panda speaker project is all about!


There's a striking difference between this project's instructions and the ones for Ember's hanging garden.  Can you spot what it is?


Yeah.  The necessary household items that are required?  A slice of apple.  That's it.  And actually, it doesn't even have to be an apple.  They say it can be anything that contains moisture:

And they're asking a good question!  Yay!
The other difference is that these instructions fold open to reveal a lot of steps and information on the inside pages.  The inner section of Ember's hanging garden instructions was blank.


Here's everything that was included for the project:


I actually read the instructions before I even de-boxed these pieces, so I also thought that batteries were not included...because that's what it says:


So I bought batteries and was all ready to go!


Except that when I went to install the batteries, I discovered that they are already installed:

D'oh!
Oh, well.  That kind of battery will come in handy for something else some day, I'm sure.

The panda speaker is cute on its own...if a little odd:


It's basically just the head of a panda with a huge mouth.  One of the eye patches acts as the actual speaker.

The panda comes with little arms and legs that can be attached directly to its head:

The feet look like hooves.
These pieces fit into the main body of the speaker pretty well, although the arms were a little hard to push into place.  The legs are really nice because they help the speaker balance in an upright position:


One of the panda's ears is an on/off switch, the other one is a connection point for the microphone jack cable:


The cable connects to the ear with a two-pronged clip that aligns with the metal spots on the ear.


Here are the two pieces connected:


In order to create an unbroken circuit, the instructions say that the sensors on the top and bottom of the panda's mouth have to be connected.  This is what the apple will be used for:


There are even little arrows showing where to look for the sensors.  It appears that there are four sensors on the top and two on the bottom.  And the sensors are distinct from the four grasping teeth at the front of the mouth.  Got it.

The sensors on the panda's upper jaw are easy enough to find--they're right behind the teeth:


There are only two of them, though.

And there are no sensors whatsoever on the lower half of the jaw:

That's all flat, smooth plastic.
The picture is way off here.  What actually has to happen is that the two sensors on the upper jaw (the only two sensors) have to be connected to each other.  This will complete the circuit.  There are white wires inside the panda's lower jaw that connect the upper sensors to the batteries.

It's probably worth mentioning that the on/off switch is also required to complete the circuit--this is how on/off switches work.  The "off" setting breaks the circuit in some way and thereby stops the flow of electricity.

In fact, the wire clip that connects the panda to the headphone jack is also needed to complete a circuit.  If that clip is disconnected, the circuit is broken.  So this panda speaker essentially has three on/off switches.  The last of which is a slice of apple.

Actually, I didn't have any apples in the house, so I used a strawberry instead.  I like this because it looks like a tongue:


Blah!
So here's everything all connected to my iPhone.  Yes, that's a 4S.  I'm old-fashioned.


The circuits are complete now because the on/off switch is on, the connection points on the cable clip are aligned...and the strawberry is connecting the two mouth sensors.

Let's hear this puppy in action!

video

Ouch.  It doesn't actually sound very good, does it.  The sound is tinny and distorted.  Oh, well.

To me, the bigger problem is that it's highly impractical to have fresh fruit sitting inside a speaker in a  kid's room--or anywhere near electronics and toys, for that matter.  That strawberry slice would have been moldy and disgusting within two days.

I ate the strawberry, cleaned the panda's mouth, and then went looking for other options.  

Kids might have fun inserting their fingers into the panda's mouth to complete the circuit (that works because we have moisture in our bodies...).  But of course moisture isn't the only thing that conducts electricity.  Metal is also good at conducting, so I went in search of a metal that would be easy to find in most households.  

I tried a quarter first: 


This fits nicely inside the panda's mouth, but the panda's jaws can't clamp down on the hard metal, so the connection keeps getting lost:

video

Next, I tried some aluminum foil.  This is a soft metal, and so I was able to fold it into a layered rectangle that could be chomped by the panda's teeth:

Yum.
This worked much better:

video

The best thing about the aluminum foil is that it's mess-free and can be left sitting around in a kid's room for as long as necessary.  It can also be cut or twisted into different fun shapes, so that's a creative bonus.  I prefer a tongue shape myself:

review

The speaker might not work very well, but since it's in the shape of a panda, it has the extra value of being a quirky little companion accessory for Bryden.  If I were playing a game with these two, I'd pretend that the panda is a robot rather than a speaker.  That could be fun.


Since I looked at two equivalent dolls today, I decided to pick winners in each of three categories: best doll, best outfit and best accessory project.

Best doll: Ember Evergreen.  I love her silky red hair and freckled face.  Her hair is a huge improvement over the first wave McKeyla doll that I reviewed last year.  Her articulation also seems like a mild improvement over McKeyla, but I think this is just the luck of the draw.  There's no obvious change in the shape or construction of the bodies.  If Ember's eyes weren't wonky and her articulation was better designed, she'd be great.  I like Bryden, too, but her hair is a frizzy mess and her face is not quite as nice as the first wave basic Bryden--I still prefer that older doll. 

Best outfit: Bryden wins this hands down--because of that dreamy technicolor coat.  I even like the code shirt despite its apparent shortcomings.  I appreciate the stability of Ember's boots, but Bryden's outfit is better when looked at as a whole.  Or maybe it's just better because of my personal taste.  The Project Mcclothing is well-tuned to each character's personality archetype.  Both outfits are fun.  This is still a strong selling point for the line.

Best project: this was the hardest decision, but I'll cautiously give the win to the hanging garden.  

The panda speaker concept caused me to ask myself a lot of great questions, and the wide range of everyday conductor options is great for encouraging kids to experiment.  Also, this project actually came with everything that was needed.  I did not have to purchase a single extra item.  Not even batteries.  However, the panda is a terrible speaker and doesn't have obvious staying power as a toy.  If you have a child curious about electricity and circuits, I would highly recommend the Snap Circuits line of toys instead.  They are amazing.

On one level, the hanging garden is a total cop-out as a project.  All you get is a plastic terrarium and a long shopping list.  I was really grouchy about this accessory for the first few days of working on the review.  However, with the modest addition of an air plant, I've changed my mind.  The terrarium has an attractive gemstone design, it's small and easy to display, and most importantly, it inspired me to buy a very cool new plant.  The plant itself is an exotic-looking and easy-to-care-for addition to my household.  Also, the arrival of Tillandsia bromeliads piqued my curiosity, and I've learned quite a lot about epiphytes and trichomes in the last 24 hours.  Even if--like me--you decide to skip the messy planting part of this project, there's still potential for scientific curiosity in learning how to take care of an air plant.  If MGA had been generous enough to include, say, a certificate for a free plant (or even if they'd offered up a cactus seed...) I'd be cheering.  In other words:

//Nice concise conclusion
if(MGA_provided_a_plant) {
window.alert(“I'd be cheering!”);
}

The winners in each category.
Bottom line? Basically, the theme that's emerged for me with these dolls is that looking at one of them does not provide enough data to pass judgement on the whole collection.

What do I mean?  Well, for example, Ember's hair is wonderful--her best feature, in fact--and McKeyla and Bryden's hair is not so great.  McKeyla has a lot of articulation glitches, but Ember and Bryden have fewer of these.  McKeyla and Bryden have lovely inset eyes, but Ember's eyes are wonk-o-rama.  All of the clothing is good, but the balance of hits and misses will depend on your personal reaction to each character's style.

The S.T.E.A.M. project accessories are all over the map.  First of all, you can't really count on being able to open the box and do an activity immediately since some of the projects require obscure additional items.  Furthermore, you won't know what each project requires until you open the box...which might be problematic around the holidays.  Even once you have everything gathered for a particular activity, the entertainment value and staying power of that activity is unpredictable.  McKeyla's project requires very little extra shopping and would be fun to do over and over again.  Bryden's speaker project requires practically nothing extra, but the project itself is underwhelming and has very little long-term value.  Ember's garden is basically just providing you with an idea (a good one, though...) and it's up to you and your child to make the whole thing worthwhile.  None of the projects have enough science content in their descriptions for my taste.

So, here's my summary: the dolls have a lot of joints, which is great, but the joints do not perform as well as they should.  The hair can be wonderful or awful--choose your doll carefully.  The eyes can be wonderful or awful--choose your doll in person if you can.  The clothing design is uniformly fun and each character has her own unique style.  The projects are incredibly hit-or-miss, but--for whatever inexplicable reason--I'm still drawn to these accessories like a dog to a squirrel.  Overall, I value these nerdy Project Mc2 girls for their outfits and their accessories.  Their flaws apparently do not deter me from eagerly waiting to see what wacky S.T.E.A.M. activity they're going to try next...and what they'll be wearing when they do it.

review

23 comments:

  1. Great review Emily! I wasn't too impressed with these dolls at first, but now I'm thinking I might need to get a Bryden. She has such gorgeous coloring. Good luck with your first child going to college! I'm sure he'll do fine. I'm a sophomore in college, but still living with my parents so they haven't had to let their youngest go yet ;) Can't wait to see the finished My Twinns.

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  2. Interesting to read more about this line! I really like the overall concept (and I always like seeing playline dolls with inset eyes), but the unevenness of the execution that you've pointed out here really takes away from the idea behind it.

    And good luck for your son's move!

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  3. Hi Emily! The LORI 6" doll brand is rolling out a line of horses, a barn, and a trailer for their line. I know you'll at least want to visit that toy aisle, when things have calmed down. :)

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  4. about the feet. Camryn and mckeyla have flat feet, and adrienna, bryden and the new 2 girls have high heeled feet. I own all 4 of the originals and have bought a lot of the budgets and second edition on clearance to use the clothing off. I'm definatly bying the new girls just for the outfits :)

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  5. I love that Bryden a lot! She may be my first Mc2 doll. Lovely review, and good luck for your son!

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  6. Thanks for writing this detailed review, Emily! The only question I would have would be if these dolls could be used with Barbie heads. (Alas, that is how I look st articulated dolls in 1:6 scale - as donor bodies - ack!) Not that the dolls aren't lovely on their own. And I have inset eyed dolls (cough, Ideal Crissy and Kerry et al). Just always looking for body donors.

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    Replies
    1. Hiya. I have all 4 of the original dolls and I gave them all Liv doll bodies because the quality of their bodies are pathetic, IMHO. They can still wear most of the MC2 doll clothes. Shoes are a little big but they wear them anyway. Made to Move Barbie bodies are much better quality as well.

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  7. This series - both dolls and show - is a really great MGAE idea and I honestly wish they'd simply admit that Bratz are past their heyday and pool all their resources into this instead. Beyond the concept of the dolls as stand alone toys their body fits both Descendants and Barbie so if MGAE were really on the ball they'd get to making more fashion packs since all of the girls have very cute clothing so to limit them to 2 outfits per wave via dolls is slightly disappointing and with the multi doll compatibility they could pump out at least one more look per girl.

    I have a soft spot for Brydens - complexion connection I guess - and have both the first wave and second articulated waves for her (the second wave Bryden still has the crimped hair and a narrow wristed light up bracelet that only needs water to work) and I'm trying to grab the unarticulated versions for her second and third waves too. This one has really great make-up and while I don't mind the hair change it does need more refining.

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    1. It would be awesome to see some fashion packs for this line. I don't collect the dolls, but I would buy the fashions for the dolls that I have.

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  8. Great review. I always check your blog first before I buy a doll. I can learn all about the doll before I buy it. I have all of the original MC2 dolls so far. I love their clothes, shoes and heads and that's about it.

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  9. I love ginger-haired dolls too! I have 2 first wave dolls (Mckayla and Camryn) and will be very tempted to get Ember once she's available in the UK. I think their bodies are kind of weird (big bottoms...) but the clothes and faces win out :-) Thanks for the review!

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  10. The shoes look to be a strange mix of a NES (Nintendo entertainment system) and a SNES (Super NES).
    I am certainly excited for these girls to come to Australia.

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  11. Where did you buy them? I was looking around for Devon, but I can't find her (or Ember)anywhere. Also I know this is about the dolls, but side note on the show. My mom, little sister and I have watched it. While it is entertaining,and a bit cheesy. Also I know it's supposed to be boosting smart as cool, but I noticed it has a strong feminist theme. Which is fine as in girl power, but all the male characters are either weak, weird, clueless, or dumb. This can't be a healthy way for girls to view boys. We can both do great things and I'd like see some actual equality in representation in the show.

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    Replies
    1. My daughter, who is six now, watched the first season with me, and actually whined to stop watching because she saw the girls as dumb for making mistakes that even she identified as mistakes, and for making all the boys so stupid. She as actually offended by that! It's not at all feminist to send the message that boys have to be stupid so girls can show themselves as being smart.

      So it's not just us adults seeing problems in the show. A young child saw it very quickly, and she refuses to watch anymore, and even though it's been several months, she still scoffs when she sees the dolls in stores and calls the girls dumb. She can't see them as smart when they made so many basic mistakes that were never addressed, and the boys all have to be stupid. I want to get her the new Bryden doll, but may have to open it and give it to her that way--without the identifying box--since she likely wouldn't want anything to do with it otherwise.

      Great job, toy company. Your show has actually pushed a kid away from science, at least the stuff with the dolls.

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  12. I have some thoughts on their outfits (which are great, btw)
    Bryden's coat is a TV test pattern! Isn't it even cooler knowing that?

    And I think Ember's headband and belt can be interchanged and that's what the pegs are for. Wear the belt as a headband, flowers on the waist. That's what I would do anyway.

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  13. Congrats to your son and good luck to him & all your family! I'm sure it's a bittersweet time and it's understandable you want to make the most of it.

    Ember is a lovely doll, she reminds me of a model on whatever Project Runway season I'm binge-watching. But that horribly wonky stare is way too distracting! Can't wait to see the MyTwinn girls. :)

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  14. I really enjoyed this second thorough review of this doll line. I've been seeing them regularly during my visits to local toy stores, and I almost feel like I should like them, since their inset eyes and their overall feel remind me of Moxie Teenz. I'll be reconsidering them during my next visit to the store - I'd like to find a girl with good hair and good eyes, since the doll herself is always my main priority during a purchase.

    Emily, I've been wondering: have you considered setting up a Patreon? It seems like a more reliable way for a blogger to make money than an ad-based system, but then again, I only know them from a consumer perspective. But I thought I'd suggest it to you, since your reviews are so good, I'm convinced people would want to contribute to see posts from you. I do, in any case!

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  15. We aren't fans at all of the first season of this show (the girls are, frankly, IDIOTS--for instance, the social media "genius" posted online and didn't turn off location services, which resulted in the prince's location being discovered, and no one had any real issue with this), and the doll names are pretty dumb. Neither my daughter nor I have any interest in watching the second season.

    But Ember is a pretty doll. Box-photo doll DOES have McKeyla's face mold, and Devon and Camryn share a mold as well.

    The list of "household items" is not reasonable. I happen to have activated charcoal (not the same as fireplace coal) by chance, and peat moss only as left-overs from a photo project, and carrot seeds included in a Burgerville kids' meal (Oregon and Washington have a strange fast food joint...). There's no way I'd buy what I don't have for this project.

    Bryden's shirt is definitely meant to be javascript, but is incorrect. Your son has it right. Also the ) is closing the window.alert, and the ; is signaling a new line with the } closing...ah, forget it. It's legit, but piss-poor code writing that would get developers fired.

    iPhone 4? I literally broke TEN of those. TEN.

    Better outfit: Bryden's. Ember's is my personal style, but the detail on Bryden's coat is impressive, even to someone as picky as me.

    Better project: Bryden's, easily. Ember's is such a cheap cop-out that it's merely a decoration without any way for kids to learn without the internet to research. But my daughter could use Bryden's project to experiment with different objects to see what can finish circuits. From an educational stand-point of a mother of a child in the target audience, there's nothing of value in Ember's decoration (no, saying to just grab a computer connected to the internet doesn't work here), but a surprising amount in Bryden's. Even though we can't stand the series on Netflix, this is a doll I will get for my daughter, and it's entirely for that speaker.

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  16. Hi Emily :)

    Thank you for thie greta review. I absolutely love Ember. She reminds me so much of Luna Lovegood.

    I'm so glad you're back.

    Have a lovely weekend.

    Séverine

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  17. Ember's boots look great. I like this version of Bryden too. I think the lighter lips compliment her face more.

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  18. Emily, I really hate to out-science you, but the Mc2 brushes are Erlenmeyer flasks. Beakers are the cylindrical containers with the pouring lip used for tests and reactions, flasks are the conical containers.

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  19. Gah, I hate when I have leftover thoughts I forget to put in my first comment.

    1. Ember's name frightens me, as it literally connotes forest fires.
    2. This line has potential, and I do like some of the dolls and projects. Camryn has a great RC hoverboard, andDevon D'Marco and the invisible ink McKeyla with her amazing trench coat are two good designs (It helps that Devon looks very much like a human version of Monster High's Elle- black and blue hair in a high ponytail, purple eyes...close enough). I may look into getting one someday.

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  20. pieguska intryguje - ale to brunetki
    z grzywką będę wypatrywać w sklepach :)

    ubrania i dodatki dziewczęta mają świetne!

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I value and welcome all opinions, but comments with abusive or offensive language will be deleted.