I want to start this year off right by reviewing two new dolls from one of my very favorite companies: Maru and Friends. As you might recall, the redheaded Savannah character from Maru's 18-inch line is one of my most treasured, beautiful play dolls.
Maru and Friends recently introduced a collection of mini dolls (the Mini Pals) who are 13-inch versions of the larger characters. So far Maru, Tanya, Savannah and a little boy (Chad) have been added to the website. I'm embarrassed to say that I've been pre-ordering these adorable Mini Pals as fast as Maru and Friends announces them. As advertised, the first two dolls in the series--Maru and Tanya--arrived at my house just in time for Christmas. Mini Maru arrived outfitted perfectly for the holiday, too, in a beautiful miniature of the Dazzling Holidays red taffeta dress:
|Maru Mini Pal from Maru and Friends ($89).|
Before I review Maru and Tanya, though, I have to tell you a little bit about what's been going on around here.
The theme of the last few weeks has been that we get good news and bad news at the same time. For example, the whole family got to enjoy an incredible Christmas trip to Puerto Rico...but we were sick the whole time. Then, we were extremely fortunate to fly home just ahead of a huge nor'easter heading for Maine...but that storm brought a foot of snow, massive power outages and some inappropriately-placed trees:
That's a picture of my studio with a branch sticking through the ceiling. A huge maple tree deposited this souvenir as it plummeted to the ground...missing our home by (literally) inches. We are super-lucky.
Notice how offended Sleeping Beauty looks:
I'm not sure exactly what this means for the blog yet, but I think it's fair to say that I might suffer some delays as we get things patched up. So far, we've just left the branch where it is. It's doing a surprisingly awesome job of plugging the hole in the house. I suppose eventually we'll have to remove it, though. Sigh.
On a purely positive note, the blog reached a very cool benchmark right before New Year's Eve:
Because of you, there have been seven million visits to this site since its launch. I should probably start thinking of something really amazing to do for whenever I reach ten million views, but seven million seems colossal and amazing right now. Thank you for your epic support!
Fortunately, this theme of simultaneous good and bad events is not relevant to the Maru and Friends Mini Pals. They are absolutely wonderful.
Mini Maru arrived in a bright orange cardboard window box:
This box is similar to the larger Maru boxes, but it opens at the ends instead of having a completely removable shoebox-style lid.
The back of the box has some text at the top:
Maru herself is attached to an orange cardboard insert that pulls out of the top (or bottom) of the main box. She's secured with white satin ribbons and a hair net:
She comes with a certificate of authenticity and a headband:
I'm very happy that the headband was wrapped separately to avoid staining the doll. In fact, I was so worried about all of the red in this outfit that I emailed Ms. Gutierrez (the founder of Maru and Friends) before I placed my order--just to make sure that Maru's dress was fully-lined (it is). Of course it is. I should have known.
Maru is described as being part of a Limited Edition Series:
I emailed to ask about the limitation of these dolls, too. Ms. Gutierrez explained that mini Maru is not limited. Her red dress is limited, though: the next wave of Maru Mini Pal dolls will come wearing a different outfit. To add one more level of complexity, I think that the Chad Mini Pal doll is limited. The Maru and Friends website declares him a limited edition of 1500. He's special.
It's good that most of these dolls aren't limited. I suspect they'll be very popular. I mean, look at Maru:
She's freakin' adorable. Her size seems perfect to me, too. She's large enough to feel substantial in my hands and large enough to have clear, detailed facial features, but she's also compact enough to carry around easily (I fit both Maru and Tanya into my suitcase for Puerto Rico...).
Maru's long dark hair and brown eyes are complimented perfectly by her red taffeta dress:
Maru is a wigged doll--just like the 18-inch Maru--and the hair fiber is silky, shiny, smooth and lovely to play with.
The wig is densely stitched and the wig cap is hard to reveal. There are some shorter hairs inserted close to the scalp (just like with the American Girl WellieWishers wigs) but the short hairs are not obvious and do not tend to stick out.
I don't own the 18-inch Maru doll, but I think the Mini Pal interpretation of the Maru face mold is a spot-on replica. In fact, when I'm browsing the Maru and Friends website, it always takes me a second or two to figure out which version of the character I'm looking at.
I tried using Maru's red headband to pull her bangs away from her face, but the bangs are a bit too short for this to work perfectly:
Here's the headband as it was meant to be used:
Maru looks cute like this, but I think I prefer her with unadorned hair.
Like the 18-inch dolls, this Maru has fixed, inset eyes. She has applied lashes on the top of her eyes and painted lashes underneath:
Maru's eyes are a beautiful chocolate brown color. They're rich and dark, but not so dark that the eyes appear blank and lifeless:
The eyebrows are composed of a series of cross-hatched light brown lines. This effect looks great from a distance, but it's not as realistic up-close:
It's amazing to me how many of the features of the 18-inch dolls have been faithfully replicated in this smaller scale.
One thing that's different about the Mini Pals (and something that surprised me when I first got Maru out of her box) is that the bodies are made out of soft vinyl. The larger dolls are made out of hard vinyl and do not have any flexibly within their limbs. Maru's arms and legs can be bent quite a bit, and her torso can be compressed.
In fact, the vinyl is so soft that Maru can actually interlace her fingers:
This is a really fun feature. It gives the arms more posing freedom than the limited articulation suggests.
The only downside to the flexible vinyl is that it can be difficult to balance these dolls on less-than-flat terrain, or when their legs aren't positioned straight up and down.
I love Maru's red taffeta dress. Even before I knew about the Mini Pals, I was eyeing the version of this outfit that's available for the 18-inch dolls:
The dress is crisp and bright with a full gathered skirt, puffed 1/4 sleeves, and a ribbon sash:
The dress opens in the back with three metal snaps:
The ribbon bow is attached to one side of the opening seam and does not need to be untied in order to remove the dress. It's a great design:
I love the fabric of this dress. It has nice body and just the right amount of shine:
The ribbed waistband offers a nice splash of textured contrast:
The entire dress is lined with a pale beige fabric:
Under the dress, Maru is wearing white rib-knit tights and patent leather flats:
The shoes have a ballet slipper style with a bow at the front and an elastic band strap to hold them securely in place:
Under her tights, Maru is sporting a pair of white cotton underpants:
I love everything about this outfit except for one small detail. Despite all of the precautionary efforts, the red dress left some faint stains under Maru's arms:
You can see how this happened by looking at the inside of the dress:
The red taffeta peeks through the back of the seam just enough to cause trouble. Because of this, I probably won't display Maru in her red dress. I worry that the staining could worsen with time--or that other small areas of exposed red might create new stains. As they are right now, these faint marks do not bother me at all.
Update: Maru and Friends already has a fix underway for this small issue! Amazing.
Here's a look at Maru's body mold:
She is strung with elastic and has five points of articulation. As I mentioned before, her entire body is made out of soft vinyl.
I find the shape of Maru's lower back a little odd. She has a deep indentation that runs from in between her shoulder blades (where an indentation looks natural) all of the way down to the small of her back (where it doesn't look very natural):
It's hard to capture this shape on camera because of the pale vinyl and subtle shadows. I've tried to enhance the contrast in this next picture to make it a little more obvious--just so you know what I'm talking about:
Maru's strung limbs have a nice range of motion. She can do full front-to-back splits and can move her arms in any direction. Her limbs hold their position well, too:
There's not a huge amount of tension in Maru's elastic, either, so she has some side-to-side play in the movement of her hips:
And, as you can see, she has some additional flexibility because of the soft vinyl:
All of the Maru and Friends dolls--including the Mini Pals--were sculpted by the super-talented Dianna Effner. As you might recall, Ms. Effner also makes her own line of 13-inch, high-quality, hand-painted dolls called the Little Darlings. My Little Darling, Rowan, is one of my most prized possessions. The wait time to purchase a Little Darling can stretch for longer than a year, though, and the dolls cost just under $400.
These new Mini Pals are almost the same size as the Little Darlings, and they offer a wonderful, accessible, affordable alternative to Ms. Effner's popular creations. Here's Maru next to my Rowan so that you can see the similarities and differences:
You can't see this difference, per se, but keep in mind that Rowan is made out of heavy, hard vinyl while Maru is soft and pliable. There's also a yellowish tinge to Rowan's skin that becomes more obvious when she's standing next to Maru.
Maru is slightly taller than Rowan, but a lot of this height is in the neck and head. The head molds are quite different.
These two dolls are clearly not made from the same mold, but they have enough similarity that it's clear they're related.
Rowan does not share Maru's indented back shape:
The biggest difference between these two, of course, is that Rowan's face was masterfully hand-painted by Geri Uribe:
It'd be impossible to duplicate that face with inset eyes and factory paint.
The Mini Pals and Little Darlings should be able to share many items of clothing. Here's Rowan wearing Maru's beautiful dress:
The dress is a little bit loose around the upper chest and neck, but the fit is good overall and the style suits her perfectly.
Maru's shoes are also quite loose on Rowan:
If Rowan were wearing stockings, the fit would be improved.
ok, here's a freaky detail that I just noticed: I reviewed Rowan on January 6th of 2014 (today is January 6th), and I started that review by saying "Happy New Year" (exactly like I started this review). Strange coincidence, right?
Anyway, I also wanted to compare the Mini Pal body to the full-sized Maru and Friends body. To help with that comparison, here's the newest 18-inch Maru and Friends character, Valentina:
I've been dreaming about getting a second 18-inch Maru and Friends doll ever since my review of Savannah back in 2014. I was thinking about purchasing big Maru for this review, but then Valentina became available as part of an awesome Black Friday sale. I was able to get her and Raven for under $200. Both are gorgeous. I plan to do a little feature on this pair later in the year.
Anyway, as far as I can tell Valentina's body is exactly the same as Savannah's body:
Here's Valentina next to Maru:
|18" Valentina and 13" Maru.|
Maru's body is almost an exact miniature of Valentina's body. The two even have the same hand mold:
The only two differences I see are that Maru's arms are proportionally longer and the indentation in Valentina's back is not as obvious as the one on Mini Maru's back:
Valentina comes wearing a ballet outfit. This is a fine outfit, but I wanted to have some everyday clothes for Valentina, too. So, I bought her the large version of Dazzling Holidays. Here's a quick peek so that you can compare this outfit to the miniature:
The outfit has most of the same components as Mini Maru's outfit (dress, headband, tights, shoes), but it's missing the underwear.
The two dresses are extremely similar, with two noteworthy differences. First, the sash on the large dress is made out of pleated fabric--not ribbon:
Second, the sash has to be tied in back--it's not a prefabricated bow that unsnaps at the waist:
|I probably could have done a better job with that bow.|
The shoes are also quite different. They don't look like ballet slippers and they have flower accents on the toes:
The straps are also covered with delicate tulle ruffles:
These shoes are quite hard to get on, though, especially when Valentina is wearing her tights.
Both versions of the outfit are exquisitely-made and look beautiful on the dolls. I actually prefer the smaller dress, though. The ribbon sash looks great and is refreshingly easy to use.
*Update: Farrah, Rebecca and Kristy were curious to see some pictures of Maru with the WellieWishers and the Hearts 4 Hearts dolls. As usual, I didn't even consider these comparisons because the large heads of the other brands threw off my size similarity radar.
Here's Maru with Hearts 4 Hearts Consuelo:
|Hearts 4 Hearts Consuelo (left) with Mini Pal Maru.|
These two are very similar. I assumed Maru would be smaller, but she's actually slightly wider through the torso.
Maru's beautiful dress fits Consuelo really nicely:
|Hearts 4 Hearts Consuelo wearing Mini Pal Maru's dress.|
And while Consuelo's clothes technically fit Maru, they look small (especially the top):
|Mini Pal Maru wearing a Hearts 4 Hearts outfit.|
Maru and Consuelo can't swap shoes. Consuelo's feet are slightly larger.
Now here's Maru with WellieWishers Kendall:
|American Girl's WellieWisher Kendall with Mini Pal Maru.|
Kendall's torso also looks slimmer than Maru's, but Kendall's limbs are thicker. In fact, Maru's dress won't fit over Kendall's arms...but Kendall's clothes look great on Maru:
|WellieWisher Kendall and Mini Pal Maru swapping clothes.|
I'm actually thinking about removing the big bow on Kendall's shirt because it's the only thing that looks out-of-place with Maru's scale--the rest of the outfit really suits her:
Mini Pal Maru wearing WellieWisher clothing.
Maru and Kendall can't share shoes. Kendall's feet are much bigger.
Thank you so much to Farrah and Rebecca for suggesting these great comparisons! Good call.
I redressed Maru in her Dazzling Holidays outfit for a few more pictures:
The Mini Pals are slightly harder to dress and undress than their 18-inch counterparts. This is not because of their size (that actually makes dressing easier...) but because of the friction on their soft vinyl limbs. The sleeves and tights, in particular, take a while to maneuver.
It's more than worth the trouble, though:
Here are Maru and Valentina together, showing off their matching red dresses:
|Maru Mini Pal and Valentina...both wearing Dazzling Holidays.|
I adore Mini Maru. She won me over the very first moment I peeked into the box and saw her sweet face. If I hadn't ordered the other Mini Pals the moment they were announced, I would have ordered them immediately after seeing Maru.
While the Savannah and Chad characters aren't due to arrive until spring, Tanya showed up at my house just two days after Maru.
This cutie comes in a miniature version of the knitted outfit that 18-inch Tanya is wearing:
Mini Tanya does not have the same face mold as Mini Maru. Her face is a nice miniature of the larger Tanya's face:
Here are the two faces side-by-side:
Maru has a more pronounced chin, a smaller nose and (I think) wider eyes (?). I actually find it really challenging to see the differences between these two faces.
Both faces have some asymmetry, but with Tanya, this asymmetry makes her eyes look poorly-placed. I actually think that the eyes are set straight in their sockets, but the sockets themselves are askew. I drew some lines across this picture to help evaluate what's going on:
The whole left eye socket is set higher on the face than the right eye socket.
Tanya has light brown eyes that remind me of a tiger. I think they're beautiful:
Here's a real tiger eye for comparison--intense, right?
Tanya has gorgeous dark red hair with thick waves. I was nervous to brush this wig at first, but it actually brushes out beautifully and the fiber is nice and smooth. It's not quite as easy to manage as Maru's poker-straight hair, but it's a lot more dramatic.
Tanya is wearing a turquoise belted sweater over matching knit tights:
The belt's bow unties...
...and there are four decorative covered buttons down the front of the sweater:
The sweater actually closes with four metal snaps:
The sweater is very finely-knitted and the cable detail is great. I also love the ribbed cuffs and hem. It's a really well-made piece.
Tanya is wearing black imitation leather boots that open down the side with velcro:
The velcro on the boots does not mix well with the tights. It takes some care to keep the velcro from snagging the tights.
The tights have full feet--including little knitted seams to accommodate Tanya's heels:
Here are a few more pictures of Tanya back in her full outfit:
The boots help Tanya balance and enable her to hold a few poses that are challenging for Maru:
Tanya and Maru make a great pair. I love the combination of bright, jewel-toned colors in their outfits:
|Mini Pal dolls Maru (left) and Tanya (right).|
The two girls have slightly different skin tones. Maru is Latina and Tanya is African-American.
I like how Tanya's mix of caramel skin and light brown eyes looks with Maru's china-white skin and dark brown eyes. There's contrast and symmetry at the same time:
|Mini Pal dolls Maru (left) and Tanya (right).|
I also like that the girls have different hair textures and colors.
Maru and Friends clearly put a lot of thought into the Mini Pal release schedule. Tanya and Maru make a delightful wintery pair, and Savannah and Chad will be perfect for spring. I just hope that mini Raven, Jamie and Valentina won't be too far behind!
Because of the recent storms, Maine has become a great snowy backdrop for Maru and Tanya. I wanted to take this pair outside for some photos in natural lighting, but of course Maru needed a slightly warmer outfit before she could venture into the cold.
I got her the Snowflakes coat, hat and boot set that's available for the Mini Pals. This set features a gorgeous knee-length white fleece coat with fur trim and heart-shaped buttons:
|Maru Mini Pal wearing the Snowflakes outfit ($29.99).|
This outfit is also available for the 18-inch dolls ($40.99). It compliments the Dazzling Holidays dress really well.
Here's a close-up of the boot design:
Decked out in this beautiful ensemble, Maru headed outside. She couldn't make it much farther than our backyard because of the deep snow, but there was plenty to explore even in that small area.
For example, the snow had weighed the tree branches down so that all of the little buds and patches of lichen could be inspected:
As the sun came out, big clumps of snow started to slide off the branches of the evergreens. Undaunted by the falling snow, Maru ventured closer to the woods, eager to smell the pines and look for squirrels:
I loved watching Maru against the pristine white snow and bright green trees.
As the day warmed up, Tanya decided to come outside, too.
This girl practically glows in the sunshine:
Her coppery hair and golden eyes catch the light in beautiful ways:
While Tanya was happy to stay out of the woods, I had no luck keeping her out of the snow. She was excited to make a few snow angels...
...and she probably would have stayed outside all day making igloos if her sweater hadn't gotten wet and uncomfortable.
Here's one last picture of her in the sun--look at that hair!
Ok, so now I have to admit something unusual about this review: the whole thing was done backwards.
In other words, the pictures at the beginning of this post are actually the last pictures I took. The pictures in the snow? They were taken before I photographed the dolls indoors.
In reality, the first thing that happened with Maru and Tanya is that they arrived at my house just before Christmas, I took them out of their boxes, dressed them for warm weather, and whisked them off to Puerto Rico!
Fortunately, I had the two cotton dresses that I bought for my Zapf Cinderella doll, and these were the perfect clothes for the girls to wear in 85 degree Caribbean weather.
We went to this gorgeous little island called Culebra. We stayed in a quiet spot just a few minutes from the water, in a pretty little house with decks all around. Everyone enjoyed the views from this magnificent location!
The house we rented is called Pastel House because of the pastel colors on the outside walls. It's easy to spot this place from a distance!
The girls enjoyed posing against the blue and pink exterior walls:
Of course the best part of this trip was how close we were to the water. Maru liked the sandy beaches the best:
(Although because of her soft vinyl legs, she was almost impossible to balance in the sand!)
Maru also liked climbing the nearby trees...although she might have been doing this to escape the roosters. There were feral chickens all over the island. They were really fun to watch!
Much of the coastline near our cottage was rocky:
These rocky areas were Tanya's favorite.
She was constantly scrabbling over the rocks to hunt for wildlife or find a good view.
Tanya didn't bring her snorkeling gear, but she was fascinated by all of the coral skeletons that lined the rocky beaches:
I went in search of some fun backgrounds to use for my photos. Maru thought the green in this sea grass would be nice...
And both girls wanted a portrait that would document the brilliant, cloudless blue sky:
But the best backdrop came unexpectedly, right at the very end of our trip. A storm blew in one night, just before the sun went down. This storm brought a lot of wind and a torrential downpour of cool rain...all of which lasted only minutes.
It was refreshing and exciting, and it left behind this amazing rainbow:
Maru spotted the rainbow, so she was the one who got to pose beneath it:
I think this was her favorite part of the whole trip.
Awed by the rainbow and cooled by the rain, we all settled in for our last night. We sat on the deck and watched the sun go down in spectacular fashion.
Bottom line? I could not have picked better Christmas dolls nor better companions for such a special trip. As gorgeous and unspoiled as the Puerto Rican island scenery is, the Maru and Friends girls fit right in.
There are a few things to be aware of when considering these dolls, though. First, they are made out of soft vinyl and so they don't feel exactly like the larger Maru and Friends dolls, nor do they feel like the similarly-sized Little Darling dolls that are also sculpted by Dianna Effner. Some other little details are that Tanya's face mold might make her eyes look wonky, Maru's red dress might cause some minor staining in the areas where the red taffeta peeks through the lining, and the torso mold is a little strange in the back. But really...that's it. Everything else about these dolls is wonderful. I'm slightly conflicted about the prices (especially the prices of the outfit sets...those seem shocking), but when I think about it, this is a small company producing well-designed, high-quality items. The prices are not wrong.
As much as I love my 18-inch Maru and Friends Savannah (and, to a lesser extent, Valentina), I like these Mini Pals even more. All of the appeal and quality of the 18-inch girls has been brilliantly translated into a smaller scale--which is, to me, the perfect size.
I feel a yearning for magic around the holidays. I think this is a symptom of my getting older and reflecting on the joy and enthusiasm of my youth. I mean, Santa Mouse came to my house when I was a kid, for goodness sake! Most dolls bring me happiness of some kind, or at least they offer a diversion that's entertaining to think about. But every once and a while a doll line comes along that grabs my attention and won't let go. It's like a magic spell. I don't know exactly how to explain this, but I suspect those of you who collect dolls will know what I mean. It's the feverish obsession that was so prevalent in youth. The laying awake at night and dreaming about a doll (or a model horse) and having those dreams persist through the waking day, pushing aside more responsible thoughts. I'm not suggesting that everyone will have this reaction to the Mini Pals, but I certainly did. And I suppose when this happens, my value as a reviewer goes out the window.
So, for what it's worth, I'm completely smitten with the Mini Pals--especially Maru. She's remarkable. It's early days, sure, but I challenge 2017 to do any better.