Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Spirit Riding Free Toys by Breyer and Just Play

The original Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron movie by DreamWorks came out in 2002--the year my kids were two and four years old.  My four-year-old, in particular, was obsessed with this movie, in part because of the impressive steam engine featured in one of the climactic scenes.  At that time we were all listening to a series of tapes (yes, cassette tapes...) with songs about the construction of the transcontinental railroad, so both boys liked everything that had to do with trains.  Anyway, I loved the movie because of all the horses--and because the horses weren't given silly human voices.  Matt Damon adds a voice to some of Spirit's thoughts, but this is a rare occurrence, used only to forward the plot or explain a complicated scene.  The human protagonist in this movie is a kind-hearted Lakota teenager named Little Creek who yearns to ride Spirit, but knows when to stop trying.  It's a wonderful movie that will always have a special place in my heart.

In May of this year, DreamWorks premiered a new animated series on Netflix called Spirit Riding Free.  Season two of the series was released last week.  Fans of the original movie looked forward to this series with great anticipation, many of us hoping to rekindle the excitement we felt fifteen years ago when we were first introduced to Spirit's Wild West.

Both Just Play and Breyer have released a whole collection of Spirit Riding Free toys, and I will look at several of these in today's review.  I want to start the review by showing you something I bought right after I watched Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, though.  This is Breyer's 2002 model of Spirit himself:

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Breyer horse model, 2002.
Here's a full-body picture of the handsome fellow:

Breyer

Breyer has re-released this mold for Spirit Riding Free, but the new model has some subtle differences:


The new Spirit has a blaze on his face, and his coloring might be slightly muted--I can't really tell from the photographs that I found online.

I've read that the blaze is because the new Spirit is actually the original Spirit's son (?).  That's a little confusing, and it had a lot of fans freaking out before the release of the new series.

Anyway, my old Spirit model is marked with a silver mustang that designates it as an official member of the Spirit line:


The Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron animation included some human characteristics in the horse's eyes (including eyebrows).

  
And this eye style is reflected in Breyer's model:


This is a gorgeous, detailed figure that I have always felt captures the look and personality of the movie character to near perfection:


I started with those pictures because a lot of people (both in my generation and in my son's) waited for the Netflix series with treasured memories of the original movie...and the original Spirit...held firmly and fondly in our minds.  I'm certainly among those who adore Spirit, although I think maybe my son was rooting for the train in that one scene....

In any case, I did my best to watch the new show and critique all of the toys with the most open mind possible.  I do love horse and rider sets, after all, and Spirit Riding Free has produced a huge number of those.  Let's take a look at a few of them.

First, here's Breyer's larger version of Spirit and Lucky:

Spirit and Lucky by Breyer, $29.99.
I found this set online for around $22, but the MSRP is $29.99.  The horse is slightly smaller than a Traditional Series (1:9) size Breyer model, and the price is about half that of a Traditional model.

Fortuna Prescott (a.k.a. Lucky) is the young girl who befriends Spirit in this series.  She's shown on the front of the box riding Spirit, a sight that probably makes fans of the original movie cringe:


That's good enough evidence for me that this cannot possibly be the fiercely independent Spirit who we all know and love.  Must be his pushover kid.

And yes, the Lakota teenager was replaced by a rich white girl.

The back of the box has a synopsis of the show and a picture of the six main characters:


Here's the synopsis--in English and French:



And here's a closer look at the main characters:

From left: Chica Linda with Prudence, Spirit with Lucky, Boomerang with Abigail.
I need to get something off my chest right from the start: these girls are all wearing 21st Century clothing and it drives me nuts.

My best guess for the setting of Spirit Riding Free is Miradero (fictional), Oregon (that's what Wikipedia says...) sometime around 1869 (when the transcontinental railroad was completed).  I found a neat picture of Oregon school children from the 1880s, but I can't afford the rights to share it with you here.  I also found a Public Domain photo from Rhode Island in 1900 that will give you at least an idea of what school attire looked like (in the East) a few decades later:

Public Domain
I don't see any leggings or cute tee shirts.
The show tries to get some historical details correct at the very beginning.  For example, Lucky arrives in Miradero by train, and she seems appropriately dressed for a wealthy city girl of the 19th Century:


The landscape and town look great...



In fact, every time I watch Spirit Riding Free, I get so pre-occupied with the Old West that I develop an irresistible craving to gallop around the landscape of my favorite video game--Red Dead Redemption for a while.  Maybe you can see why:

A town in Red Dead Redemption.
Despite how evocative the scenery of Spirit Riding Free is, before the first episode is over Lucky has changed into her modern outfit--and that's how she's dressed for the rest of the series.  I mean, I see why dresses would create a graphics challenge in a show that's all about girls riding around on their horses, but still.  I always lament a missed opportunity to connect kids with history.

I'm not a television show reviewer, but I will say that it's probably best to suspend disbelief on all things--not just fashion--before you watch Spirit Riding Free.  Here's one reason: Lucky is not supposed to be able to ride horses at all, and yet by the end of the very first episode, she's magically able to ride Spirit really fast, bareback...with no hands.

Yeah, right.
Another piece of advice is to try and avoid drawing comparisons between the original movie and the new show.  If you do, you will be forever distracted by questions: How can Spirit be away from his herd for so long?  Why would Spirit ever agree to be in a stall?  Is he eating too many apples?  Do the horses understand English?  What's so special about Lucky that she gets to ride Spirit?  Where's the eagle?  Why are the horses playing catch in the paddock??  It's best to just view this as its own kids show with lots of horses...one of whom happens to be named Spirit.

That said, I watched the whole first season (6 episodes) in one day, and plowed through the second season (7 episodes) the day it came out.  What can I say?  I really like the horses.

But let's get back to why we're here--to look at the toys!  Spirit and Lucky are attached to a colorful cardboard backdrop that slides pretty easily out of the main box:

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Lucky is attached to the backdrop mostly with rubber bands, and Spirit is attached mostly with wires.  The wires are a pain to cut, but are pretty easy to untwist.  Here's the backdrop on its own:


The backdrop scenery is highly reminiscent of the show:


Here are Lucky and Spirit together...with their hair still tied down:

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Right off the bat, I was charmed by Spirit's expression and a little underwhelmed by Lucky's expression:


I'll take a closer look at Spirit first.  His mane, forelock and tail all came tied with clear rubber bands.   Here he is with the bands removed:

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Is there any horse inside that hair?
All of the hair is way, way too long.  In fact, I'm not very happy that it's rooted hair, either.  I really love the realism that Breyer is able to achieve with molded hair, and I wish they'd stuck with that.

Hatchet hair.
The mane is totally shapeless, too, and it feels coarse and dry.  The hair fiber in the tail feels better, so I think perhaps the mane is just coated with too much stiff styling product.

I prefer the back side of Spirit, where I can see more of his nicely-molded conformation:

His tail is literally dragging on the ground.
Spirit does not feel like a normal Breyer model.  He's made out of thin, hollow plastic--more like a Lori horse (which I have not reviewed).  He's lightweight and makes a tinny sound when I tap on his side.  It doesn't feel safe to gallop him along the ground, for fear that a leg might snap off.

He has the little horse mark of DreamWorks' Spirit brand:

Not painted silver, though.
This horse has a narrower face and a darker buckskin color than the Spirit character in the television show:


He doesn't look much like me...
I know horses don't have eyebrows like this, but I've always found it clever how DreamWorks uses eyebrows to help their non-speaking horse characters be expressive in a way that humans can understand.  And no--the Spirit Riding Free horses don't talk, either, thank goodness.

The model has raised eyebrows and a cute smile:

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Ugh.  That forelock!
Here he is looking at the camera:

Can you fix my hair please?
His eyes are very humanoid, with pale irises, round pupils, and a lot of visible sclera (white):


Here's a real buckskin horse eye for comparison:

No white in sight.
From the front, Spirit's eyes look a little wonky

But not as wonky as his forelock.
And again, the shape of his face is significantly different than what's in the television show:

I've got, like, 10 apples stuffed in these cheeks.
Here are my two Breyer Spirit models together:

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Spirit...I am your father.
In addition to having rooted hair and being made out of hollow plastic, Spirit Junior is also quite a bit shorter and slimmer than the original.

Also notice how both horses are basically standing still, but the 2002 model manages to make standing still look majestic and strong:

Breyer 2002 Spirit model (left), and Breyer 2017 Spirit Riding Free toy (right).
In terms of quality, there's no contest between these two.  The 2002 Spirit is the far superior model.  His coloring is better, his pose is better, the dramatic movement in his mane and tail is better, he captures the character's look and personality better...everything's better.  His price is higher, too, though.

Here's Spirit with another Traditional Series Breyer horse (from the Let's Go Riding set review):

Now you know why I named this horse Cimarron...
The tack and accessories for the Traditional Series will not fit Spirit.

Now let's look at Breyer's version of Lucky:

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I was happily surprised to find that she stands on her own quite well.


Her long hair comes tied with two rubber bands:


This hair, like Spirit's, is way too long:


The hair fiber is soft and silky, though, and brushes out beautifully:


The rooting density is good, too, with no large bald areas:


Lucky's hair is much nicer than Spirit's hair.  Why wouldn't Breyer use the same hair fiber?  Again, maybe they did and it's just a difference in styling product use, but Lucky's hair sure feels different.

I thought that this doll looked strange in all of the promotional pictures.  She does have some odd facial features, like her oversized, wide-set, almond-shaped eyes...but she's pretty sweet in person:

Toy Box Philosopher

I couldn't get any great front-on comparison screenshots of Lucky from the show, but here's one that shows her neutral face pretty well:


The doll offers a pretty good interpretation of Lucky, but I do wish that she had the character's striking hazel green eyes.

I pulled Lucky's hair back with a small clip so that we could get a better look at her face.


She has slightly wonky light brown eyes, really high eyebrows, low cheeks, and a blunted nose.


The extreme length of her eyes is most apparent in partial profile, like this:

That is a really strange eye.
It reminds me a little of the Egyptian Eye of Horus:

Eye of Horus bw

But Lucky's profile, with its large chin and high forehead, is fairly accurate to the show:


Lucky is wearing a decent approximation of the character's historically inaccurate outfit:


Why on earth am I wearing this??
The jersey knit shirt has a small orange horse decal on the front:


The two horses come together to make a heart!


The sleeves of the shirt are short and cuffed:


The top opens all of the way down the back with plastic velcro:


The inside of the shirt looks a little messy.  There's some sizing around the neckline that's sticking up (I can't make it lay flat...) and pink staining all along the bottom hem:



The pink stains are from the bright red waistband of the leggings:



The leggings have three seams in the back:



I was sure that the red color would have stained Lucky's body...but it didn't.  Phew!

Lucky's boots are made out of brown vinyl and have a lot of painted detail:


I like the look of the red trim at the top of the boots, but this may have caused some staining trouble, as we'll see in a second.


Under the boots, Lucky has a flat foot mold, so she can stand on her own even when she's barefoot:


She has tiny feet with very little molded definition:


The leggings were hard to remove.  One of the legs turned inside-out when I pulled it off:


I had to use Lucky's leg to push the legging back inside-right while I was redressing her.  That worked fine.

Overall, the clothes look and feel well-made.  It's unfortunate that the leggings are prone to staining.

Lucky has a plastic torso with hard vinyl limbs.  She has seven points of articulation:

She has Disney Store legs, though.

Her balance is fine despite some warping in the lower part of each leg.  

Her legs are stained pretty badly.  The worst area is right where that band of red is painted onto the boots:


The staining is actually more extensive than just the area of red on the boot, so perhaps the color is from the brown leggings, not the boot.  Maybe a combination of both?



Lucky has the Breyer and DreamWorks marks on her back, and another Breyer mark on her head:



Lucky has simple rotation in her neck (she cannot look up and down) and hinged rotation in her shoulders.  Her elbows do not have any joints--they're molded into a slightly bent shape.  The vinyl in the arms is not very bendable, either, so she can't flex at the elbows much at all.

She can lift her arms away from her body...


...but she can't hold her arms close against her body.  They're always sticking out to the sides a little bit:


She can also spin her arms all of the way around:


The joints in her hips allow for partial side-to-side splits:


And full front-to-back splits:


She can sit nicely on the ground with her legs together...


...or apart:


Her knees have simple hinged movement with no rotation:


She cannot kneel on both knees at all:


But she can kneel on one knee...with a lot of balancing effort:


Both of her hands have the same basic shape, with the fingers slightly curled under.  This seems like a good pose for holding reins...although Spirit does not wear a bridle. 


The edge of the right hand has a molding defect, which gives the thumb a rough texture.

The feet are very simple, with only barely-noticeable toe nubs:


Lucky's articulation allows her to sit on Spirit's back very nicely:

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I'd say that overall Lucky is a bit too large for Spirit--especially if I judge by the proportions in the television show:


I think a regular Traditional Series Breyer horse would have been the perfect fit for this Lucky doll, so it's a little confusing why Breyer didn't stick with that well-known (and well-loved) scale.

In any case, the match is believable to me--certainly way better than most doll and horse combinations:



These two make a cute pair.  The doll is nicer than I expected, with good articulation and a sweet, versatile face that reminds me a bit of the television character.  Her hair is silky and smooth and her outfit is well-made and true to the show.  I just wish that her leggings hadn't stained her legs and her shirt.  

In contrast, the horse is not as nice as what I expected, especially from the Breyer company.  He's well-painted and has a very charismatic expression, but his hollow plastic construction feels fragile, and the shapeless rooted mane feels coarse and looks bad.  Also, even though he has great detail in his body mold, the pose is too restrained for this "unbreakable" character.  A galloping Spirit would have been much more appropriate.

Toy Box Philosopher

Here's a close-up of what Spirit's mane looked like by the end of the review:

Bedhead Spirit.
The ends are scraggly and there are little strands of hair sticking out (and falling out...) in every direction.  I really, really wish Breyer had given this guy a molded mane and tail.  Sigh.

I tried to give Spirit a haircut (I know--bad idea--but I couldn't stand it anymore!) and that didn't go well:

Oh, geez.  Sorry, Spirit.
Part of the problem was that I lost my razor comb and so I didn't have the right tool for the job.  That's the excuse I'm sticking with, anyway.

One nice thing about the haircut is that now I can make Spirit's mane stick out behind his neck as though he's running...


...except that he's not actually running.  Oh, well.

Let's pretend that the haircut didn't happen and move on to look at the Just Play version of Spirit and Lucky:

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In theory, this set is available at places like Target and Toys R Us, but I have not seen it on the shelves yet--it's either always sold out or hasn't been stocked yet.  I found mine on Amazon for $14.97.

The box has a familiar picture of Lucky and Spirit on the front:


The back of the box has the same picture (flipped around) and a short description of Lucky and Spirit's relationship:



This set is smaller than the Breyer set.  I forgot to take a picture of the two boxes together at the beginning of the review, but here's a picture of the Just Play set with the empty Breyer box behind it:


Lucky and Spirit are attached to a backdrop that slides out of the main box:


They're posed so that Lucky is reaching up to touch Spirit...and Spirit looks irritated by this.

Which part of 'wild mustang' don't you understand?
The backdrop is very similar to the one in the Breyer set:


Here are Spirit and Lucky out of the box--Spirit still has some of his (overly long) hair tied with rubber bands:

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Spirit and Lucky set by Just Play.
I brushed Spirit's mane, but the rubber band marks took a while to relax.


This horse has a more dynamic pose than Breyer's Spirit.  I like his muscular body style, too.  

I don't like the rooted mane and tail, although the hair fiber is nicer than the coarse stuff on the Breyer model.  The mane and tail don't match the painted dark points, though.  The hair is more of a chestnut brown while the muzzle, forelock and legs are almost pitch black.


Spirit's body is made out of hollow matte plastic, but the plastic does not feel as thin as it does on the Breyer horse.  To me, this horse feels a bit less fragile than the Breyer version.

The insides of the legs have inset areas with obvious seams.  This is the result of a construction technique that I don't claim to understand.  This inset piece has the DreamWorks mark: 


The section on the inside of the lifted leg is the most unflattering:


These demarcated areas make me think of meat cuts for some reason.  Not a great visual when looking at a toy.


A fun detail about this body is that the hooves have a molded frog and hoof wall on the bottom:


Spirit has brown forward-glancing eyes with severe eyebrows:


I like that he has some attitude in his expression.  He looks fierce...and a bit angry.

There are some minor paint defects around the eyes.  They're not as crisp and distinct as the Breyer eyes: 


Also, because both of Spirit's eyes are looking towards the front, he appears cross-eyed from some angles:


It's unsettling how he goes from looking fierce to looking goofy with just a small shift in perspective.


I don't really like the straight line of the muzzle paint, either.  I wish the transition from light to dark was more subtle.  

I appreciate the fact that this Spirit has a molded vinyl forelock, though.  It might not match the mane and tail, bit it's much better-looking than the scraggly forelock on the Breyer horse.

Toy Box Philosopher

Spirit's ears are also made of bendable vinyl, which is nice because they're less likely to break or chip.


As with the Breyer horse, I think this Spirit looks better when his mane is out of view.  I'd try another haircut, but I've lost my nerve a little after that first attempt, and I still can't find my trusty razor comb.

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Here are the two Spirits side-by-side (back before I cut the Breyer horse's mane):

Breyer Spirit (left) and Just Play Spirit (right).
And from the other side:

Just Play Spirit (left) and Breyer Spirit (right).
The Just Play horse is quite a bit smaller, but has a stockier frame and less detail in his musculature.

Breyer Spirit (left) and Just Play Spirit (right).
The Just Play Spirit's coat has more yellow in it, which I think is more accurate to the television Spirit.  Also, the Just Play horse's dark brown mane and tail are more accurate to the show....although I prefer the look of the pure black mane and tail on the Breyer horse.

Breyer Spirit (left) and Just Play Spirit (right).
Now let's look at Just Play's Lucky:

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This doll did not come with any rubber bands in her hair.  Instead, her hair is plastered with sticky styling product.  So sticky, in fact, that I had to get up and wash my hands several times throughout the review...and my camera is still sticky.  Gross.

Also, how did Just Play come up with this face?

What the...
Who is this supposed to be?  It doesn't look anything like Lucky...even when Lucky has wide eyes and a goofy smile on her face:


I brushed Lucky's sticky hair, which made it a little smoother...

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...and a lot poofier:

The big hair feels more 1980 than 1880.
The ends of the hair flip upwards into a curl that's way out of proportion with the doll.

The rooting density is good, but you can see all of the little flecks of sticky gunge in there:


The hair is a pretty color, with a mix of auburn strands and some dark brown lowlights:


Currently--after a few days of play--the hair feels better.  The fiber is smooth and soft at the top, with slightly coarse ends.  It's fairly nice hair overall, but not as silky as the Breyer Lucky's hair.

Back on that first day, though, I had to pull the sticky mess of hair away from Lucky's face so that I could stop washing my hands every five minutes, and so that I could see all of her features more clearly.  

Notice how the front section of hair is rooted with a small center part.  This makes the hair especially thick in this area, and makes it difficult to create a smooth ponytail:


Lucky has huge, round eyes and a wide, closed-mouth smile.  Her eyebrows are dark and long, with a slightly evil-looking slant:

I don't trust her.
The eyes are a sickly brownish-yellow color, still nothing like the lovely eyes of the television Lucky:

Toy Box Philosopher

Lucky's eyes look up and slightly to her left.  She can look right at the camera, though:


This doll's profile reveals a very prominent jawline:


It looks like she's wearing a mask:

Why is the bone sticking out like that?
Here are the two Luckys right next to each other:

Just Play Lucky doll (left) and Breyer Lucky doll (right).

I don't love either one of these faces, but the Breyer version works much better for me on the whole.

Here's a full-body shot so that you can see the difference in the two dolls' heights:

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Just Play Lucky doll (left) and Breyer Lucky doll (right).
Breyer Lucky is 6 inches tall and Just Play Lucky is a tad over 5 inches.

You'll notice that the dolls are dressed very similarly.  The Just Play Lucky is wearing a white shirt with an orange horse decal, but this shirt has a slightly different style than the Breyer shirt:


A few details are the same--like the shape of the horse pattern and the sizing that's sticking out of the neck:


But the shirt fabric is woven--not knit-- and the sleeves are gathered with elastic and have a ruffled edge:


The fit of this shirt is also more like a tunic than a tee shirt.  It's quite long and flares out at the bottom.

The back of the shirt opens all of the way down with velcro:


Under the shirt, Lucky has molded and painted leggings:



The leggings do not have a red area at the top, but they do have some molded detail in front (a fly?) and stitching down the side of each leg.


There are molded pockets on the back of the leggings:


The black boots pull off fairly easily thanks to long slits in the back.  The boots do not have any painted decoration:


These look like modern English riding boots--not old Western boots (although from what I can tell, English riding boots haven't changed much in the last 130 years).

There's a faint molded star on the bottom of one boot:


Under the boots, Lucky has high-heeled feet that are painted a flesh color:


Because of the shape of her feet, this doll cannot stand alone without her boots.


The bottom of the right foot has a molded star:


This Lucky has a hard vinyl body, hard vinyl legs, and soft vinyl arms.  She has seven points of articulation:



She has a ball-jointed neck that can spin around and move up and down:



Her shoulders have only simple rotation, though.  They cannot hinge away from the body:


The bendable vinyl composition of the arms is probably in part to compensate for the lack of hinged movement.

The arms end up feeling very flexible during play.


Each arm has a different hand mold.  The left hand has open fingers:


The right hand has a mostly closed fist with one pointing finger:


There's not a lot of detail in these hands, but keep in mind that this is a very small doll.


Lucky has hinged rotation in her hips and can do partial side-to-side splits:


She can do great front-to-back splits, too, but her body does not sit flat against the ground when she's dong this:


She can sit on the ground with her knees together...


...and apart:


She can't kneel on both knees any better than the other Lucky:


And she can--just barely--manage to balance up on one knee:


This Lucky has the added benefit of rotation in her knees.  This means she can turn her feet in and out:


In general, I loved the knee articulation on this doll, but the legs feel fragile.  The knee joint is really narrow and small.

I had some trouble getting Lucky re-dressed.  Her soft, extended digits tend to get caught up in the tight elastic of her shirt:


I finally got the shirt on, though, so Lucky was ready to go for a ride! 

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She sits on Spirit very nicely, although, again, she's too big.

Just Play's Lucky and Spirit set.

This Spirit feels better in my hands than the Breyer model.  He's hollow, but has a bit of heft--making him seem more durable.  I also like his molded forelock because it gives a clear view of his face.  I just wish the forelock matched the mane and tail a bit better.  I like how there's some attitude in Spirit's expression, but my horse tends to look a little angry.  The mane is much too long, but at least the hair fiber feels good and the tail doesn't drag on the ground.  Spirit's body mold is not as detailed or realistic as the Breyer version.  The painted areas are not as nuanced as they are on the Breyer horse, either.  The fake-looking muzzle is the best example of this.  This Spirit's pose is fine: he's not galloping, but he is on the move, which seems appropriate for a "wild" mustang.

Lucky has great head articulation and rotating knees that are perfect for riding horses.  However, the lower half of her clothing is molded to her body and her high arched feet make it impossible for her to stand without her boots.  Her hair is a pretty color and feels nice, but it came plastered with very sticky, unpleasant styling product.  My biggest problem with this doll--by far--is her face.  I suppose it's not a terrible face (it's certainly full of character) but it doesn't remind me of the television Lucky in any way, and I can't relate to the expression.  The head also has a very strange mold along the jawline, making Lucky look bone-thin...or like she's wearing a mask.

Toy Box Philosopher

Neither of these sets is perfect.  Of the two, I prefer the Breyer set, mostly because I find the Breyer version of Lucky much more appealing.  The two Spirits each have their own strengths and weaknesses.  I like the shape of the Breyer Spirit's mold better, and his painted detail is wonderful.  However, I wish he had a more dynamic pose and some attitude in his expression.  His face is certainly appealing, though.  The Just Play Spirit has a more active pose and some determination in his face, but his painted details--particularly that muzzle--are overly simplified and he can look a little angry.  Both horses have ridiculous rooted hair and hollow bodies that feel fragile.  I'd say that the Breyer Spirit feels more fragile and has worse hair--particularly that absurd forelock.

Just Play's Lucky and Spirit set (left) and Breyer's Lucky and Spirit set (right).
There are so many toys in these new collections, though, I wanted to investigate a little further.  Before I do that, I'll show you some general size comparisons.

Here are both Lucky dolls with a Family Corners Trista:

From left: Just Play Lucky, Breyer Lucky, Family Corners Trista.
And here they are with a Disney Store mini Elsa:

From left: Just Play Lucky, Disney mini Elsa, Breyer Lucky.
Elsa is closer in scale to the Just Play Lucky, and so that version of Spirit makes a pretty good mount for her:

Disney's mini Elsa riding Just Play's Spirit horse.
I also want to take a moment to compare the Spirit horses to my Lori horse from Target.  Lori horses cost $9.99 and come in a wide variety of colors that are meant to represent different breeds.  From what I can tell, all of the molds are the same.

Here's my Lori horse with Just Play Spirit:

Lori horse (left) and Just Play Spirit horse (right).
Spirit is smaller than the Lori horse.

The Lori bridle does not fit Spirit...nor does Spirit want to wear it:

Just Play Spirit wearing Lori horse bridle.
The saddle is big and loose, too:

Just Play Spirit wearing Lori horse tack.
The Lori horse is more similar in size (and feel) to the Breyer Spirit:

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Both suffer from Flyaway Forelock syndrome.
And the Breyer Spirit can wear Lori tack quite nicely...not that anyone would want to do this to him:

What is happening to me??
That means that the Lori dolls also fit Breyer Spirit...or fit him as well as they fit their own horses, I should say:

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Which is not very well at all.
Here are all three horse together:

From left: Breyer Spirit, Lori horse, Just Play Spirit.
The Breyer Spirit stands out in this trio because of his realism.  The Just Play Spirit stands out because he's the only one who isn't made out of super-thin plastic.  Both Spirit horses balance better than the Lori horse...and both Spirit horses have more personality than the Lori horse.  I'm not very impressed with the Lori horse.  I actually had to pull him out of the Goodwill bin in order to take these shots.

Because none of the Spirit horses come with tack, I also want to take a quick peek at one horse from each line that does come with tack.

From Just Play, here's Pru and her horse Chica Linda:

Just Play's Prudence and Chica Linda set, $14.99.
Chica Linda comes with a light brown vinyl bridle and saddle:

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The bridle can be unfastened under the cheek and under the muzzle.  The reins have points of articulation where they attach to the noseband, so that (in theory) they don't get twisted up when they're pulled over the horse's head:

They still get twisted up a lot.
Here's a closer look at the molded stitching and buckle details:


The saddle has a thick girth with sturdy ridges that hold it in place.  The girth passes through two buckle-shaped loops--one at the very bottom of Chica Linda's belly and another along her side.  This keeps the excess length of girth looking tidy, but also holds the saddle securely.


The saddle has a few molded details:


Including a little horse head heart on the back of the cantle:


I think Chica Linda looks better without her saddle--she's a lovely palomino color.  I feel like she's a bit of a replacement for Spirit's palomino mother Esperanza in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

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Chica Linda has a mane and tail that are way too long, and a vinyl forelock that doesn't quite match the mane and tail.

Her expression is milder than Spirit's, but she still seems a little irritated (or maybe aloof?) to me:


Overall, Chica Linda is a nice, unremarkable model.  She looks like a Barbie horse:

Is Barbie going to ride that poor little thing?
Ok, after looking at that picture, I'm changing my mind: Chica Linda looks much better than a Barbie Horse.  Maybe Chica Linda is what Barbie would look like if she were turned into a horse?

Here are Spirit and Chica Linda together:

Just Play Spirit and Barbie Chica Linda.
They're pretty much the same size overall, but Spirit is a bit more muscular and has a slightly larger head.

Despite the small size differences, Spirit can wear Chica Linda's tack:

Camouflaged tack!
While we're at it, let's take a quick look at Prudence:

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Pru is wearing short riding boots.  I have no idea if these were available in the 1880s, but I had a pair like this in the 1990s.


Pru's hair is gathered to one side in the front with a piece of thread and then braided down the back.  My doll's hair was pretty messy (and sticky) right out of the box:

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In an attempt to tidy the mess, I took the braid down.  This doll has a lot of hair:


I snipped out the loop of thread in front and tried to smooth everything back into a single ponytail.  

That was not the solution I was looking for:


So, I simply re-braided the hair...and it doesn't look much better than it did at the start:


Pru has side-glancing eyes and a serene smile.


She also looks a little bit like the television character:


The biggest problem with this face is the color choices.  The lips are neon pink, the eyebrows are too light, and the eyes are more orange than brown:

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The detail in these eyes is nice for a five-inch doll, though.  The lines are crisp and clear, with only a few little paint smudges near the eyebrow:


Here are Lucky and Prudence together:

Just Play Lucky and Prudence.
Prudence is overwhelmingly my favorite of these two.

Pru fits Chica Linda's tack pretty well.  The stirrups are molded to face front-to-back, so Pru can easily slide each foot into a stirrup and sit up straight in the saddle:

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I'm happier with this set than I am with the Spirit and Lucky set.

Just Play also sells a few horses on their own--with no rider or tack.  To me, the most appealing of these is Junipero:

Just Play Junipero horse, $9.99.
Juniper's story in Spirit Riding Free is one of my favorites.  He's an abused horse who is rescued by one of Lucky's friends.

Junipero's mold is fantastic.  This is what Spirit should look like!  Best of all, he has a molded vinyl mane!  It's bendable (it won't chip) and wonderfully dramatic:

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He has a gorgeous, dark brown coat with black speckling (and a few scuffs):


His face seems more detailed than the other Just Play horse faces, with a beautifully-shaded muzzle (why couldn't Spirit's muzzle look like this?), an open mouth, and an intense (but not irritated) expression.


He effortlessly leads the pack of Just Play horses:

From left: Chica Linda, Spirit and Junipero (by Just Play).
He can also wear Chica Linda's tack, if necessary:

Junipero wearing Chica Linda's tack.
The bridle doesn't fit as well as the saddle, but it's passable:

Junipero wearing Chica Linda's tack.
Junipero wearing Chica Linda's tack.
Junipero certainly looks better without tack.

This is my favorite duo from the collection of Just Play toys I've looked at:

Prudence riding Junipero...with Chica Linda's tack (Just Play).
That pairing makes no sense in the context of the show, but it's a set that I'd be happy to buy!

All of the Just Play horses that are sold separately have vinyl manes and tails.  I covet all of them--particularly Equuleus.  In fact, I just learned that it's even possible to buy versions of Spirit, Chica Linda and Boomerang that have vinyl manes and tails.  

Target has a $40 exclusive Doll and Horse Collection that includes all six of the main characters--all exactly like the ones I reviewed--except for the fact that the horses have vinyl manes and tails.  If I had it to do over again, I'd review this collection instead of the sets I bought.  Live and learn.

Here are in-box close-ups of each pair from that exclusive set:  

Pru and Chica Linda
The mane and tail are chunky on Chica Linda...but that's how she looks in the show.
Look at how much better Spirit looks with a vinyl mane!  I'd love to see what the other side of his body looks like...

Lucky and Spirit
He looks less irritated, too, doesn't he?  I don't blame him.
And here's Boomerang with Abigail:

Abigail and Boomerang
Cuties.
Abigail looks really well done:


Compare that version of Abigail and Boomerang to this one:

Why is the forelock orange?
As much as I like redheads, I can't make myself like Boomerang's rooted mane in this set.  I definitely recommend the Doll and Horse Collection over purchasing each of the Just Play sets separately.

Anyway, the last pair I want to show you is Breyer's version of Abigail and Boomerang.  These are my favorite characters in the show, so I really wanted the set to be great:

Breyer's Spirit Riding Free Abigail and Boomerang set.
I'll take a quick look at Breyer's Abigail first: 


She's wearing a really cute yellow shirt with checkered leggings.  She has short, shiny blonde hair with bangs.

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Her hair is decorated with a pink ribbon headband...that's glued in place.

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The headband pulls out of the hair pretty easily, though, and does not leave any glue residue:

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Abigail has bright blue eyes and a happy face.  Her eyes don't seem quite as bizarre as Lucky's, perhaps because of the softening effect of the bangs.


I think that this doll nicely captures the character's kind, accommodating personality.


Here's Abigail with Lucky:

Lucky and Abigail (by Breyer).
Once again, I find myself liking the secondary character better than Lucky.

Now, let's look at Boomerang and his tack:

Breyer's Boomerang horse.
There's clearly a huge hair problem going on here, but let's try to ignore that and focus on the tack for now.

The stiff felt saddle pad is slipping off in the back and the reins look a little strained in a few places, but otherwise the tack is attractive.

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I didn't use the saddle pad after these pictures because it kept slipping off.  Even when it's in place, it basically just makes it so that the saddle won't cinch down tightly.

Abigail can ride Boomerang nicely for the most part, although these stirrups are molded to face side-to-side (not front-to-back like the Just Play saddle), so they have to be twisted in order to accommodate Abigail's feet.

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That's how actual stirrups work, but it isn't a great design for vinyl.


The stirrups cause Abigail to lean forward in the saddle and leave a bit of air between her bottom and the seat.  When she's not using the stirrups (picture on the right, below) she can sit deep in the saddle with her back straight:


Boomerang's saddle is made out of softer vinyl than the Just Play saddle.  It's much more bendable. 

It has a narrow girth with only one buckle loop.  The vinyl on this loop is extremely thin and seems fragile.  I would not be surprised if it broke.


The saddle itself has a lot more molded detail than the Just Play saddle:


Here are the two saddles together:

Just Play saddle (left) and Breyer saddle (right).
The bridle is delicate and highly-detailed:


I love the sections that are made to look like rope.  The attachment of the reins isn't ideal, though.  The point of articulation falls below the horse's nose--in the area where the bit meets the reins.  Because the bit is made out of soft vinyl--not metal--this section bends and twists out of shape very easily making it hard for the articulated reins to do their job.  


Overall, the Breyer bridle is much thinner and more detailed than the Just Play bridle...which is odd because the Just Play horses are smaller than the Breyer horses.

Just Play bridle (left) and Breyer bridle (right).
Overall, the Breyer tack looks better than the Just Play tack.  It's more detailed and more in proportion to the horses.  However, the Just Play tack (especially the girth of the saddle) seems more durable.

Boomerang is a tobiano pinto, much like Rain from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.  If I didn't know any better, I'd think that DreamWorks planned it so that people would think Rain and Esperanza were going to be featured in Spirit Riding Free.

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Pseudo-Rain.
I love this horse's body mold and gentle face.  The mane and forelock are a disaster, though.  The mane is too long (and the color doesn't match) but the mane has also been curled under, making it fall in loopy, ridiculous ways.

The forelock just blocks Boomerang's expressive eyes.

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I twisted the mane out of the way and that helped a little:


Boomerang's left eye is not quite as nice as his right eye, probably because there's a lot of white that all blends together.


Boomerang and Spirit are about the same size, but Boomerang has a larger head:

Boomerang and Spirit (by Breyer).
I like Bomerang's pose so much more than Spirit's.  It's really baffling to me why Breyer--a company capable of such extraordinary horse poses--opted for this boring stance for Spirit.

Boomerang's tack fits Spirit, although the bridle is too loose around the nose:

Breyer Spirit wearing Boomerang's tack.
Boomerang is quite a bit bigger than Just Play's Chica Linda...

Breyer Boomerang (left) and Just Play Chica Linda (right).
...so the two cannot really share tack.  China Linda's saddle fits Boomerang, but that's it.  Boomerang's tack is way too big for Chica Linda:

Just Play and Breyer horses trying to trade tack.
As expected, Boomerang and my Lori horse can share tack nicely.  They are very similar in size:

Breyer Boomerang wearing Lori horse tack.
Lori horse wearing Breyer Boomerang tack.
There ended up being more comparisons in this review than I'd initially planned, so let me summarize a few things before I wrap up.

I bought two Breyer horses for this review: Boomerang and Spirit.

Boomerang and Spirit by Breyer.
Boomerang came with Abigail and tack ($29.99) and Spirit came with Lucky and no tack ($29.99).  Keep in mind that the Spirit in my photo, above, was given a bad haircut and that Boomerang is shown without his irritating saddle pad.

These two horses are made out of thin, hollow plastic.  They feel light and fragile.  Both of them have rooted manes and tails that are way, way too long.  Boomerang's hair feels silky, while Spirit's mane is scratchy and coarse, perhaps because of overused styling product.  The horses both have expressive, well-painted faces.  Boomerang has an evocative, casual walking pose that looks good and suits his character...but Spirit is standing stock still.  The realism of the body molds on these two is their best feature.  I tend to feel an emotional reaction to the accuracy of Breyer's models, and these two certainly elicit a similar feeling--especially when their hair is out of sight.

I bought three Just Play horses for the review: Junipero, Chica Linda and Spirit.

Junipero, Chica Linda and Spirit by Just Play.
Junipero was sold on his own with no tack ($9.99), Chica Linda came with tack and a Prudence doll ($14.99) and Spirit came with no tack and a Lucky doll ($14.99).

These horses are made out of hollow plastic that does not feel as thin as the Breyer plastic.  Junipero feels the heaviest--probably because of his solid vinyl mane and tail.  In general, the Just Play horses that are sold on their own (with no tack or rider) are the best.  Junipero is a gorgeous model.  His mane and tail are great, his body paint is detailed and realistic, and his pose is glorious.  Spirit and Chica Linda are not as good.  These two have long manes that overwhelm their heads and often don't match their vinyl forelocks.  Neither is as expressive as Junipero, and both have slightly irritated looks on their faces.  Spirit's muzzle looks like half of a coconut--there's no nuance whatsoever in the paint.  Spirit's prancing pose is better than his Breyer counterpart's pose, but it's still nowhere near as good as Junipero's spirited gallop.  I like Junipero as much, if not more, than the Breyer horses.  The other two?  Not so much. 

Here are the four dolls that came with these horses: Lucky and Prudence from Just Play, and Abigail and Lucky from Breyer.

From left: Lucky and Prudence (Just Play), Abigail and Lucky (Breyer).
The Just Play dolls have hard-to-manage hair and molded leggings.  I think Lucky has a face mold that looks nothing like the television character.  Prudence's face mold is much better, but the color choices in her face paint are unattractive and unrealistic.  However, these girls have rotating knees (which are great for riding) and great head articulation.  

The Breyer dolls have simple hinged knees and heads that can only spin.  They also have rigid arms that tend to stick out to the sides.  However, these girls have lovely hair and faces that remind me more of the television show.  They also have flat feet that can balance well even without boots, and fully-removable fabric clothing.  One downside to the clothing is that Lucky's leggings have stained her body and her shirt in several places.

Overall, I like the Breyer dolls better than the Just Play dolls.

So, my favorite horse and rider pair are Abigail and Junipero...which isn't super-helpful since they don't go together in any way.

Yay!  We're the winners!
Of all the horse and rider sets in this review, the Breyer Abigail and Boomerang pair is my favorite.  I like both the horse and the rider quite a lot.  Boomerang just needs to be treated with some care (no galloping on hard floors or tugging too hard on that girth!) and he could use a good haircut.

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Bottom line?  The deluge of products released for Spirit Riding Free is a bit overwhelming.  I didn't even mention Breyer's small horse and rider sets or Just Play's massive Spirit and Lucky set (I cannot handle Lucky's face mold in that scale).  I did purchase and compare some of the blind bag horses, but they'll need to wait for another day.  With so many choices, it's hard to figure out what to buy.  I'll try to summarize a few closing thoughts.

I really love Abigail and Boomerang, but the problem is that it'd be hard to play Spirit Riding Free games with just these two.  Buying all three Breyer sets adds up to the ferocious sum of $90, and I'm not convinced that the collection is worth it.  The horses have realistic molds and appealing expressions, but they seem fragile and the mane is horrendous.  What if one of the horses breaks a leg?  What if you can't stand the mane and end up with a bad haircut?  What if the mane gets tangled? What if a girth snaps and can't be fixed?  It seems awfully risky for the price.  For someone who is mostly interested in display or light play (and who knows how to trim hair) the Breyer sets could be a solid choice.  For anyone seeking an affordable toy that's intended for play, I think there's a better fit.

The Just Play toys cost less and feel a bit more durable than the Breyer sets.  I find it unfortunate that Lucky and Spirit are the least attractive duo in the whole mix, though.  Lucky, in particular, is really weird.  Despite this handicap, I still think the Just Play collection is a safer purchase--particularly for young kids.  Not only is there a $40 Target gift set (recently on sale) with all six of the main characters (and no rooted manes!), but many of the other horse characters can be purchased separately to add to the herd.  In fact, these separate horse characters are the gems of the whole Spirit Riding Free enterprise.  Even for those who can't stomach the new television show, a diverse collection of realistic $10 model horses is not something that comes along every day.

Toy Box Philosopher

24 comments:

  1. Wow, that Lucky is...strange. Toy companies always make their horses have super long manes(I guess the same reason they make the dolls have long hair?)and it usually doesn't look right. For example, Maximus from Tangled, his doll has a long mane and it's kinda weird.
    -Genya

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  2. The fact that these girls should be wearing riding skirts and not tight pants and tee shirts alone is a cringe worthy enough reason for me to not watch this show! Why would they do that? I hate when shows that are supposed to be in the victorian, pioneer eras go and make the characters wear modern design clothing. And the animation? What even is that, are they trying to imitate that weird winx club 3d animation. I dont like how it looks as a cartoon. That being said, spirit was and is one of my favorite movies! I think that was the movie that made me fall in love with horses. I loved spirit and little creeks relationship, the scereny was amazing, the story line was great! I get goosebumps just thinking about the movie. I just wish that the toy line was a little better, i dont like when a horse is hard bodied and then has that weird long real hair mane and tail. I love the hard molded hair horse figures the best. I think it captures the pose, style of the horse better.

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    1. The apperance of the girls also remind me of the Winx girls.

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  3. Just a quick note - that text is in French, not in Spanish.

    I love how detailed your reviews are!

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  4. "Who is this?" / "It looks like she's wearing a mask." I legitimately laughed out loud at this.

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    1. I LOL'd at the "I don't trust you" one, haha.

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  5. Great review, as usual. I'd love to see the Breyer riders compared to the Eva, the Barn Buddies doll you reviewed a while back. Wonder if a headswap would be possible for some better articulation?

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  6. Wow great review. I have always loved breyers although i never got one. I also have a suggestion of a doll you should review. It is popular in japan right now. It is a mini doll called pose skeleton. They are extremley poseable and you can get them on amazon or samari buyer. It would be the perfect halloween review! Thanks for the review!

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  7. You should check out the solo dolls, too. They seem better than the mini ones


    Given my own recent obsession with them, I wonder if you'd be willing to give Living Dead Dolls another try. Your Frozen Charlotte had nasty packaging and some ickiness besides, and that's not really an accurate reflection of the overall quality and presentation they have--your opinion was unfortunately tainted by the (ironic) terrible preservation of the doll. The selection has grown since your review, and there are other non-gory or cuter options out there. Umbral, most of Series 32, or even the gorgeous 2017 Beauty and the Beast set might be some to look into, but there are several more elegant or spooky dolls in the lineup.

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  8. This review was perfect timing! My daughters and I just started watching this series 2 days again and we're hooked! I didn't see the 2002 Spirit movie so I nothing to compare it with, which I think is why I really enjoyed it. I had the same thought about why they were dressed like modern teenagers in the 1800s (and why she had such modern bedroom furniture lol). I've been seeing a lot of these dolls lately so I appreciate the review. We most likely won't get any, but the blind boxes are tempting as they might be nice to use as "mini Breyers" in an AG scale doll room. Looking forward to that review!

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  9. Why on Earth would they start the tv series in period clothes, then switch to modern? That makes no sense. If they wanted them in modern clothes they should have just set it in modern times. Elastic sided boots definitely existed in the 1880s but they were more popular in the 1850s and 60s.
    Chica Linda reminds me of Barbie's horse Dallas and for some reason the Just Play dolls make me think of winx club

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  10. The just play Lucky reminds me of Aria Stark for some reason, which made it extra funny to me when you said she looks like she's wearing a mask

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  11. Thanks for the detailed review! It was great to see the options side by side. I believe the Breyer sets are meant to be the size of their Classic horses (1:12 scale rather than the 1:9 scale of the Traditional series). In defense of the Lucky character, she inherited her talent for riding and sense of adventure (and ambiguous ethnicity) from her late mother. Okay, that's not a great defense, and the new series is full of all the usual TV tropes, but we're enjoying it at our house anyway!

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  12. Lovely review! One of my friends has had the larger solo dolls for a little while now, which are more fashion doll scaled, so I was surprised that the horse sets were smaller but it's understandable.

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  13. The Just Play Lucky definitely has duckface. Or a weird smirk. I agree, I think Junipero is the nicest looking horse of this lot. I'm guessing all that long hair is for hairplay stuff, braiding and so on. Doesn't make it any less weird though.

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  14. I've read all your reviews over the past few years but I've never actually commented before, so hello! I've seen some Spirit blind bags lately so maybe another horse themed review will show up in the form of a Sunday surprise?

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  15. Excellent review as always, if you can I'd love to see how one of the Breyer dolls looks on the original Spirit or another traditional.

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  16. Out of all the toys I think the Just play dolls and plush toys are my favorite. I like the figure sets but the horses are nicer then the girls so I feel like collectors kinda waste their money a little bit, plus I like making doll clothes so I'll be skipping the sets. Ether way I'm happy to see horse toys in stores since I love old west shows.

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  17. Thank you again Emily for the though review. I have the 12" versions of Lucky and Prudence by Just Play. I guess that Juniper really good quality. I still want that Breyer model of Spirit.

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  18. That second Lucky character is going to haunt my dreams

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  19. Emily, just going to point out that there is a Spirit Riding Free Deluxe Feeding Set where you get a 12" fully articulated Lucky doll, a 14" Spirit, which can actually "eat" the 4 carrots supplied, and makes a variety of noises by pressing a button on his back (eating noises, whinnying, neighing, and more!) and is articulated at the neck so you can push his head down for the noises as well. You also get a small chapter book that narrates the first part of the beginning of the series, and a couple of other small accessories too! I highly recommend getting it so you can share it with all of us in a review!!

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  20. FYI, Toys R Us is selling this set for $39.99 on their website. It's the best price by far for this set online.

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  21. I love your reviews! This is really great. I do like my Lori horse, though it can be difficult to pose.

    The comment about the eye of Horace was hysterical.

    The dolls are cute.

    The one photo of Beyer Spirit made it look as if he's smiling.
    ~Xyra

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