Monday, January 30, 2012

"Summer Lila" and "Summer Lucas" by Salvador Berenguer for JC Toys

Based on the focus of this blog so far, you might be surprised to learn that I got my start as a doll enthusiast by collecting baby dolls.  Actually, to be perfectly accurate, I got my start as a doll enthusiast the moment I received Madame Alexander's baby "Victoria" as a gift from my grandmother.  Victoria and I were inseparable for the better part of my youth:

My mom made us matching outfits!
As an adult, baby dolls started to appeal to me again around the time I got a yearning for real babies.  Even after I had my two boys, baby dolls served as reminders of the most precious stages and expressions of my little guys.  As my kids got older, I moved into collecting Himstedt child dolls, but that stage couldn't last too long because Himsetdts are big and expensive.  These days, for whatever reasons, I am much more interested in fashion dolls.  It might have something to do with shelf space.

Despite not acquiring a lot of new baby dolls at this point in my life, I still retain many and strong opinions about these dolls.  Recently, someone asked my opinion on what would be a good realistic baby doll for an older child.  I had a great time thinking through the options.  For this special girl, I ended up recommending Zapf Vivian or Lilian, by master sculptor Cathariena Teunissen. The process got me pondering what the best realistic baby doll choices are for each price range and age group and I thought I'd start sharing my thoughts about this topic here.
Let's say you are looking for a special, realistic baby doll that is pricier (and nicer) than the dolls found in stores like Target, Toys R Us and Walmart, but you aren't ready to spend over $150 on a doll.  So, a $50-$150 budget.  There are lots of doll companies with babies in this price range, including Ashton Drake, Adora, Paradise Galleries and Corolle.  Madame Alexander doesn't make my list because I think  they discontinued baby Victoria in 2009.  I'd recommend starting your search by looking at two companies in particular: Lee Middleton and JC Toys (Dolls by Berenguer). My favorite high-end play dolls are the Lee Middleton babies, and I will talk about those another time.

In this review I will start at the lower end of the $50-$150 price spectrum and look at some all vinyl play dolls from JC Toys.  Why JC Toys?  The JC Toys babies are commonly known as Berenguer dolls, after the Spanish artist Salvador Berenguer, who is the head sculptor for JC Toys.  Prior to 1990, these dolls were known as "Berjusa" dolls.  What makes Berenguer dolls special is that they inadvertently changed the way people think about vinyl play babies.  Early in my collecting years, Berenguer sold 20" cloth-bodied "La Baby" dolls at Kmart for $19.99.  These dolls had really cute faces, were nicely sized, and stood out from the other play doll offerings.  You can see what the faces look like if you scroll down on this link to the "La Baby" section.  Adult collectors started to buy these dolls for themselves, with the idea that a few easy modifications could add to their doll's realism.  Some people added a mohair wig to hide the painted hair, or re-stuffed the body with beads to give a more pleasing weight.  Some people even re-painted the face.  It was a way to get a new, nice-looking doll and a craft project, all for $20.  This practice was eventually dubbed "reborning" and has now become an industry all its own.  Just search it on eBay.

"Reborn" Lee Middleton head I got off eBay
I have little interest in reborning, but I am interested in what JC Toys is up to these days.  There are many baby doll styles offered by this company, ranging from $10 cloth-bodied play babies that you can find in Walmart, to $250 life-sized collector dolls made in Spain.  I aimed for the middle of this range and chose "Summer Lucas" and "Summer Lila" to de-box.  Lila and Lucas retail for $65 on the JC Toys site, but can be found cheaper elsewhere.  There's a laughing baby, Lola (D.O.T.Y winner), in this series, and another more serious girl, Lily.  They come in a variety of outfits.  Here's Summer Lila in her box (she arrived with her hat like that):

Who turned out the lights?
And Lucas:

You can see on the box that Lila and Lucas are "Berenguer Boutique" dolls.  This might look familiar--Walmart sells less expensive Berenguer Boutique dolls in similar boxes.

The box is mostly cardboard, with a plastic window in the front.

Here she is! I find the expressions on this group of dolls irresistible.  I love dolls with character!

She's held in there by three wire ties.  They aren't too tightly wound, and I had her out of the box in no time.

Two things worried me as I got her out of the box.  First, the doll has a chemical smell to her that I don't like.  It's not overwhelming or anything, but it makes me hope pretty hard that it's not permanent.  It makes me want to give her a bath (which I could do, because she is all vinyl).  

The other thing that has me worried is inside the empty box.  Do you see in there, right near the two areas where Lila was tied?  There are small grease stains on the cardboard.  I'm guessing that this is the oily solvent that they use to make the vinyl soft and it is leeching out (similar to the BPA in kitchen plastics).  Eeew.  I will have to be careful about where I set these dolls.

Gross.  It's like a stain from too much hair gel.
I have a solid silicone "Emily" doll from Ashton Drake and she leaks an oily substance onto her clothes.  I find it very disturbing.  I am not sure I would give this type of doll to a child.  Granted, I tend to be a bit paranoid about these things.  Anyway, let's try to forget that stain for now and take a closer look at Lila.  She's cute as a bug:

I love her little beach outfit!  I totally would have dressed my own kids in something like that.  

She has painted hair with a small amount of molded detail.  Her eyes are plastic and fairly realistic.  They look the same as the eyes of the Berenguer Boutique dolls I saw at Walmart.  I like that she is glancing to the side and her eyes are still well-aligned.

Some texture in those blue-grey eyes
Her mouth is painted a uniform pink.  It is a bit too pastel for my taste, and it detracts from the realism of the face.  The sculpting in her mouth is really nice, though: 

Look at those legs!

The rolls in back are not as realistic as the front for some reason...maybe a little overdone?

Loose that third wrinkle on the top of the calf.
She's got chubby little arms, too:

And neck rolls...

She is anatomically correct, as is Lucas (he's un-circumcized).  Berenguer's anatomically correct dolls are usually marked as "real boys," or "real girls," so you can avoid this feature if it isn't your thing.

Ok, I adore a nice healthy baby, but the rolls of fat on this doll's back are a bit out of control, don't you think?

That's a shar-pei baby!
I don't often have the urge to re-make my dolls in any way, but with this baby, the hard vinyl and the unrealistic sculpting of the torso make me want to change some things.  She should be much cuddlier with her personality!  Those cute limbs on a nice, slightly bigger weighted cloth body would be awesome and squishy.  I guess Berenguer is still inspiring people to "reborn" their dolls...although it's harder to justify with a $65 price tag.

The outfit is made well.  You can see the seam in the brim of the hat:

..and the romper is hard to get off (no velcro or buttons or anything):

But is it constructed well and is fully lined, and I just love the style and the colors.

How big is Lila?  Well, she's not life-sized.  At 14 inches long, she's smaller than a real baby with her body type and her smile would be.  Quite a bit smaller.  Here she is next to Liv Katie:

It's so easy to keep her happy!
For those who are baby doll aficionados, here she is next to a Lee Middleton baby, Maia.  Maia is about the size of a 3-month-old baby, I'd say:

Maia is lovely, but Lila steals the shot!  
The genius of JC Toys' "Summer" release is that it's hard to get just one.  I mean, look at how doubly adorable they are when you have two:

There's a third baby with a coordinating outfit, but I do have some self control.

Lila is cute, for sure, but Lucas is freakin' adorable.  He makes me think, Hey. Don't worry about the toxic ooze coming from these dolls. It's all good. 

I am the cutest thing you have ever seen.

I love the shape of the mouth on this guy.  I wish his eyes were pointed in a different direction from Lila's, but the side-glancing eyes look really cute with his quirky mouth.

I have all kinds of mischievous ideas.

Lucas is a keeper.  I'll find a way around the leeching oil and try to keep the dogs from licking him. For the $40 I paid, I am very glad I have him.  However, I do feel like I need to show you what I think is a better overall doll than either Lila or Lucas.  Here is Lila next to my La Newborn "real girl" (who I think looks like a boy) also by Berenguer/JC Toys:

She is a similar price ($59.99) and size to Lila and Lucas.  The outfit on this La Newborn is a nicely made knitted set, but I find the yellow stripes a bit too reminiscent of insects--like bumble bees.  Bees can be cute, I guess, but they also sting.  In addition, I never really liked collars on my kids' shirts when they were really little.  I don't think collared shirts mix well with newborns.  

This doll is a little bit longer than Lila and Lucas, and the features of the doll are of a much younger baby.  16" still isn't life size for a baby that looks like this, but it's close.   

Lila looks funny next to the La Newborn...her proportions are not quite right.
The vinyl on the La Newborn doll is so much softer than it is on  Lila and Lucas.  You can squeeze the La Newborn's limbs and they bend really easily.  You can poke her tummy and it squishes inward.  Lila's vinyl is slightly bendable, but hard in comparison to the La Newborn.  Her tummy doesn't budge when you poke it.  The vinyl on the La Newborn also has a nicer is more translucent and realistic, I think.  It looks less plastic.  The La Newborn is definitely scented, but I find it to be a pleasant scent.  Almost like baby power, but not exactly.  Some people seem to hate the smell, though.

I love how her soft hands can interact with each other and with her face and hat.  This is so realistic for a little baby.  Her smile is perfect--not too much for such a tiny thing, and yet still impish and adorable:

Underneath that outfit, this baby has her own wrinkles and creases, but they seem much more artistically done than Lila's.  Her whole body is bent a bit to one side and the creases are lopsided to show this:

This doll has a very realistic body, I think.  She is anatomically correct, too.  She even has an "outie" belly button!

She can actually share clothes with Lila and Lucas, which gives me a great idea.  She can wear Lucas' adorable beach romper and he can wear her striped collared romper.  Much better for their respective ages!  Let's see:

Can we just pretend she's a boy?  She looks all boy to me.
Heart-melting cuteness.
Lucas rocks the striped bee outfit.  You knew he would:

This knit will easily soak up the leaking oils.

I think the softness of the vinyl is the biggest difference between these two kinds of Berenguer doll.  I much prefer the softer vinyl.  It looks and feels special.  I'd love to be able to tell you which Berenguer dolls come with the soft vinyl and which don't, but I find the marketing confusing.  Let me see if I can summarize what I do know without making you run away screaming.  

The La Newborn real girl in the striped outfit retails for $59.99 at the JC Toys site.  There is another girl in this series (in pink) and also a little sleeping boy (in blue), all in coordinating striped knit outfits.  These three babies have the soft vinyl.  They are safe buys, unless you think the perfume would bother you.  If you think the perfume would bother you, that's another problem.  Although the JC Toys site is great about labeling dolls that are scented, Lucas and Lila are labeled "scented" and it's definitely not the same smell as my La Newborn.  Sigh.

I'd like to be able to say that all of the dolls with the "La Newborn" name have soft vinyl, however, Lucas is described as a "La Newborn" in some outfits, but not in others.  Apparently "La Newborn" does not equal soft vinyl.  Also, this doll has the exact same face as my little baby in yellow, but retails for $30.  Why the big price difference?  Is the vinyl different?  That's the only explanation I've got for why the price would be so low.  On the other hand, Lila and Lucas have hard vinyl and actually cost more.  So that's not it, either.  It's all unnecessarily confusing.  

One last thing--watch out for the many different sizes of doll with the same face.  Some dolls are 18" and some are 10" and this also affects the price.

Focus, Emily, focus.
Right.  So, bottom line?  Lucas and Lila have adorable, charismatic faces that will surely light up any room.  They were extremely fun to photograph.  But the real question is, what would you expect from a $50-$150 doll that you can't get from the cheaper department store baby dolls?

Here's my list:  
1. Interesting or realistic features 
2. Nice materials and construction (doll and outfit)
3. An outfit or accessories that have style and design

How do Lila and Lucas measure up?
1. Interesting or realistic features?  Wonderful expressions, many realistic qualities, but not painted to maximize the realism.  These are not cuddly dolls, and their small size reduces their similarity to a real baby.
2. Nice materials and construction?  Clothes are made of nice fabric.  The hard vinyl that leaves an oily residue in the box doesn't seem high quality.  The plastic eyes look ok, but are not any higher quality than Berenguer's lower-end play babies' eyes.
3. An outfit or accessories that have style and design?  Great designs and well-made, but very simple.  No accessories.  

Lila and Lucas don't look or feel like $65 dolls, but they look and feel better than most play babies at the big stores...and, if you fall in love with their faces, price matters less.  I kinda fell in love with Lucas.  Emotional reactions aside for a sec, I really think these dolls should be more in the $45 range.  I'd pay $60 for a larger, life-size version.  If you're going to pay full price, one of the soft vinyl La Newborn babies is a better buy...if you can figure out which ones they are.

Summary (Summer Lila/Lucas):
Age Level
2 and up
$65 price seems high for an all vinyl play baby with a simple outfit.
The vinyl is leaking a small amount of oily solvent.  The clothes are of nice quality, but the outfit is not complex. The eyes are inset plastic and all of the other features are minimally painted.
Box has a lot of cardboard with a plastic front and partial plastic sides.  Easy to get the doll out.
The expressions are very cheerful and quirky, but might not be versatile.  The all-vinyl body can go anywhere, even in the water. Limited wardrobe.
If these dolls retailed for $45 and didn’t have potential issues with the vinyl, I’d recommend in a heartbeat.


  1. Replies
    1. They're pretty great. Interesting contrast to the Monster High skinny minnies! Can't you just picture these babies giggling?

  2. Almost one year later I find this great review on dolls I was just looking at. Thanks for the job. The pics show what I wanted to see and I finally agree with your conclusion (cute expressions but low versatility, fat rolls, price...). On Spanish sites, those dolls are sold on the prices you recommend ($45). I am in France, where they are around $75... Even with the shipping costs, it's cheaper to order in Spain...
    I am more in Asian baby dolls (not really a dolls collector although) and was thinking about buying the 14" Lots to love Asian. As far as I know (which is quite much) it's not available on European sites, even Spanish. It's a cheap doll in USA (less than $15) but in France, the shipping costs and taxes make it a more than $50 treasure... Globalization where are you ?
    Seeing your review (Lots to love have some common points with Lily and Luca series) I wonder if it's worth paying that ammount (but I really have a crush on him/her).
    Anyway, your review is great and it was a pleasure to read it.
    Best regards and wishes from Paris

  3. These are super cute, but like you, I would definitely prefer the 16" real girl in the striped yellow "bee" outfit as she is much more realistically detailed and proportioned more like a real newborn baby. However, had she been 18 to 20 inches in length and weighed 5 to 7 pounds, she would be perfect, and I'd snatch her up in a heartbeat. This was a very good review, though, so thanks so much for the info!