Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunday Surprise: Toy Box Monthly Subscription!

I'm sure many of you have heard of subscription boxes like Loot Crate and Birchbox.  The idea is that you sign up to receive a mystery box of stuff every month.  These subscriptions have become so popular, it's now possible to get boxes with just about any theme you can imagine: pet supplies, books, cosmetics, food, crafts...and toys.

My son and I tried a subscription a few months ago called The Mystery Experiences Company.  This company sends out a detailed mystery to be solved every month--each with little puzzles, artifacts and clues to help with the solution.  This was fun, but we discovered quickly that we didn't have the time or patience to dig into a complex new mystery every month.  When I was canceling the mystery subscription, I spotted Toy Box Monthly.  For $20 ($15 plus shipping), this company sends a little box of mystery toys every month.  This sounded like the perfect thing for the Sunday Surprise!

I should mention right off the bat that the Shopkins Lil' Shoppie shown below did not come in the subscription box.  So why am I showing you a picture of her?  Well, I didn't want to give away what was in the subscription box (that would ruin the surprise!) but also, these Shopkins items will make an appearance at the end of the post.  That's all I'll say for now.

Shopkins Rainbow Kate ($5.49) and a Happy Places blind box ($2.99).
In general, I think that these subscription boxes are probably bad for our culture.  I mean, paying to have random boxes of stuff accumulate every month is a strange idea.  It's like paying to have someone clutter up your house.  It's also like saying that you just want more stuff--no matter what it is.  To be fair, though, many of these subscriptions (like The Mystery Experiences Company...or anything involving food) have no residual clutter.

Unfortunately, a box of toys does involve a lot of residual clutter.  I'd love to rid my house of excess stuff, but my love for surprises often overwhelms my rationality.  I'll admit that I got really, really excited about the idea of a toy-themed subscription box.  It sounds so fun!

I was also pretty excited about the name of this subscription box company: Toy Box Monthly.  How perfect is that for this blog?  I mean, I had to at least try it once.  It says you can cancel at any time.

Here's the first box that I received (with the address label ripped off):

$20 Toy Box Monthly subscription box.
I'm away from home right now (delivering my son to college) so I can't check the exact measurements of this box, but it's about 8 x 10 inches on top, and maybe 4 inches deep.  It's not too big.  I'll double-check those dimensions when I get home.

I wanted to draw out the surprise of discovering what was in this box, so I opened the front flap with the box facing away from me, like this:

And then I pulled out the side flaps with the top of the box acting like a shield so that I couldn't see inside:

Then...I reached my hand around the left side of the box (the box felt very full!) and pulled out...

A Shopkins pencil case!
Ok--I'll say it--I was a little disappointed by this.  This isn't a toy.  It's a school supply.  School stuff reminds me that summer is over.  Blah.

However, Shopkins are incredibly popular with kids here in Maine.  When I'm at Toys R Us, I often overhear delighted exclamations when a family encounters the ever-expanding Shopkins aisle.  So...perhaps Shopkins school supplies are the perfect thing for a child who is reluctantly trudging back to school this week.

The pencil case is made out of tin and has Shopkins decorating one side...

There's a simpler design on the back side:

The case has soft edges with a hot pink zipper closure:

For anyone who is in complete denial about the start of school, this case would also be good for storing little Shopkins figures.

I'm unsure about the exact value of this case.  I could not find an equivalent item in the toy stores.  I'd say it's worth a dollar or two, but might retail for as much as $5.

Ok!  Time for the next surprise!  What else could be in there??  I reached my hand in again...

...and pulled out this:

It's a blind bag mystery Disney Tsum Tsum figure! It's a surprise within a surprise.  Awesome!

I don't know much about Disney Tsum Tsum figures, though.  I'm more familiar with the little plush Tsum Tsums that can be stacked--like fruit.  I had never seen a plastic version of this concept until now.

The back of the bag shows all of the different characters that might be inside:

Let's get a closer look:

Ok, on closer inspection, a lot of these are weird.  To me they don't have the same cute appeal as the plush Tsum Tsums.  Each figure comes with an accessory...and these accessories tend to just make the figures look weirder.

For me, getting Alice or the White Rabbit would be neat because my kid was just involved in a production of Alice and Wonderland.  But is the White Rabbit crying?  That's too sad.  Pluto looks really cute in his little dog house...but Bambi?  Bambi is strange.  It's like an angry capsule version of the adorable fawn:

I think in general I prefer the animal figures to the humans.  Patch the dalmatian looks adorable, but the other characters in these next pictures look funny to me.  I guess Jasmine is the best of the bunch because that belly-flop position works for riding on a carpet, but Woody?  He's stuffed into a sheriff's badge.  Poor Woody.

The remaining four options are all bizarre and--again--I prefer the non-human Donald Duck to the others:

I was really hoping for Patch at this point.  Please not Woody or Bambi.  I'll have nightmares.

I cut open the package and peeked...

I saw that little bit of brown coming out and thought it was Bambi.  Fortunately, some blue pieces came out next and I knew which one I'd gotten:

Alice!  Ok, she's a human character, but this was a good outcome for sentimental reasons.

I think Alice's head looks just like a Funko Pop! head.

This set has four separate pieces: Alice, the bottle (in two parts) and a cork for the bottle:

It like a normal-looking, realistic bottle and then a crawling bug-person version of Alice.

The two halves of the bottle snap together:

There's a little "drink me" sign on one side:

Both the cork and the bottle have curved bottom surfaces:

The cork fits nicely into the top of the bottle, but it's just resting there and falls out when the bottle is tipped to the side:

Now let's have a look at Alice herself:

Rocket Alice, ready for takeoff!
She can kind-of stand upright, but she has a rounded bottom and so she wobbles around.  She's clearly meant to be displayed on her hand and leg stubs like this:

Reminds me of an old VW bus.
I gather that these toys are really popular, but I can't get used to them.  I'm either giggling helplessly or shaking my head in disbelief.  Maybe there's something wrong with me?  

Part of my problem is that this concept makes more sense with a plush toy than it does with a hard vinyl figure.  The plush Tsum Tsums are cuddly and throw-able and make me think of pillows or Squishables.  The vinyl figures just make me think of bugs, vehicles...or hamsters. They're also a little bit like Nintendo's Bullet Bill.

Alice has a white rounded oval patch under her dress--like her underwear is showing?  I don't know.  I find these figures borderline offensive for all kinds of reasons that I can't completely explain.

That's rude, Alice.
The figures are made by Jakks Pacific:

The shape of these pieces is designed so that they can be stacked on top of one another.  Which is yet another concept that makes more sense to me with little plush balls than it does with vinyl figures.

Here are two of the stacked configurations I came up with.  I call them Alice Fits In:

And Alice Carries On:

I saw these at Target today and they cost $4.99.  Even though my reaction to this toy is less than enthusiastic, it seems that they're highly collectible, and might make a wonderful surprise for someone else.

I was eager to see what I'd find next!

The next item I pulled out of the box was this sheet of Monster High liquid stickers:

They don't stick to wet surfaces or anything like that, they have liquid inside of them.  Like little snow globes:

Each character is displayed behind a small quantity of liquid.  There are a few small objects floating in the liquid, too, like Skullettes, seahorses and bats: 

Puffy stickers are fun, but I'm not sure how much the liquid really adds.

There's not a lot of liquid in any given sticker, so when they're held upright, the liquid all pools at the bottom:

Neptuna is going to suffocate!
Draculaura with the water pooling at the bottom.
When the stickers are laid flat, the water and floating objects distort the design of the sticker:

Draculaura with the water and Skullette distorting her face.
This item is worth a dollar, at best.  I like the Monster High pictures, but I'll probably throw the stickers away because I don't want to risk the liquid leaking out.

I could still feel that there were several things left inside the box at this point.  It's definitely full of goodies--there are no fillers or padding inside.

The next thing I pulled out was a Lalaloopsy lip gloss ring set:

The rings are nicely displayed inside a cardboard box with a beaded handle:

There are four different rings mounted in a plastic shell:

One of the rings is blue (with Mittens Fluff 'N' Stuff's face):

(I'm guessing on all of the faces--it's a little hard to tell which character it is without seeing the clothing.)

And it has blue glitter lip gloss inside:

Another ring is dark pink (with Crumbs Sugar Cookie's face):

This one has pink shimmery lip gloss:

This is my favorite of the four rings.
One ring is light purple (with Peanut Big Top):

And purple glitter lip gloss:

And the last one is light pink (with Pillow Featherbed's face):

And pink shimmer lip gloss:

These lip gloss rings are cute, but they were leaving spots on my backdrop, which stressed me out:

Backdrop paper is expensive.
I wasn't sure at first if those spots were water (which would dry), or oil (which would ruin my backdrop).  Fortunately, the spots dried pretty quickly so I guess they were water.  

I went back to look at the photos I took of these rings when I first saw them, and--sure enough--there are little spots of water inside the box: 

I guess this must be condensation from some changes in temperature during shipping?  In any case, the rings got put away quickly to prevent further leaking.  They won't get used in my house.

I found these rings for sale on Amazon for about $7.50 each.  I don't know their original market price.  I'd guess closer to $5.

So, after the dripping rings and the liquid stickers, I was really hoping for a nice normal toy that wouldn't leak.  I crossed my fingers and reached into the box again...

And I got a Shopkins 6-color pen!

This isn't really a toy, either, but I love pens like this.  I had one when I was a kid and it was my favorite pen.  

This pen has six colored levers that can be pressed down to engage the matching color of ballpoint ink.  The pen also has pictures of three Shopkin characters as decoration: Apple Blossom, Kooky Cookie and D'Lish Donut.

This is a great item that I will definitely use.  It's so practical.  It would have been extra-useful back when I was teaching.

When I reached into the box this next time, I could feel that there was only one item left.  This was a little sad.  

I really enjoyed emptying the box slowly, one object at a time.  It prolonged the suspense and made each item seem a little more special than it might have if I'd seen everything all at once.  I think if I get more of these subscription boxes in the future, I'll open them this way.  Just for entertainment.

Is everyone ready to see the last toy??  (I really hope it's a toy...)

It's a Lalaloopsy doll!

Not only is this a real toy, but it's a doll.  My favorite!  I promise I didn't peek into the box at any point, nor did I disrupt the order of the pictures in any way.  It just happened that I saved the best item for last.  Yay!  I love it when that happens.

This is what the box would have looked like if I had opened it like a normal person:

The funny thing is that when I read the "Open, Share, Enjoy!" slogan, I assumed they meant that kids should open the box, share the toys with their friends and siblings, and enjoy life!  From reading the website, I see that they mean: open the box, share your toys on social media (i.e., advertise for Toy Box Monthly) and then enjoy your toys.  Oh, well.

Here's the Lalaloopsy mini--her name is Bijou Treasure Trove:

Bijou is made out of a sapphire and is very wise and smart.  At least when it comes to candy:

Bijou comes with a book, a purse, earrings and a little poodle!

Everything pops out of the plastic shell very easily:

Bijou's book is made out of molded plastic and has a sticker cover: "Gems & Jewels from A-Z."

The molded pages are a nice detail for this tiny accessory.

Bijou's purse is too tiny to open, but it has some painted gold details and a beaded handle.  It also has some paint defects on one side, but they're hard to see:

The little translucent blue poodle is by far the cutest accessory:

SO cute!
...but it's a little freaky that his black mouth and eyes are visible through the opposite side of his head:

Is it smiling eerily at me now??
I've never owned a Lalaloopsy mini with earring holes before.  It's a little strange because these dolls do not have ears, but I can look past that detail.  They're headrings, I guess.

They go well with Bijou's other gem-cut blue accents:

She's wearing a transparent blue dress with light blue sleeves and painted gold accents:

Bijou has painted blue tights, darker blue socks and gold shoes.  The painting is not perfect, but it looks great from a distance.

Her hair is in a fancy up-do with a center part and looped details in the back:

Lalaloopsy minis cost $4.99 at the store right now, so that's the value I'd put on this doll.

So, that's everything I found in my mystery Toy Box Monthly shipment!  If I add up all of the estimated values of the items I received, I get about $20...which is exactly what the subscription costs (including shipping).

So I think the value is good in an abstract sense, but the real real question is, would you spend $20 on these same items if you found them at the store?  I would not.  I might have purchased the Lalaloopsy mini and the 6-color pen, but I definitely would have passed on the other items.

Another question is, even if you wouldn't buy these exact items at the store, is the surprise factor worth the extra cost for you or your kids...or is the cost worth it over time?  I guess as a novelty, the $20 price was worth it this time around, but I'd have to see more boxes to determine if the value would be ongoing.

I spent some time at Toys R Us looking through the newer items and thinking about what could have been in this mystery box--or what I could have bought for the $20 I spent on the subscription.  

Shopkins seem to be very popular right now, and clearly Toy Box Monthly was trying to capitalize on this.  The Shopkins toys in the store that were the most appealing to me were the Happy Places figures and their blind box accessories.  I was never able to appreciate the larger Shopkins Shoppie dolls, but these new Lil' Shoppies are really cute.  They also cost $5.49, which fits well into the price range of the toys in this subscription box.

I bought one of these Shopkins figures so that we could look at it in comparison to the toys in the toy subscription box.  This is Rainbow Kate:

I like dolls with rainbow hair, and I also like mini kitchen accessories, so this particular doll was an easy choice for me.

This was the first time I'd seen any of the Happy Places merchandise, so I was grateful for the short description on the back of the box:

I'm still not exactly sure what a Petkin is (my guess is that they're a variety of Shopkin that looks like an pet animal?).

The first time I reviewed Shopkins figures, I wasn't super-impressed.  I liked the mini shopping baskets, but couldn't figure out what some of the actual Shopkins were supposed to be...or what they could be used for.  The Happy Places collection includes a small doll house that can actually be furnished with the tiny Shopkins (Petkins) items.  In my eyes, this adds a welcome level of fun to the entire Shopkins concept.

Rainbow Kate comes with Petkins that can be used in the Kitty Kitchen of the house.

Here's everything that was in the box:

At first I thought that the yellow bag in the lower right up there might contain an extra (surprise!) Petkin, but it's actually just a small stand for Rainbow Kate:

The stand is really nice to have because Kate does not balance well on her own.

Kate comes with a winking kitty mixer:

And a tiny kitty mixing bowl:

Makes me think of Chip from Beauty and the Beast.

These two look adorable together.  If this kitty pair is a good representation of Petkins...I like Petkins a lot more than I like the original Shopkins.  They're super-cute and it's easy to tell what they're supposed to be.  

Kate herself is made out of vinyl and is wearing a colorful (removable) vinyl dress:

She has the same exaggerated facial features as the larger Shoppies, but I like these features more on a smaller scale.

Kate has a strange sprinkling of purple freckles above her nose and quite a few paint defects, but all of this looks better under normal magnification.

Her molded hair is a collection of colorful corkscrew curls:

With a few mysterious dark stains....
Kate's headband is decorated with what I think are a yellow slice of cake, a blue heart, and two yellow pastries:

Maybe the pastries are cinnamon rolls?  

It would have been nice if the cake and pastries were painted different colors.

Kate's hair is a separate piece from her head, but it can not be removed.  The hair is made out of purple vinyl and the colored areas are painted on.

Kate is wearing a simple party dress.  This piece is made out of pink vinyl with details painted in yellow, purple and blue.

The dress has two slits in the front so that Kate can bend her legs.  The dress is flexible and pretty easy to remove.  It reminds me of Polly Pocket clothing...although it's not quite as flexible.

Again, there are a quite a few paint defects, but these are more obvious in my enlarged pictures than they are in real life.

Here's Kate without her dress:

Her legs are pink and her torso is purple, so it looks like she's wearing a leotard and tights.  The small part of her neck that shows above the leotard is painted with a skin tone that does not quite match the head:

She has blue painted shoes.

This little doll also has five points of articulation, which is nice.  She can do front-to-back splits:

And she can sit upright on the ground if she balances on her arms...

...although her left arm sticks out farther from her body than her right, so she tips to one side when she's sitting.

She does have nice molded detail in her hands, though:

Here's Kate next to a Polly Pocket doll so that you can see how big she is:

Despite the similarity in design of these two dolls' clothing, they can't share:

Kate is also about the same size as a Lalaloopsy mini.  As much as I like Lalaloopsy minis, I think a Happy Places Lil' Shoppie would have been a more exciting addition to the Toy Box Monthly subscription box than the older Lala mini.

I like this new collection of Shopkins products quite a lot.  I had been skipping the Shopkins aisle pretty regularly for the past year, but the smaller Happy Places figures, the pet theme, and the house have definitely renewed my interest.

If you can stand it, there will be one more surprise today!  And then I have to stop blogging and drive home...leaving my kid at his new college.  This post might be riddled with errors and typos--which is because I've been writing it in a very odd mix of places: hotel rooms, cars, coffee shops, and (now) a college bookstore.  So far, the trip has been really fun, though, and my son seems happy.  Thank you to everyone who wished him well in this new life adventure.  It means a lot to us.

For the last surprise, Kate will open a blind box of extra Petkins figures! Maybe she will get more accessories for her kitchen?

These Surprise Delivery blind boxes cost $2.99.  The packaging is refreshingly simple--but cute.  It looks like a shipping box:

I'd love to get that cactus!  How cool!
The box is easy to open--it has a pull tab along the top that zips off:

Inside, there's a visible blue tile, a yellow bag and a pamphlet:

The pamphlet lists all of the different Petkins that you can collect, inducing some limited edition heirloom Petkins!  Oooh!  Now I hope I get one of those!

I love the teapot!
The pamphlet also explains what the plastic tile is for--it can be used to expand the house!  That's a neat idea.

Now, let's see what I got in my bag!

I cut open one of the ends...and out popped...?

A Tic-tac?
I turned it around to reveal a cute, happy face (with handles on the side?):

But I still wasn't sure what it is.  

A game controller?  Or a pillow, maybe?

I snipped open the second compartment:

And out came....

Oh!  It's a soap dish, and so the other thing must be a bar of purple soap!

Now I get it.  That's a really big soap dish, though.  It's about the same size as the Petkin mixing bowl.

And now, for the last little item hiding in that yellow bag...

It's a really good thing that I didn't open this side first, because I would have had no idea what this is...

...unless I knew it belonged in the bathroom.  But because of the soap and dish, I actually knew right away that it was a--well, I don't actually know what you call it, but it's one of those poofy balls that you scrub with.

So I got a nice little bathroom set!

I think the handles on the sides of these Petkins heads are actually ears.  So they're all bunnies.  A bunny bathroom!  

I may have had a little trouble figuring out what these figures are, but if I bought or made a Happy Places house, I would definitely have somewhere to put them--and a fun game to play with them.  Imagine living in a house where all of your furniture and appliances were little pets?!  It might get exhausting, but it would certainly never be dull.

So what's the bottom line after all of these little surprises?  Well, I'll probably give the Toy Box Monthly a few more chances (and I'll probably share those boxes with you guys somehow...) but I don't foresee keeping the subscription for very long.  Why not?  Because I can take that $20 to Toys R Us or Target and find little items that I like a lot more--like these new Shopkins Happy Places figures (and a few other little goodies that you'll see in the weeks to come).  Rainbow Kate and her blind box cost $8.50--less than half of the cost of the subscription box--and I like them a lot more.

As much as I love surprises, sometimes there's more fun in picking the exact things that you want...especially if those things come with their own cute little surprises.


  1. You should check out Never Grow Up's reviews ( of Shoppies/Petkins/ whatever you call them. She and her family gathered a houseful of these things, the kitty kitchen is adorable!
    The Toy Box wasn't too bad, it was worth buying for the name alone :) The doll is very cute, I like the transparent details and the blue/gold combo. I think they should have limited the non-toy items to two at most though. It was, what, two toys and four toy themed kid items? It's more like "school supplies box".

  2. I'm happy to see a review of the little Shoppies dolls! I've been tempted by them a lot lately. They're just so cute! Its a shame the Toy Box was mostly school supplies but I really love that pencil case. I hope I can find it somewhere!

    Also, the shower scrubby thing is called a loofah.

  3. Love your blog! I wish your son the best of luck. It was cool to see the surprise box but the only highlight was the doll. You make anything interesting with your amazing writing skills, but if I got that box I would be disappointed. Hopefully the next box will have more toys. As far as the Tsum Tsum figures, I always found them odd too. I love the plush animal (not human) versions. The human plush and figures look very strange to me. Kate is really adorable. I am not a fan of Shopkins for the same reasons you mentioned. But I like the Petkins, they are cute. I can't wait to see more surprises!

  4. What a lovely review!!! <3 :D I loved seeing the surprise box...I've been eyeing them for a while and wondering if I should take the plunge. I also really enjoyed hearing your opinions on the new Shopkins...I may have to get some! :)

    Oh, and I think that the scrubby Petkins thing is maybe called a loofa? Just a guess. ;)

  5. I think the two Petkins that fit into each other is supposed to be a bar of soap and a holder?

  6. I hope your son has a wonderful time in college. It's a great opportunity.
    I liked the toy box but it seems like it would only be good value if you had a couple of kids in grade school at home, there's always one who likes practical gifts while the other likes toys so they could split it and have fun.
    The mini Lalaloopsy is so pretty. I love the shades of blue.
    Do your lip glosses have a peppermint scent? I've had a few with that scent over the years and they also caused a mysterious condensation though it was mostly in the gloss container itself. The Alice toy is odd because it would have been just as easy to have her stand like a person instead of crouching like an animal.In this position, I'd use her as a board game marker, though.
    Thanks for the review. I had no idea Shopkins also had a doll. She's cute.

  7. Really fun article. I m sooo happy with every new one on your wonderful blogg

  8. Ah the little Shoppie girl is so cute! Honestly I would be pretty disappointed of I ordered a toy box surpise subscription and got mostly non-toys and one mini lala. I have one mini la la and that is all I need. The bigger shoppies are more appealing to me than the small ones. In just having trouble justifying buying more dolls!

  9. Emily, so happy you are back!! Look forward to hearing about more of the Toy Box Monthly, as well as any other toy adventure you have along the way. I've never heard of Shopkins till now. As always, love your detail and great photos. I liked reading about all the different places you've been writing this post to put it together!

  10. I love all Tsum Tsums! I can totally see how some would find them weird though.

    Just so you know.....the White Rabbit isn't crying, those are his glasses.

  11. Is it smiling eerily at me now??

    Pfrrrt. Hilariously creepy!

    It is so fun seeing so much of you, recently n.n I feel like no longer seeing this blog as your job has given you a sense of renewed freedom and an inspiration boost. That makes me very happy. I've been reading much longer than I've been commenting, and I missed you tremendously while you were gone, and worried for your health and safety. Now every time I come onto your blog, and get to see all these happy posts, it makes me so thrilled! This post had so many surprises, it has me reeling. I completely understand why you're feeling apprehensive about this box though, for now, since my favourite things were the ones you picked out. Like other commenters have pointed out, this box would be better if you had some elementary school aged kids. I hope the next box is a step up from this one. And I hope your son has a marvellous time at college, and learns lots of interesting things about life and himself!

  12. I've wondered about how subscription boxes for toys worked - thanks for the review! I don't think this box was worth the $20, as mentioned, but I'm a sucker for 'surprises' or blind bag/boxed items so I probably would have subscribed to something like this just for the adventure.

    Just as another idea - it would be fun to see a post where you collected about $20 of items at your local toy store and did a similar review on your finds. It wouldn't be a surprise for you, of course, but more like what your mystery box would contain if you had done it. Looks like you already found some cute stuff on your own that should have been in that box! lol

  13. "Ok--I'll say it--I was a little disappointed by this. This isn't a toy. It's a school supply. School stuff reminds me that summer is over."

    Little girls LOVE these things. They're useful for storing little makeup things, smaller toys, etc. So this is a great item to have in a mystery box of small items.

    My daughter loves those little Tsums. I don't understand them. They're like roly-polies with faces.

    "I find these figures borderline offensive for all kinds of reasons that I can't completely explain."

    Right?! Me too! They make my skin crawl.

    I like the idea of this box for my daughter, and might put together a monthly box of small items like this for her as a reward of sorts.