Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Surprise: Family Corners by Mattel!

Some of my favorite Sunday Surprise dolls have been vintage items that are older than my kids.  The Jolly Dolly babies from Easter are a good example, as is one of my all-time favorite baby dolls: the Sweet e.Baby from 1999.  I like these older dolls because they offer secrets that have been hidden for decades, but also because they give a fascinating glimpse into the history of dolls in our society.

A few weeks ago I was talking about how Mattel has been making some modernizing changes to many of their doll lines.  Today I will go back in time and show you how this company was doing things in the early 90s.  The Family Corners dolls came out in 1994 and featured separately-sold male and female characters.  Kids could match up their favorite couple, stage a wedding, and then reveal a hidden baby doll.  I bought these dolls because of the secret baby (a fitting topic for Mother's Day...happy Mother's Day!) but what I actually find more interesting is how the presentation of this concept manages to be both socially restrictive...and also inspiringly open-minded.

Family Corners "Nicholas" and "Trista" dolls (1994).
I'm not positive about this, but it doesn't seem like Family Corners lasted very long on the market.  Mattel only produced five male and five female characters (all released in 1994).  The females are packaged with a cardboard house and the males come with the secret baby.  I was mostly curious about the babies, so I purchased a male doll first.

These dolls are fairly easy to find on the secondary market, but their prices are all over the map.  New-in-box male characters range in price from under $10 to over $40.  I bought Nicholas because he was the least expensive option at the time.  He was only $12.99:

Family Corners "Nicholas" doll (1994).
There's a lot packed into these boxes.  First, there's Nicholas himself:

He comes with two complete outfits--including a flashy-looking tuxedo for his impending (arranged) marriage.

Nicholas also comes with a cardboard chapel that can transform into a nursery:

Using the word "chapel" here is tactful.  Chapels are typically non-denominational, and the designers haven't imposed any religious specificity in the decoration of Nicholas' chapel.  It can be whatever you want it to be.  Mattel does make it pretty clear that the characters should get married before the baby is introduced, though.  

The baby is hidden behind a cardboard sleeve in the upper right hand corner of the box:

There's some pretty clever marketing going on here.  Not only do kids have to buy two dolls in order to complete their chosen couple, but they have to buy a father if they want a baby.  I'll hazard a guess that baby dolls sell significantly better than adult male dolls.

The directions for how to form a couple get pretty specific on the back of the box:

Here's a closer look at the terrible rhymes text on top:

The mix-and-match concept of this line is great, but Mattel went super-safe with the the couple they chose to feature.  It's the two blonde dolls--essentially just miniatures of Barbie and Ken.

The text declares that "any combination makes a family!"

But then the photograph at the very bottom of the box shows each doll paired with their exact skin and hair color twin:

It also makes me nervous that each of these couples has a baby...a girl...who looks like them.  That's biologically accurate, of course, but it might make today's surprise a little lame.

My favorite section of the box shows a tiny photograph of each doll with their accessories.  Each woman has a different house design and each man has a nursery...and a baby with similar coloring:

Here's a closer look at each of the women:

I like Nichelle's house best and I like the Trista doll better than the others.  Most of the women have bangs, and this does not tend to be a good feature--especially on really small dolls.  I tried hard not to look too closely at the men because I didn't want to see those babies and ruin whatever surprises might be left.

I pulled Nicholas and his accessories out of the box.  Everything was attached to the blue cardboard backdrop with thread or wire ties.

There was an instruction pamphlet hiding behind the backdrop:

This describes in detail what each type of doll comes with:

Every Word is Capitalized.
Note that the women come with "stylish" outfits and the men come with "cool" outfits.  Stylish and cool for 1994, at any rate.  Although many 1990s styles are coming back into fashion.

The inside of the instruction booklet has black and white pictures of each character...this time with little descriptions:

It's reiterated here that there's no right or wrong choice to make a family. 

Here's Nicholas' character description:

Ok, Nick might be a wrong choice.
If Nick is a beach bum who enjoys cheesy puns, his wife might need more than a good sense of humor.

The inside of the booklet has directions for how to open up the house:

There's also a quick reminder that the dolls should be married before they open the baby.  

The preachiness of this statement is offset by its sing-song rhyme: "A baby for you after saying I do!"  But nothing can soften the freaky blank-eyed stare of the actual baby:

Whether you want it or not, here's a zombie-eyed tot.
I hope the baby doll doesn't look like that.  It reminds me of a Little Apple doll.

Anyway, the nursery connects to the main house and can be decorated with stickers:

The instructions are very simple and hardly necessary.  Everything's self-explanatory.

Back to Nickname Nick:

It's very easy to get everything out of the box.  I removed all of the accessories except for the baby:

Nick can stand on his own, although he has little feet and tips over backwards quite frequently.

He comes wearing a long plaid flannel shirt, a yellow tank top, denim pants and painted shoes.  Nick's shirt is well-made and soft, but it has a dramatically out-of-scale plaid print and is way too long:

He has a happy face...with preposterous eyes:

Not only are Nick's pupils wonky, but his electric blue irises are enormous.  They take up practically the entire eye socket:

There's a sinister, alien-like look in Nick's eyes, too.  With the illustration in the instruction booklet and now this...I'm getting really worried about what that baby will look like.

The outfit is probably supposed to be reminiscent of Kurt Cobain and the whole grunge subculture of the 90s...but that shirt just ends up looking like a housecoat.

Come as You Are, Nick.
The shirt does not have any velcro or snaps, it simply slides off Nick's shoulders.

I don't know how "cool" or flattering this shirt is on Nick, but all of the edges are well-finished and it has little details--like folded cuffs and a lined collar--impressive for such a small garment.

Under the flannel shirt, Nick is wearing a bright yellow tank top that's tucked into his pants:

That's more Miami Vice than grunge.
The tank top shows off Nick's arms, which--sadly--are not articulated below the shoulder:

The tank top closes in back with a single large plastic snap:

The shirt does not open all of the way down the back, though.  There's a small section that's connected at the very bottom.  This makes it easier to tuck back into the pants:

Nick's pale denim pants close in the back with a small square of velcro.  They look pretty good on him and are easy to get on and off.  

Without his two shirts, Nick's neck joint is exposed.  This area doesn't look great to me, though, and the joint only allows the head to spin around--not move up or down.

The neck joint is nowhere near as bad as what's going on underneath those denim pants, though.  You should probably brace yourselves.

Nick has...well, geez.  I don't even know how to describe this.  Basically, he has a contoured nether region with rounded features.  That's fine.  But the rounded lower torso abruptly attaches to simple, angular cut-outs in his legs.  The combination is super-weird: 

I mean there's no detail down there, per se, but the contrast between the torso shape and the leg shape creates creases and implied details that are hypnotically wrong.  I have a hard time looking away:

It makes me think of ham shanks or hot dog buns.

It's not graphic or inappropriate, but somehow it feels that way.  Let's avert our eyes and look at Nick's face:

Oh, good grief.
Alright, maybe that wasn't such a good idea.  Thinking about ham shanks wasn't so bad, was it? 

Anyway--Nick has enormous blue eyes. The eyes are too big for the head, the irises are too big for the eye sockets...and the pupils are too big for the irises.  It's a perfect hat trick of eye scale problems:

Nick's hair is painted a mustard yellow color (more of a Dijon mustard than a French mustard...) and has some molded curls in the back:

Still thinking about hot dogs, apparently.

His loafers are also molded and painted, although the paint job is not perfect and nobody bothered to paint him any socks:

I guess sock-less loafers we're a thing back in the late 1980s and early 1990s (and are still fashionable today...) but Don Johnson pulled this off better than poor Nick.

Nick has five points of articulation (neck, shoulders, hips).  All of his joints are simple rotating joints and can only move in one plane.  This means that he can do front-to-back splits...

...but can't move his legs from side to side at all.

Nick can also sit on the ground with his legs straight out...and with his bottom sticking out below his legs:

He doesn't balance very well in any complicated poses, but he can manage this very slow walk:

I think those three pictures give you the general idea here.  Needless to say, I was eager to put Nick's clothes back on.

Nick is 6.5 inches tall.  For reference, here he is next to Barbie's Chelsea:

Barbie Chelsea and Family Corners Nicholas.
He's in the same scale as the (discontinued) Barbie Mini Kingdom Princesses, and is just a bit bigger than the Disney Store's mini Princesses:

From left: Disney Store mini Elsa, Family Corners Nicholas, Barbie Mini Kingdom Rapunzel.
Remember that Nick comes with two outfits: his regular clothes and a colorful tuxedo set:

The tuxedo only has a partial shirt and vest, though, presumably to keep the bulkiness down:

That's a bold fashion statement, Nick.
The striped pants are sewn to a floral vest with a small black tie and a large white collar.  There's a square of velcro in the back...and not much else:

Hi, I'm Nick!  I like floral prints and backless shirts.
I think he looks better with the jacket on:

The jacket closes in front with one plastic snap.  It has some nice little details, like a bit of white peeking out at each cuff and satiny, notched lapels:

Nick also comes with the cardboard baby's room panel that doubles as a wedding gazebo.  Here's the gazebo side with its opening doors pulled apart:

I've awakened the gazebo.
The baby room side has a fold-out playpen and a tab that can be used to connect the room to a larger house:

The play pen helps the room balance on its own:'s Nick, all ready to be married!

In my quest to find Nick a suitable mate, I purchased Trista, my favorite of the Family Corners female dolls:

Trista comes with one of the prettier wedding dresses, too:

Trista's box is a lot heavier than Nick's, and this is because she comes with a more substantial doll house--not just one panel:

The back of Trista's box is exactly the same as the back of Nick's box:

Here's the blue cardboard insert with everything still attached:

As with Nick, the de-boxing was simple and the waste is almost all recyclable.  

Here's Trista with her wedding gown and (book-shaped!) house:

Trista's bio says that she loves cats and computers and that she's an author who writes children's stories.  I knew I liked Trista!

Awesome cat lady.
Trista has long black hair that's prone to static flyaways:

Brushing her hair only makes things worse:

The hair fiber is smooth and attractively shiny, though, and it's densely-rooted:

The small scale of Trista's head, combined with the dense rooting, makes the hair stick out in an impressive mane around Trista's face:

In order to control this hair's static and volume, I pulled it back into a thick ponytail:

The only problem with this hairstyle is that the weight of the ponytail pulls Trista over backwards.  She has to lean forward in order to keep her balance.

Her pretty face is easier to see with the hair under control:

Catherine Zeta-Jones clone.
Trista has large eyes with big pupils, but at least her irises are scaled so that there's some white showing at the edges of each eye.  This makes a big difference:

Also, Trista's head is attached to her body differently.  Not only does her neck look more natural than Nick's, but it's more flexible, too.  She can tip her head up, down and side-to-side.  It almost feels like these two dolls are from completely different lines.

Trista has more painted detail in the area surrounding her eyes, too.  She has dark brown eyelashes on her upper eyelids and a single light brown accent on her lower lid.  If you look really closely, you can also see a tiny green highlight alongside each pupil:

Trista is wearing a high-collared striped shirt that comes knotted at her waist.  The shirt has to be untied before it can be removed:

This outfit seems more 80s than 90s to me, but fashion history is not my specialty.  I just know that I saw knotted shirts with popped collars like that back in the 1980s.

Under the striped shirt, Trista is wearing a chartreuse cropped tee shirt and mottled blue shorts:

Here's a closer look:

The shirt closes in back with a thick piece of velcro that looks sloppy.  The shorts have a plastic snap closure that looks more polished:

I was a little nervous about uncovering Trista's body design, but--to my relief--she has a very normal-looking doll body:

Trista has five point of articulation, but some of her joints (her head being the most notable) move better than the equivalent joints on Nick.  Trista also has slightly better balance than Nick, and can pose in a few non-standard positions:

Trista's arms only have rotational movement, but her legs can move from side-to-side a little bit:

She can do full front-to-back splits:

She can also sit on the ground without her bottom hanging out in an awkward way:

Trista has painted blue sneakers--with socks:

She's almost the same scale as Barbie's Mini Kingdom Princesses:

But the dolls' bodies are actually quite different.  Rapunzel has a much slimmer waist, narrower limbs and a smaller head:

Family Corners Trista with Barbie Mini Kingdom Rapunzel.
I was surprised to see that Trista can actually fit into Barbie Rapunzel's dress.  The length is a bit too short, though:

Nice shoes, Trista.
Here's Trista with another one of my Barbie Princesses.  I got this doll second hand with no packaging, so don't know which character she's supposed to be.  I pretend she's Cinderella:

Barbie Mini Kingdom doll with Family Corners Trista.
Cinderella has the same body as Rapunzel, but her head is larger--about the same size as Trista's head.

Trista is quite a bit larger then the Disney Store minis, so there's no way these two would be able to share clothes.

In this next picture I was trying to have Trista help Disney Store mini Elsa with her balance, but somehow managed to make Elsa look like a crazed zombie who's coming after Trista...eyeing her hungrily as Trista attempts to hold her back.  I can only imagine what's about the happen here:

Oh, what a cute little...oh wait!  Hey!  Stop that!  Help!! Ahhhh!!!
Sorry about that.  

Before we get Trista ready for the wedding, let's take a quick look at her house:

The door frame of the house is made out of hollow plastic.  This thick section helps the whole structure stand up on its own.  It's not very secure, though, and doesn't hold its position very well.

The actual door (complete with suitor) is just a decorative cardboard insert: 

Before we look at the whole house, let me tell you up front that Trista really does like cats.  A lot.  See if you can spot all of them!

On the first panel there's a dining room table and a section of carpet that fold down:

The table is set for two and there's an engagement ring sitting right there!

Nick will like those plates.
The next two "pages" of the house make up the living room.  In this area, a large rug folds down in front of the couch:

The rug won't stay down, though, unless someone is standing on it:

The rug is decorated with several items, including a photo album showing Trista with several of her friends:

Over the couch, there's a large wedding portrait with no groom:

Each male doll comes with some stickers that can be added to that portrait.  Here are the ones that came with Nick:

That's not the tuxedo Nick wears in real life...
Nick looks better in pictures than he does in real life.

It's a little hard to focus on Nick, though.  Did you see the sticker of the baby??  Oh, dear:

Ok, it's not a zombie-eyed baby, which is good, but man.  It's like a Mary Engelbreit version of Shirley Temple.  I hope the baby looks better in real life than she looks in pictures.

Opposite the couch, there a desk with a computer (where Trista writes her stories!):

Remember--that's computer from 1994.
The back panel of the house (the back of the book) is an outdoor porch with a wooden chair:

Ok, how many cats did you count?  I found 10, but that includes things like the statue near the couch. There are seven pet cats and three other cat items.  That's a lot of cats.

With Nick's chapel/nursery, Trista's house can gain an additional room:

And another cat:

This might be a stuffed cat, though.  It's fairly realistic, but it's drawn in a very different style from Trista's pet cats:

Real cats don't wear bows.
Here's a pet cat for comparison:

Now I guess it's time to get Trista ready for her wedding, although I have to say that I'm not really feeling Trista and Nick as a good couple.  I want to see that mystery baby, though, so let's do things Mattel's way and get on with the vows.

Trista has a sleek sheath dress with a big train.  The train is so big and stiff, in fact, that it allows the dress to stand up on its own:

The dress is easy to get on, but I could not figure out how to use the veil...

Taco veil.
And the train is absurdly stiff:

The train is like one of the thick, scratchy tulle petticoats that come with many of the Disney Store Princesses...but it's just tacked awkwardly to the back of the dress.  I might snip it off.

Trista's blue sneakers also look out-of-place with this dress, but they remind me of Annie's fashion choice in Father of the Bride (the Steve Martin version), so I like them.

Here's the happy (?) couple together:

Nick, I thought we talked about that shirt.
Tying the knot in front of their gazebo chapel:

They seem happy enough, I guess...

...but is Nick looking lovingly at Trista, or over her head at someone else??

In any case--finally!  The actual surprise part of this post!  Let's see that baby.

I left the baby attached to the box so that I wouldn't peek prematurely:

Ok, ok.  They said "I do."  Now I can peek...

Well, it's definitely a girl.  I see a dress and some flashes of pink.

I lifted up the side of the cardboard shield...

...and it's the blonde baby girl that I figured would come with Nick:

But look at how cute she is!

I'm going to name her Bella Mara (courtesy of the hilarious Baby Name Genie).

Bella doesn't have zombie eyes at all, nor does she have her father's massively-oversized alien-like electric blue eyes.  She has a very sweet little face and normal eyes.

Let's talk about this hair, though:

The hair is mostly molded and painted blonde (not mustard blonde, but a creamy, buttery blonde).  However, there's also a tuft of rooted hair at the top of the baby's head, and this is tied into two pigtails with very large, very yellow rubber bands. 

I'll get back to the hair in a sec.

Another problem is that the little dress (while cute from the front) is messy-looking and difficult to fasten in back because of a huge plastic snap:

Overall there's just too much going on with this outfit.  It overwhelms the tiny baby.

Fortunately, Bella's wearing a pretty little underskirt that can pass for a sundress:

Much better.
With the bulky dress out of the way, I felt compelled to do something with Bella's hair.  The pink bows were coming untied and those yellow rubber bands looked terrible:

Here's what the rooted hair looks like with everything removed:

Troll baby!
The hair is dry and coarse...and was reluctant to relax.

I took the opportunity to inspect Bella's cute facial features.  Not all of the paint is perfect, but the overall effect is good:

Bella's head can spin around, but her hard plastic body does not have any other points of articulation:

I tied Bella's tuft of rooted hair into a single high ponytail using a small, clear rubber band.  I had a really difficult time tying the pink ribbon into a new bow, though.  It's way too tiny for my big hands:

Still, I think this is an improvement.

Bella looks worlds better than her sticker portrait, anyway:

Nick has a permanently bent arm, so he can hold Bella:

Trista does not have any baby-holding arms, though.  In fact, I'm not so sure she's really a baby person.

Um, I thought you meant a baby cat.
At this point I was getting the sense that Trista and Nick really shouldn't be together.  I mean he likes sports, babies and floral prints, and she likes cats. A lot.  This got me thinking: are there any obvious matches in Mattel's Family Corners character descriptions?  Let's find out.

First, here are the men (starting with Nick, who you've met):

Hangs at the beach and cracks bad jokes.
Now, meet Derek:

Hangs at the beach and dances.
Here's Joey:

Intelligent and romantic midlife crisis guy.
And Kurt:

Hangs at the beach and plays jazz.
And last, here's Ryan:

Likes sports.
Ok, so basically all of the guys hang at the beach or like sports, and have a baby.

Let's see how that pairs with the girls.  You remember Trista:

Likes pets and writing.
This is Becky:

Likes pets and cooking.
Here's Melody (the redhead):

Likes pets and sculpting.
Meet Lacey:

An artist. Wants a man who's like Trista.
And this is Nichelle:

Likes pets and sewing.
The girls all seem to like pets and some form of creative art.  All except for Lacey.  She doesn't like pets.  Not sure what's up with her.

I wanted to add a few more contestants into the mix, so let's formally meet Mini Kingdom Cinderella and Rapunzel:

Hi!  I'm Cinderella*!
*or at least Emily pretends I am...
I like being on time and I enjoy fragile footwear!
And here's Rapunzel:

I'm Rapunzel...but with creepy purple eyes.
I enjoy babies...raw.
And last but not least, here's petite-and-pale Elsa:

I'm Elsa and I like the snow and singing!
I also have some zombie-like tendencies.
Let's see who would be the best match for Nick:

...maybe not anyone who wants to eat his baby.
Would he get along with Cinderella?  She seems sweet enough...

But I don't think her punctuality would mesh well with his beach bum lifestyle.  And I think he's looking over her head, too.  Hm.

Actually, I think the best match for Nick is another one of the guys...someone else who plays sports, likes kids, and might enjoy hanging at the beach.  

I also just wanted to open another male character so that I could peek at a second mystery baby.  It's Sunday Surprise, after all!

I bought Ryan because he's the redheaded guy, and so I figured he'd have a redheaded baby:

He comes with the exact same chapel/nursery panel that came with Nick.  He has different outfits, though...and I'm hoping for a different baby.

Ryan's causal outfit includes a collared shirt and khaki pants:

His face paint looks a lot better than Nick's.  First of all, he has a closed-mouth smile that's much more natural:

Also, he has some extra detail in his eyebrows and his eyes looks semi-reasonable:

His irises are huge--just like Nick's--but because they're so pale, they look more normal from a distance.  Here's a comparison:

Ryan's hair is also molded a little differently than Nick's.  Ryan has a curl of hair at the front of his face, but then the sides and back are straight:

Ryan's shirt has a camouflage-style pattern with swirl of dark metallic bronze mixed in.  His pants are my favorite, though.  They have wonderful little pleats in the front:

Ryan's tuxedo outfit also includes a backless shirt, but this version has a glittery golden cummerbund and a matching metallic tie:

Hi! I'm Ryan and I like sports...and Chippendales!
The tuxedo jacket is exactly like Nick's.  I prefer Ryan's outfit overall because of the plain black pants and the more traditional white shirt.  I think the splashes of gold are very fun--especially for a wedding.

He's actually quite handsome:

I'm Bond.  Ryan Bond.
But let's look at that baby!  I'm ready for another Mother's Day surprise.

First, I peeked underneath the cardboard sleeve.  I was really excited to see that this baby has a completely different outfit!  It looks like a little romper:

And, as I folded the cardboard back, I saw a flash of red hair!

Look at her!  She's really sweet:

This little baby comes with her rooted hair already in a single ponytail, which I think is the best style for this particular hair combination.

The Baby Name Genie gives me "Talia London" as a name for this cutie.

Talia's romper closes in back with a large plastic snap that distorts the shape of the whole back of the outfit:

The romper looks better from the front.  It has a blue bib that encircles Talia's neck. It's a gender-neutral outfit, but I think the hairstyle suggests that this is supposed to be another girl.

Talia has the same face mold as Bella, but she has bright sea-green eyes:

Here's Talia alongside her sticker portrait--which isn't quite as bad as Bella's sticker:

I introduced Ryan and Talia to Nick and Bella, and they all seemed to get along pretty well:

Hi Ryan, you can call me by my Nickname.  Get it...?
I can picture them hanging out at the beach together with their sock-less loafers and cute babies:

Except for the fact that Nick's possessed eyes just ruin the picture.  These three are my favorites:

What about Trista, though?  We can't leave her all alone.  I decided that what she probably wants most of all is a few more cats, so I got her a Kitty in My Pocket cat carrier with two surprise kitties!

Let's end the Sunday Surprise by seeing what those cats look like.  Trista hesitantly opened the cat carrier door...

And pulled out a bag of cats!

What's more fun than a bag of cats?
I cut one edge of the bag open, and Trista waited to see who would come out...

I see some eyes in there, I think...

Here he comes:

He's a fuzzy black cat with bright green eyes and a toy pumpkin.  That's very Halloween.  I think I'll name him Spook:

Spook has a lot of dust in his fur and a wandering left eye:

While Trista was watching Spook, I peeked into the bag and saw a flash of white!

The other cat is a blue-eyed white female with a pink flower in her fur:

She also has blue on the insides of her ears.  I decided to name her Tweedia (a light blue flower):

After I named Spook and Tweedia, I realized that they already have names--apparently they're Punkin and Snowflake.  Not super-original.

I remember Kitty in My Pocket figures as being smaller than this.  Not sure what happened.  Oh, well.  Trista seems very happy with her (oversized) new friends!

Bottom line?  Mattel's Family Corners sets do not offer any real surprises.  As it turns out, the mystery babies are all girls who match the coloring of their fathers...and all of the babies are pictured on the outside of the box.  Still, I tried to ignore the box pictures so that seeing Bella and Talia for the first time felt a little bit like a surprise.

The mix-and-match element of the Family Corners concept is its main selling point...and biggest strength.  However, Mattel underplays this fun by showing all of the characters paired with the partner of the opposite sex who looks just like them.  In addition, the descriptions of each character don't offer any nuances that can be used for match-making: all of the guys like sports and the beach, all of the girls like pets and creative hobbies.  I suspect a lot of kids simply sought out the male doll who "matched" their favorite female doll, knowing they'd get a little matching baby in the process.  
Another issue is that the presentation of these dolls is too cumbersome.  The large cardboard houses--while colorful and fun to look at--are tricky to use and fall over easily.  The houses also make the packaging large, and surely impacted the overall price of the toy...all things that discourage the mix-and-match theme of the line.  At first glance the Family Corners concept seems full of possibilities, but it ends up feeling rigid and limiting.

While the Family Corners concept might fall short of its potential, the dolls themselves are not bad. Trista has nice articulation, a pretty face, and long, shiny hair.  Nick is not very appealing because of his poor eye paint, but Ryan is a handsome long as he keeps his pants on.  The babies have a strange style of hair, but their faces are sweet and engaging.  The 6-inch size of these dolls is great for collecting, too--not big enough to create storage hassles, and yet not so small that they're hard to play with.  The clothes in this line are, for the most part, interesting and well-made for such a small scale.  There are a few missteps, though, like Bella's bulky dress and Nick's over-the-top tuxedo and housecoat shirt.   

The Family Corners line did not enjoy any long-term success back in the 1990s.  And I don't think the brand would be successful today, either--not in its current form, anyway.  In fact, I don't know of any popular contemporary doll lines (other than dollhouse dolls) that focus on a family-building theme.  But I really loved putting together doll families when I was a kid.  After teaching all of my dolls to ride horses, making little families for them was my top priority.  This got me thinking, and I came up with a vision for an inclusive, Family Corners-type doll line that might be successful on the current doll market.  Think of it as internet dating for dolls.  

Here's the basic idea: for starters, there'd be a medium assortment of initial characters (male and female, different ethnicities), each sold separately.  No house would be included with these dolls, but they'd come with a few outfits and a mini book describing elements of their life: their job, hobbies, favorite foods, pets, fashion sense (mirrored in the actual outfits...), dreams for the future, etc.  There'd be lots of content for kids to scour, looking for little details to help them identify with their doll and round out its personality.  These dolls would probably have to be sold online so that kids could browse the information about each character before they made their purchase.  The first doll would arrive with an access code that would unlock access to a broader database of characters.  Kids could go online again and search the personalities of other dolls, seeking a good match--any gender.  The idea here is not that there'd be one "correct" partner for each doll, but rather that each child would focus on different characteristics of their doll and seek out qualities in other dolls that they felt were complimentary.  Then--and this is the best part--once a child settled on a doll pair that they were happy about, they could choose to order order wedding clothes...and a baby.  They'd order their baby by entering the reference numbers of the two adult dolls they picked, and the company would send them a mystery baby with a surprise mix of the two parents' features!  Eeee!  It would be so fun and exciting.  There could even be the option for a random baby selection--if the new couple chose to adopt.  There could also be pets available to order for families that wanted a furry companion...or for characters like Trista who just aren't into babies.  Mattel would probably have to choose a more appropriate name for this brand, though.  I'm thinking something clever like Famil-eHarmony, or maybe Kinder.

My idea never would have worked in 1994.  But the ubiquity of computer technology and the increasing diversity of modern families might make 2017 the right time to bring customizable, pint-sized, family-based play dolls back to the market.  What do you think, Mattel?


  1. Your idea sounds awesome! And it's something everyone I know would have loved as a kid.

  2. I used to have that one barbie mini, I think she is Annalise from Barbie and the Princess and the Pauper! Great review as always, Emily!

  3. Love your idea! It would be good if they could order kids of a few different ages - babies, toddlers/pre-schoolers, or school age kids. Or even grandparents!
    Whatever it is that's going on in Nick's pants has scarred me for life

  4. Your idea is excellent. It would really be mixing and matching.
    I loved this review, at the size they are they'd be perfect for most miniature dollhouses.
    Thanks, Emily. I hope you enjoyed Mother's Day.

  5. Oh my goodness! I was thinking about these the other day as I had a friend that had some of them. I could not remember the name of them and the things I could remember were not turning up the right results. I am so glad you posted this! Such a fun review!

  6. Cute review!! I love tiny dolls so these are fun for me. The theme of the line is pretty weird though, in my opinion. I think I like Trista with her cats!

    The 'cinderella' doll looks like Mini Kingdom Clara (looks to be the version with the set of snap-on clothes) wearing the outfit from the Party (tea party? Princess Party?) Erika doll!

  7. This review cracked me up! Your idea also sounds amazing, and absolutely up the alley of every creative and tedious kid. I could imagine the fun of showing off your family to your friends. It would pair well with a multimedia series, too, in which the singles all have interactive online dating profiles or videos. Playing matchmaker to your original doll would be awesomely fun.

  8. I Ship Nick and Ryan! So cute, I love your idea.
    Luis from México.

  9. I absolutely LOVE your concept for "Kinder" dolls! So many possibilities! :D

    Nick, Ryan, and the baby girls would make a very nice family, even though Talia and Bella would probably tease their fathers pretty mercilessly over those "radical" 90s fashions once they got a bit older. Meanwhile, Trista can marry Lacey. I mean, they already work together and get along great, and Lacey can help take care of all of the cats. Thank God she doesn't have any pets of her own, though, because then we'd probably see those two on an episode of "Animal Hoarders"...

    And one more thing: I couldn't stop laughing at your description of Nick's...erm..."lower half." Hot dog buns is right! XD

  10. oooohhh my god, this review was absolutely hysterical already (HOT DOG GROIN) and then you referenced the dread gazebo. and I lost it. this is why you're my favourite reviewer.

    also, i know that review is like a decade old, but remember the poseable morgan horse with the broken hocks? well, I managed to finangle a way to make it bend right-ways! it takes a lot of elbow grease, screws, drilling and a gung-ho attitude, but it's possible if you're like me and find anatomical errors unforgiveable.

    keep rockin', emily.

  11. If your idea became a thing, I would love to purchase those dolls! It's an amazing idea.

  12. I LOVED reading this! I've always loved mini dolls and impulsively bid on & won a lot with all the dolls & clothing in it - save for 2 of the tuxedo jackets - a few years ago but never bothered looking for real instructions so seeing your unboxing process was great. Trista is my own favorite of the girls too - with Nichelle and Lacey close behind - while Derek, Kurt and Ryan are my favorite boys from the bunch.

    Your new idea for them sounds adorable as well.

  13. It's rather odd that none of the characters seem like good matches for their opposite-gender partner options. A line all about building families should at least attempt to create some sense of compatibility between all of its characters. At least Nick found someone who isn't put off by his eyes or stupid jokes, and I hope they're happy. Trista might need to get some help, though. Those cats might take over!

  14. Happy belated Mother's Day and thank you for the review!
    Ryan is pretty handsome, and Nick's lower body is hilarious xDD I think they are a nice couple though, as well as Trista and her companion Lacey :) The babies are the cutest!

  15. I'm afraid I would have been a difficult kid and never combined the couples they picked.My daughter Emma had Nick. She used his shirt on her Stacie size dolls, and it fit perfectly. That should tell you ho out of scale for him it is! Your idea sounds great. maybe you should start your own company. Get one of those 3D printers and you could make all those babies of combined ethnicity to order!

  16. Fantastic review! When I was a kid, I had no idea about the existence of this series. I found photos of Family Corners a few years ago on the internet and I'm thrilled that dolls look like miniatures from the Barbie series! Does not Nick look like 90's Ken? And Trista is a copy of 90's Kira!
    Fantastic idea for a family series of dolls!

  17. oh my God! Your doll dating idea sounds awesome!

  18. Omg love your review as always , you should tottaly try to do a sunday surprise with bratz secret date , it like a 2 pack with a girl and the boy hiding behind the packaging, like a dolls bling bags , it was the most controvesials line at the time because of the commercials here "" parents said that they would enconrage girls to sneak out of their house to go on secret date and drink because the accesories look like champagne, the line was later rebrand and name blind date or something.

  19. I hadn't actually realized that the dolls were minis until you started doing the comparison looks. Which was interesting because I thought they were normal sized dolls lol

  20. I'm convinced that packing the baby with the dude was to get kids to ask for a male doll more than they're trying to enforce fathers.

    I love how the back of the box makes it sound like they were SURPRISED when a baby was suddenly born!

    Nickname Nick has little feet, and you know what they say about men with little feet! Bwahaha!! Sorry, I needed that laugh after today's news about Tiny-hands.

    "Nick's shirt is well-made and soft, but it has a dramatically out-of-scale plaid print and is way too long:"

    I could sob. Oh, Emily, 90's fashion was awful. I was in Oregon as a teenager, and fashions reached us a few years later. So it was the late 90's when the flannels arrived. Big scale like this was popular, huge and baggy and long was popular... See, it contributed to the slacker look. It said we were too cool to care about things actually FITTING. I once wore a pair of jeans that weren't threatening to fall off my butt if I took a belt off. In other words, they fit properly. I was asked by a girl in choir why I was wearing TIGHT pants!! Today's boot but was too tight on my legs by the standards then.

    His nether regions look like he got the John Bobbit treatment. It looks like a penis should be there, and a sac,'s not. I think that's what looks wrong. (For the record, in retrospect, I with that dolls that didn't have molded underwear would have just had molded genitalia, even if not detailed. Genitalia isn't something to be ashamed of.

    Trista shouldn't have that fishbowl above her computer. What if a cat knocks it over?!

    Did you notice none of the women say they want kids? And that Lacey, the one who doesn't say she loves pets, reads children's books? I hope she reads more than that.

    The Disney dolls...The one you call Cinderella has Rapunzel's coloring, the blonde with blue eyes. The one meant to be Rapunzel has Aurora's coloring, blonde hair, and some people see her eyes as blue, and some as PURPLE.

    LOL@ Nick carrying the baby like a football!

    "I don't know of any popular contemporary doll lines (other than dollhouse dolls) that focus on a family-building theme."

    This would be too controversial today. There'd be idiots complaining that even one line of dolls focused on baby-having would be teaching girls that they have to have babies to be complete. I see it as offering options since some girls do want that.

    "Famil-eHarmony, or maybe Kinder"

    eHarmony is against gay people. I like Kinder. And let kids pick a same-sex doll!

  21. I had the red headed doll Melody when I was a child, but I had no idea that she was supposed to have a husband and a baby. If I had gotten only the male doll instead then I would have had a single father doll. :) Because she was the same scale as a Stacie doll, I used to play that she was a child of Barbie's. So funny to read this review! :)

  22. I would defiantly go for your idea when it comes to a "family building" toy. I know I would have been left out of the original, after all, my parents did not say "I do" before having me or my brother. XD
    My Bi-racial baby sister would also have been left out. Since none of those plastic babies seem to be Asian-Caucasian.

  23. Your review cracked me up. Nick has identical body as a '90 Ken - and identical face. I have such creep somewhere, including those nether regions XD

  24. We need somebody to help make your idea a possibility!! It sounds amazing

  25. When I saw that the packaging said that any combination could make a family, my first thought was, "Why not put buy two male dolls and get twice as many babies?"

  26. I still have my old Melody, that I got when I was a kid! (I used to pretend she was Disney's Belle.) I think I've got both sets of clothes, and she's currently in her bland wedding dress, but I'd have to hunt her down to confirm that. Actually, I might have Melody and Lacey... It could be Lacey that I thought of as Belle. I know I've got Melody's outfit and these were bought directly from the store, not a second-hand market. I liked getting brunette dolls, since I'm a brunette myself.

    I don't have the house though, that much I know for sure. It probably ended up in the trash, at some point. I loved this line, because they were dollhouse sized (and they went well with Puppy in my Pocket and similar small pet toys), but I never got any of the boy dolls. I'm not sure if I just didn't like how the guys looked, or if it was because I never cared about weddings. I wasn't that interested in the babies either.

    I think this same company used the same molds for another line (or they sold the molds), because I have an Asian lady who looks a lot like Trista, but I know it's not her. Instead of the shirt and shorts, she has a form-fitting, sleeveless, stretchy, blue tie-dye ankle-length romper. Also, straight bangs, and striking, fantasy-esque make-up. I don't remember what the line was, but I want to say it was some kind of failed magical girl or sentai knock-off of She-Ra. They're the same height, and I think they both have molded shoes and very similar torsos and arms.

    Btw, after seeing them all again in your review, I think Michelle is my favorite. I love those overalls with the sunflower on them. I'm not sure why I didn't get her back then. I think overalls are a style of clothing that seemed a lot cuter after I grew up, plus I was always really picky. I also wouldn't be surprised if she sold out quickly, since she was the only black woman in the set. Same for Trisha. I know I liked her back then; I love cats, so she'd be a shoe-in. It's possible that I saw the other Asian doll at the same time, and since she stood out more, I got her instead. I might have to pull them out of storage, to see if I can find out who made the mystery doll. (And she might not be Asian... I remember her having narrower, less rounded eyes, but without the others in the set to compare her with, that could be an assumption on my part.)

    Thanks for this blast to the past! :D

  27. I had these as a kid! Was gifted the blonde couple, but might make you happy to hear that when I got to pick out a set of 'neighbors' for them, I picked Melody (because she looked like my godmother) and Joey (cus my little 5 year old mind decided he looked like Uncle Jesse from Full House and dammit I had a crush)

  28. okay i love your idea for kinder dolls. i would definitely buy one and then get her a girlfriend as well. and when you mentioned father of the bride i was so happy because i love those movies. I enjoyed this review, and the two guys were such a cute couple, and after reading some of the girls bios i actually started pairing some of them off with each other too!

  29. ...... Ryan's hair is brown?

  30. Took me a while to find these in a search for what these dolls were called. I am searching through years of my two daughters toys, preparing to sell them, trying to get them as original as possible. We have these exact two males, and Melody and Lacey, still with their houses and chapel/nurserys, lol. I liked them because they were small and the houses folded flat for storage. The real reason I am commenting, though, is that these babies were my girls favorites, over all other Barbie babies, Littlest Pet Shop babies, etc. Of the time. Sounds silly, but after all these years I still remember that. Thanks for the fun, informative read. 😊