Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Surprise: Li'l Secrets by Mattel!

I don't know why, but that last review--the Forces of Destiny dolls--took forever.  I would sit down to work on it first thing every morning, but I'd usually get distracted within minutes.  I think it was partly because the review has so many pictures.  It's also probably because the weather here feels like summer (still) and I want to be outside.  Another distraction is that my youngest son is applying to colleges (how did that happen so fast?) and so we're wrapped up in a turmoil of decisions, deadlines and details.

I thought that perhaps a good counterbalance to the last review would be a quick Sunday Surprise post--better yet, a vintage Sunday Surprise post.  I get a huge thrill from discovering new vintage surprise toys, and it's pure fun to share these discoveries with you guys!

I don't even need to write much of an introduction to this post, because the star of today's review, a Li'l Surprise doll from 1994, describes her mysterious nature better than I ever could.  Quite simply, the girl has secrets in her hair:

Mattel's Li'l Secrets doll (1994).
I stumbled upon these little dolls during a recent eBay fishing expedition...or treasure hunt, as I prefer to think of it.  To start one of these hunts, I simply type "surprise doll" into eBay's search window and see what comes up--often scrolling through ten pages of Baby Alive auctions before I find a buried treasure.

The Li'l Secrets line debuted in 1993.  The dolls are essentially mini versions of Mattel's 1992 Sally Secrets character.  Sally is a 13-inch girl with hidden features like a belly that dispenses stickers and shoes that conceal an ink pad and a stamp roller.  Sally can still be found on eBay, too, but I was more intrigued by the concept behind the smaller dolls: they actually have little secret toys hidden inside their hair!

These dolls are not super-hard to find, but the range in price is striking.  There's a mint-in-box doll listed on Amazon right now for $75, and another on eBay for $25.  I paid $15 for a set of two unopened dolls, which is very fair.  They originally cost about $5 each.

Here's my first doll--this one's from 1993:

Li'l Secrets doll, first wave (1993).
The package is bright and enticing, with lots of photos, drawings and descriptions.

The doll herself is 3.5 inches tall (5.5 with all of that hair!) and so the whole package is only about 10 inches long as is designed to be displayed on a hanging peg.

The doll is enclosed inside a plastic capsule:

That hair is incredible.  It reminds me of an 18th Century French pompadour:

There are some fun Public Domain pictures of this type of hairstyle.  Here's another one:

Here's the multi-colored Li'l Secrets logo:

 It's very similar to the Sally Secrets logo...

.... and also reminds me a little bit of Lalaloopsy merchandise:

The text on the cardboard is written in both English and French:

I love the word breloques!

The drawing of the Li'l Secrets doll at the top of the box shows a somber-looking girl with stickers and animals literally flying out of her wild mane:

In general, the idea of animals flying out of someone's hair is more than a little creepy.  Granted:

But somehow Mattel manages to make the whole concept seem delightful and fun.

Under that dramatic depiction, there's a photograph of some actual items that might come inside the hair:

It looks like there's a blue gopher eraser and several plastic bracelet charms.

At the very bottom of the box, there's a photo of a doll with her hair restyled into some fun twists...and a wimpy-looking plastic comb threatening to mess everything up:

The back of the box has another photo of a girl picking at her doll's hair with a comb...and a lineup of all the dolls in the first wave:

The text states that each doll comes with different secrets.  Awesome!

Here's a closer look at the twelve different dolls that were available in 1993:

The pictures are somewhat difficult to see--even in real life--but there are four different styles of outfit.  There's the dress mold on the doll I bought, and then there's also a romper (left, below), a frilly dress (right, below):

And a more sporty dress with bike shorts underneath:

That screams 1993 to me.
The very bottom of the box displays the 1993 Mattel copyright:

I was still in college then.  Sigh.
But let's look at the actual doll!   She's really cute and needs a good name.  Her hair reminds me of a watermelon, so I decided to call her Melony--like in Cider House Rules.

Melony came out of the box really easily--no plastic ties or other hassles to deal with.  She smells like melted crayons, though, which isn't unpleasant, necessarily, but it's a little strange.


Her hair is spectacular, and looks like a wrapped present.

In fact Melony's hair is so tall, it's hard to get a good photograph of her face without cropping most of the hairstyle out of the frame:

The hair is decorated with a yellow bow and two blue ribbon curls that cascade down either side of the pink pompadour.

Toy Box Philosopher

The yellow ribbon is made of fabric while the blue ribbon curls are shiny paper.

Both ribbon decorations are attached to a plain white elastic loop that was secured around the top of the tall ponytail.

Let's take that ponytail down and see what's inside!

Underneath the ribbons, there was a plain yellow rubber band:

This kind of rubber band never ages well.  This one was discolored, but at least it hadn't melted into Melony's hair.

I cut the rubber band away...

And I parted the hair a bit--oh!  I see something inside!

Just kidding!  Here's what I actually found...

The hair is laying an egg!
There was a tightly-wrapped package nestled inside the hair!  I slowly eased it out...

...and worked it free of all the clinging strands of hair:

Here's Melony with her empty, gravity-defying hair!

I have a new hair volume tip for you: secure a high ponytail and then leave it in place for 24 years.

The little package looks like a pile of toys wrapped tightly in clear tape:

It's actually a tightly-taped plastic bag.  I peeled the tape off and opened up the bag...

...and four items came out!

First, there was a sheet of stickers:

These still have some stick left in them.

There was also a blue plastic pig charm.  How cute!

One of the items was a woven strand of glittery pink string that's meant to be a charm bracelet:

Here's the box picture to confirm:

Those charms are held in place with little wires that do not come with the dolls.
The string fits nicely through the hole on the top of the pig's head:

The fourth item came wrapped in its own little plastic bag:

It's another pig!  This one is an eraser for the top of a pencil:

Oh, man.  That pig has a strange face, though.  It's like a human face on a pig's body.

A pig's mouth should be right under its nose, like this:

But this?

The empty eyes don't help, either.  Here's my version of this pig--with the eerie human mouth cut out of the picture and some better eyes:

Anyway, the pig-human has molded flowers on either side of its body

And a cute little curly tail in back:

The bottom of the pig has a hole that perfectly fits the top of a standard pencil:

I'm not sure that this is actually an eraser (it doesn't work as one anymore...).  It might just be a decorative pencil-topper.

Here are the two pigs together:

It's funny how I can't stop looking at the pig-human.  I just keep staring, trying to make sense of the face.  Snap out if it, Emily.

After investigating all of the surprise toys, I turned my attention back to Melony for a little bit.

She has a lot of hair, but there's a bald patch at the top of her head, perhaps to make more room for the package of goodies?

I brushed Melony's hair for quite a while to try and get it to lay flat...and quite a lot of the hair came out in the brush!

It doesn't look like there should be any hair left on the doll.
The hair is still falling out little by little, but so far there's still plenty of it on Melony's head.  The hair fiber feels ok--it's coarse and dry at the ends, but I've felt worse.

I gave Melony a new, less dramatic ponytail and decorated it with the hair ribbons:


I love how everything coordinates so well with this doll.  The colors in her outfit, hair, and ribbons all look great together.

Melony has sea green eyes with large black pupils and x-shaped reflective markings:


I like the color of the irises, but the reflective marks make it look like her eyes are crossed out--like a BeGoth doll or something.

Melony's molded dress is yellow with bright pink stars and a matching pink collar.

She has a necklace with the letter "S" (presumably for Sally Secrets) around her neck.  The painted detail is good for such a small figure!

I have no idea why Sally Secrets and this "S" necklace make me think of David S. Pumpkins...but there you have it.  Maybe it's the time of year?

The legs are attached to the solid bottom of the dress, and are not articulated:

Melony's ball-jointed neck is her only point of articulation.

She has pink shoes with bright blue socks.  The blue paint is a little smudged:

So, now that the surprise is over, here's what's left: 


The tiny comb seems useless and the pig-man is a little too weird for me, but Melony herself is charming.  She may not have the same layered excitement as today's Li'l Outrageous Littles (L.O.L.) surprise dolls, but she has similar post-surprise play potential.  I think there were some playsets available in this line, too, which would certainly add to the fun.  The charm bracelet is a cute idea. Charm bracelets were very popular when I was young, and I would have been very eager to collect enough of these dolls to make a full bracelet.

We're not done with surprises yet, though, because I have another one of these dolls to open!

Li'l Secrets doll, second wave (1994).
I lucked out with my eBay lot because this next doll is from 1994--the second wave of Li'l Surprise dolls.  She has the same basic concept as Melony, but completely different surprises.

She also has a more dynamic pose than Melony, and her hair is decorated with fake candy, not ribbons:

This box does not have as many decorations as the other box.  In the top right hand corner, there's an old price tag (I love it when these tags are still in place!) and a preview of the kinds of surprises that might be hidden inside the hair:

It seems like the doll's candy-shaped hair decoration can be used as a ring (like this ice cream cone), and that there might be a little stamp and stamp pad, too:

The toy shown in the bottom photograph is a comb that doubles as a stencil.  That's a neat idea!

The photograph on the left side of the box shows that instead of plain stickers, this doll will come with sticker earrings:

The back of the box has another picture of a young girl picking at her doll's hairstyle with a comb...

Is it me, or does she look nervous about what she might find in that hair?
...and it also has small photographs of the eight other dolls in this wave:

There weren't as many dolls in this release as there were in the first, but the variation within the collection is much more exciting.  Each doll has his or her own unique pose...and yes--there's a boy in this group!  There's still no ethnic diversity in the line, although there is with the larger Sally Secrets dolls.

Here's a closer look at the boy:

I'd have to name him Chip.
I mean, I guess this could be a short-haired girl, which is also great, but since the product line centers around long hair that hides secrets, I suspect it's a boy and he's hiding his surprises under that hat.  Mattel could have gone with a long-haired boy, sure, but this is a cute idea.

I really like the orange/pink haired girl in the middle.  Her striped dress is great!

Most of the text on the box is written in English and French, but this yellow medallion has the words "collect them all!" in eight languages.  That's impressive!

I feel the need to play Guess That Language...or look up that language on Google Translate:

Collectionne-les tous = French.
Viele bezaubernde Modelle = this is German, but I wouldn't have guessed that. Also, I'm not sure why modelle is capitalized.  Google Translate says it should be "sammle sie alle."
Collezionali tutti = Italian.
Verzamel ze alle = Dutch (had to look this up).
Colecciónalos = Spanish.
Samla Alla = Swedish (looked this up, too).  But again, why is Alla capitalized?
Μεγαλη Διασκεδαση = this was hard.  Based on the alphabet, I'm guessing Greek.  It translates as "great fun."  Google Translate says "collect them all" in Greek should be Συλλέξτε τα όλα.

Apparently I'm terrible at recognizing Germanic languages that aren't English.  Any native speakers or language experts out there?  Please feel free to weigh in!

Back to business, though!  This cutie comes out of the box smelling like some kind of sickly-sweet fruity thing--probably grape.  I prefer the smell of melted crayons, to be honest.


I think I'll name this sassy, smelly girl Cara--after caramelo/caramella, the Spanish and Italian words for candy.

Cara has her hands clasped behind her body, which I think looks really cute:

It looks like she's playing Pick a Hand, where she has a surprise hidden in one of her fists.  My parents used to play that with me and I loved it.

I'm more interested in what Cara has hidden in her hair, though!  Let's find out!

First, I removed the candy decoration from her ponytail:

This has a white plastic ring backing so that it can be worn as jewelry...on people with smaller fingers than mine.

I love the sign that Cara has in her hair!  This circle of cardboard is tied to a loop of thin white elastic that encircles the ponytail:

That rubber band doesn't look too good, though, does it?  Fortunately, the disintegrating rubber hadn't melded with Cara's hair.

I pulled everything off the ponytail...

...and started to part the strands of hair to see what was inside!

It's another tightly-bound plastic packet:

I can see right away that I got a mini stamp pad with something yellow on top:

It looks like a trophy.
I peeled off the decades-old tape...

...and out came a comb/stencil, a pair of earrings, and a separately-wrapped stamp!

The earrings are little smiling ice cream cones.  They're very cute, but I couldn't get them off their backing paper.

I might have worn those, too.
The comb I got is purple, and it has a circle stencil shape:

That's pretty boring.  I mean, ok, it's hard to draw a perfect circle, but you can always trace a penny or a bottle top or something else that's lying around the house. I wish I'd gotten a more exciting shape like a butterfly or a heptadecagon.

Maybe the stamp will be more exciting?

I carefully unwrapped the stamp pad and found a nice little yellow star!

I figured that there was absolutely no way that this pad would still work after so many years.  Surely the tiny amount of ink dried out long, long ago.  I figured I could still color the stamp with markers and make it work, though.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the stamp pad and found wet ink.  After 23 years!

The stamp works perfectly!

It's a very cute, fun little toy.  Even better than the charm bracelet, in my opinion.  I was so happy with the stamp, I forgot all about the disappointment of the stencil.

Cara's hair behaved a lot like Melony's once the surprises were removed.  It had a lot of volume...

...and isn't rooted very densely on top:

The hair fiber feels a bit nicer than Melony's hair, though, and practically none of it fell out while I was using the brush:

I tied Cara's hair back into a simple ponytail:

The plastic candy ring doesn't work very well as a hair decoration anymore--so I left it off.

Cara has the same eye style as Melony, which means that the reflective designs in her blue eyes are crosses:


The crosses are a little smaller than Melony's, though, so the effect is a bit less Living Dead.

Cara has other problems with her face, though.  I'm not exactly sure what's going on, but it looks and feels like the vinyl in her face is disintegrating.  The color of the vinyl is darkened in some areas, and the whole surface is rough and blotchy:

This picture shows the fine grainy texture that's developed around the mouth:

This reminds me of the low-quality vinyl in the Frozen knockoff dolls I review a while ago.

On the back of Cara's head, notice the striking color difference around the neck joint.  There's also some blistering near the copyright marks: 

Melony doesn't show signs of this deterioration at all, which makes me wonder if it's somehow related to the smelly chemicals that give Cara her grape-like odor?

In any case, Cara's body is in great shape, so let's take a closer look at her outfit.

She has a puffy-sleeved polka dot dress with a large candy accent in front:

The candy looks like a fanny pack.  Totally 90s.
Not only are Cara's hands in a cute position, but notice how her right shoulder is shrugged up higher than her left shoulder:

Cara has grape-purple shoes with lavender socks.  Once again, the paint is a little sloppy in this area:

With all of Cara's surprises revealed, here's what we're left with:


I think Cara herself is cuter than Melony.  I love her pose and her crooked little smile.  She also has better hair than Melony, with a silkier texture and no obvious shedding.  However, the disintegration in her head is concerning, and will probably relegate her to the trash.  Cara's surprise treats are a mixed bag: the stencil comb is a disappointment while the star stamp is a wonderful (working!) miniature.  The plastic candy ring and ice cream sticker earrings would probably be more fun for little kids than the ribbons and plain stickers that came with Melony.  That said, I prefer the colorful fun of Melony's hair ribbons.  They're more practical than the plastic ring and they look great with Mel's outfit.

The Li'l Secrets line lasted for one more year after the release of Cara's wave.  The final collection was called Twosies (which might explain the odd spelling of Twozies...) and included 12 dolls.  These characters were sold in pairs or in gift sets, and I think the two dolls' surprises were complimentary.  From pictures I've seen online, the dolls in this collection had less voluminous but more realistically-colored hair.  It's really tough to find clear pictures of the packaging or advertising for the Twosies, but I think I can share this tiny, low-quality snippet.  It gives the basic idea, at least:

So many redheads!
The Twosies are hard to find--at least right now.  I'll keep my eye out for a set, though, because they'd be fun to look at up close.

Here are two final portraits of Cara...

Toy Box Philosopher

...and Melony!

Toy Box Philosopher

And--for reference--here's a picture of the two girls with some of my L.O.L. Surprise dolls:

Li'l Outrageous Littles (L.O.L.) flanking two vintage Li'l Secrets dolls.
The Li'l Secrets dolls feel a bit like the 1990s equivalent of the Li'l Outrageous Littles, although I have no idea if they ever reached the same magnitude of popularity.  The short, three-year run of the Li'l Secrets suggests that they didn't.

I'm so glad that I found this delightful pair.  I have no idea how Mattel came up with the idea of hiding surprise toys inside a doll's hair, but it works.  I find the idea so much more unique and interesting than the Sally Secrets gimmicks of stamps inside a shoe or stickers inside a belt.  

The light-hearted, nostalgic charm of the Li'l Secrets dolls turned out to be exactly what I needed on this sunny weekend in Maine.  I hope you had fun with them, too.  The only problem is that I'm left with a somewhat random affliction: from now on, I'll be unable to look at pictures of 18th century women and their pompadour hairstyles without there anything hidden inside?

Toy Box Philosopher
Mattel's Li'l Secrets dolls from 1993 (left) and 1994 (right).


  1. Those are adorable. I never saw these in the early 90s. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I really enjoy reading your reviews Emily, and this one was no exception. The tiny dolls are really cute and have very happy faces which I love. I had never seen or even heard of these li'l dolls before and I wonder what you will do with them now, do you keep all the tiny bits'n'bobs in a box or similar? I would be so afraid I would lose them.

  3. [mean girls voice] that's why her hair is so big. it's full of secrets.

  4. Emily, don't kill the poor Cara! You still can use her pretty body with the Melony head.

    Thanks, I really enjoy this review, because I have one of wave 1, from my chilhood. She is the girl with purple hair and pink dress. She have a purple present pencil topper and a green charm, the worm on a book one.

  5. I think that what looks like the upper lip of a human mouth is his chin, and the rest is his wrinkly neck.

    Of course they hid something inside their pompadour: most/all of them styled their hair around (dried?) (slices of?) bread. And they had an awful problem with mould and hungry mice.

    1. I don't know where you got that information from, it's not historically accurate - pompadours were raised using wool pads or shed hair formed into a pad (which women used in the 20th century for 50s hairstyles, too), or wire cages.

  6. I owned four of these when I was a little kid, but I'd forgotten until I saw your post. They were a lot of fun and I wish I still had mine; one of them was the doll that you call Melony. Thanks for this trip down Memory Lane!

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  8. Hi Emily!

    I think I had one of these dolls, haha. Childhood memories^:)

    About the German translation:

    "Viele bezaubernde Modelle" means "Many enchanting models". And "Modelle" is in capital cause it's a noun and the are written in capital in German :)

    Have a gret day,


  9. In your ebay searches, if you type in 'suprise doll -alive' you should get results that don't include any Baby Alive toys.

  10. nice review! As a native dutch speaker. "verzamel ze alle" makes no sense. for it to be correct it should be "verzamel ze allemaal". That would literaly translate to collect them all. "Alle" is indeed a word, but that sentence needs "allemaal". It seems they translated the dutch via google translate or something...

  11. I love your Sunday surprises and these little cuties are so adorable! I wish I owned any of these.
    By the way, may be Cara's comb is meant to be used as a flower stencil, not circle?

  12. Emily, I thought you'd want to know that I found a blog that uses other people's photos,including yours. She doesn't just use a photo or two, or a generic boxed doll photo. She uses other people's artistic photos, and lots of them. I found one post, where she used 40 of my photos,an entire blog post's worth! I recognized a lot of your photos on her posts too. She gives a block credit to the photos at the end of her post, which I think is hardly sufficient. I sent her a message telling her I didn't think it was right for her to use other people's photos when they have spent so much time and effort on them. I thought you might want to take some sort of action as well,especially as you have 'do not copy' right on the blog. Her blog is here:

  13. gosh these look like mini Cherry Merry Muffin dolls don't they? I don't remember them at all, which is a shame because they seem like demented fun lol.

    1. My sister got one of these dolls used in a lot at a thrift store, and she thought they resembled Cherry Merry Muffin too. Great minds think alike I guess.
      Signed, Treesa

  14. Maybe you should try scrubbing/boiling Cara's face before you throw her out? Perhaps the perfume and its adhesive spoiled over time but her vinyl head is okay? It's worth a shot! If it damages her head then it won't matter since you were thinking about tossing her out anyway. (Although I agree with Lilium. You could also save her body as an extra outfit for Melony!) :)

  15. "Google Translate says it should be "sammle sie alle.""

    On YouTube, there are a bunch of videos where people sing whatever the results are of putting lyrics into Google Translate, translating it to another language, then taking that result and translating it back to English. They're hilarious! You should look up the "Let It Go" one, and also the ones where people since the auto-CC words. :D

    Μεγαλη Διασκεδαση is Greek.

    Heptadecagons! We're fans of shapes like that around here. :D

    Cara's hair fluff is epic.

    I'm surprised this hasn't been done again. The popular Trolls would be perfect to revive this.

  16. Also, you did a review a while back for a My Salon doll, and mentioned the Sindy dolls. Have you thought about comparing an earlier Sindy (some can be found rather inexpensively on eBay) to one of the current dolls? The current ones are adorable.

  17. Though I hate to add another suggestion to your pile, I thought you might be interested in the Scary Godmother doll, based on Jill Thompson's illustrated kids books, which spawned some CGI-animated specials that temporarily prevented her from producing any merchandise.
    Ms. Thompson made it clear that she wanted the Scary Godmother to have full articulation, and it seems to have that of a DC Super Hero Girls doll plus ankles! Going with the signature style of the art, her face is really unique and her body has a tall and shapely yet thin sculpt that really makes her look different and like she came off the page. The project was funded by Kickstarter, and the dolls have been shipped to contributors, so resale or a wider release might be the only way to acquire one. Overall, down to the box with the book art style, it seems like a sweet artistic vision being realized.
    Oh, did I mention she's got glorious red curls?

  18. I'm sure I've probably seen and forgotten all about these things. It's like someone crossed Wee Wild Things with a troll doll and gave it a Cherry Merry Muffin face, plus surprises inside.

  19. Both are adorable, but I like the purple one better.

  20. Ah, please don't throw Cara out, I'll take her in (restoring toys is kinda my deal and it makes me incredibly sad to see them simply thrown out)...!
    Also the scented set actually had names (after their scents) so Cara is Bubble Gum, although there is another grape-scented girl, Grape Soda!
    (Silly thing won't let me log in but I'm

  21. I think the issue of the vinyl on Cara's head is definitely related to whatever they used to make her scented. Integrity Toys made an Amanda Lepore doll years back that was scented with her perfume. It's just about impossible to find one of those dolls with a normal looking head now as the perfume caused them all to discolour really badly.

  22. wow they're amazing!! I would love to have one but they're quite expensive :'(

  23. Oh, I missed this one! I love dolls with weird gimmicks like that, and her hairdo really is pretty amazing.

    Also I just read your post about AdSense dropping you due to the blog having too many photos. Ironic, since that's something I always loved about your reviews. The fact that you always had well-lit and informative photos (body comparisons! closeups of wonky eyes!) made your blog a great doll reference site, and set the level I aspire to when I try to review a doll. Getting in trouble with Google for that seems really wrong to me. :/

  24. German learner here - in the early/mid 1990's, there was a German language reform, so some spellings/entire words were changed around that time. That might be part of the reasoning for the confusion.