Thursday, September 29, 2022

A Variety of DALL-E Dollies

Today started out totally normal for me.  I got up, let the dogs out, grabbed a cup of coffee, and sat down to read the news.  But then an article in the Washington Post completely changed the course of my entire day.  And forgive me in advance, but it's likely to steal all of the free time you thought you had, too.

The article I read was about DALL-E, an artificial intelligence, text-to-image generator that has just become widely available to the public.  A text-to-image generator is software that can use regular text to create an image.  So if I input a phrase like "pencil drawing of a dog," DALL-E will give me several computer-generated images that look like pencil drawings of dogs.  And judging by the Washington Post sample images, I could see that DALL-E is very good at what it does.  The article was focused mainly on how this type of AI can be dangerous--and I can see that angle.  For example, people wanting to make a point could generate fake photographic evidence to claim something happened when it actually didn't.

But of course I wasn't interested in DALL-E because I want to create conspiracies or topple governments, I just wanted to see how good this thing is at rendering dolls.  And it's darn good...at least some of the time:

DALL-E redhead doll in a blue polka dot dress.

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Buzz General Store from Honey Bee Acres

Happy fall, everyone!  It's so funny, because just as the season officially changed, New Jersey went from 90° and oppressively humid to 72° and breezy, with nighttime temperatures that are downright cold.  It's a nice change, but I have whiplash.  The colder temperatures reminded me that we're coming up on the one-year anniversary of this blog's re-awakening!  That's hard for me to believe.  I'll have to think of a fun Sunday Surprise review to honor the date.

In the meantime, you might be surprised to see something that's not a 14-inch doll on the cover today!  Sorry if that's a disappointment to anyone, but I decided to take another little break from the 14-inch comparison series so that I could explore different things.  Way back in January, when I reviewed the Honey Bee Acres figures and compared them to Li'l Woodzeez and Calico Critters, I mentioned that some day I wanted to come back and take a look at the accessories and playsets that are available in that line, which is exactly what I'm going to do today.

Long-time readers of the blog might remember how much I like the Li'l Woodzeez shop-themed playsets, like the Tickle Your Tastebuds Bakery and Honeysuckle Hollow General Store.  Because of my affection for those two toys, I really wanted to look at the equivalent Honey Bee Acres set, which is called The Buzz General Store.  I'll certainly have the Woodzeez sets that I've already reviewed in my head as I look at this toy, but I'll also make some more direct comparisons to newer Li'l Woodzeez sets.  All of that means that this is going to be a long one (shocker), so I'd better get started!

The Buzz General Store from Honey Bee Acres, $19.94.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Articulated Glitter Girls by Battat

I had fun hosting a guest review on the blog again (thank you, Lurkins!).  It felt like the good old days.  It's nice to get somebody else's perspective, and Lurkins chose a topic that wasn't even on my radar.  But I definitely noticed the lack of diversity in Our Generation faces.  In fact, this was one of the bad surprises that greeted me on my first trip back to Target after the hiatus.  I'd assumed that the explosion of new faces we enjoyed in 2017 would persist.  I like that Battat updated their standard face mold, though, and think the new face is pretty.  Lurkins' review even inspired me to order a super-freckly redhead with the new face.  And now I understand how reading this blog can be hazardous to the wallet.  Sorry about that!

The timing of that review was perfect, because it offers a segue to the next episode in my 14-inch doll saga.  Today I'm going to look at the Glitter Girls, which are Battat's version of 14-inch play dolls.  I've actually reviewed these dolls before, but--like the Our Generation crew--they have gone through some big changes in the last four years.

This review will include a comparison between the old Poppy doll that I reviewed in 2018 and the new version of that same character, but the main focus will be on a girl who I thought stood out from the rest of the options: dark-skinned, blue-eyed Odessa:

Glitter Girls Odessa by Battat, $20.99.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Tale of Two Shannons--a Guest Review!

Hi, I'm the artist formerly known as Lurkins!  I've been collecting 18" dolls since I cleaned out my attic in 2014 and rediscovered my American Girl doll, Felicity, and her spectacular Pleasant Company-era accessories.  That was also when, whilst looking up the impressive variety of 18" dolls that had sprung up in the intervening decades, I discovered the Toy Box Philosopher, and I've been an addict ever since.  My Felicity is so old that if she were a human she could rent a car.  She's since been joined by Pita, a Karito Kid; Taryn and Alexi, Maplelea girls; Zoe, a Newberry doll; Raven, a Maru and Friends special edition (and a gift); Clara, the exact Gotz Happy Kid featured on this blog back in 2018; Sabrina, a My Twinn who was featured here as well; several Our Generation dolls and a whole host of Journey Girls...and it's still growing.  A collection that once fit into two boxes can now barely fit into one room.  But I guess that's how doll collecting usually works!  (The author laughs nervously.)

Today I'm going to compare a pair of deluxe camping-themed 18" Shannon dolls from Battat's Our Generation line, but before I dive into things, I'm going to give a little background information on a subject I spent way too much time researching: face molds!  There doesn't seem to be a proper face mold guide, probably since Our Generation is considered a bargain alternative to American Girl, and thus not worthy of serious collecting.  If you want to know what American Girl doll has what face mold, you'll have no trouble looking it up.  But so far as I can discern, there's no "collectors' guide" for Our Generation.  In fact, most of what I know about the history of this toy brand arose from this very blog.  

We begin!

Our Generation's Old Shannon (left) and New Shannon (right) with shirts swapped. $34.99 each.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Be Bright Dolls by Adora

Happy September!  For the last six years, September in my life has meant helping one or both of my kids move into a new apartment or a new school dorm, always in the blazing heat and up three flights of stairs.  I continued this tradition last week, when I hauled myself to Boston to help my eldest move some of his stuff into a new place...on an uncommonly hot and humid day (but with an elevator!).  We didn't get to play with poop toys on that visit, unfortunately, but it was a still a lot of fun.  September has also often been a month of returning responsibilities and new plans for me.  And I certainly have a lot of plans for the blog this fall, including reviews of some wacky fashion dolls, a few 18-inch American Girl alternatives, and even some creepy stuff for Halloween!  But first I'm excited to get back to my 14-inch doll series.

So far I've reviewed Gwynn Tan by American Girl, the Kindness Club dolls by Madame Alexander, and a Glamour Girlz redhead from the New York Doll Collection.  I have four more dolls to look at in this series, and today's pick is a teal-haired cutie from Adora's Be Bright collection:

Be Bright Alma by Adora, $49.99.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Here's the Poop

How does one introduce a review about poop-themed toys?  I mean, I refuse to just dump such a steaming topic on you with no preamble.  That would eliminate all of the suspense and waste this valuable writing space.  And I don't want to soil my reputation by pinching off my prose or plopping down any old thing.  Expelling words is the whole point of a blog, after all.  But on the other hand, why muck about with a long, constipated introduction when I could just let 'er rip?

Today is gonna be all about poop.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Toys Я Us at American Dream

I'm having a great time comparing 14-inch dolls (and, thanks to Amy's comment, I've even added another brand to the list!) but I need a little break from the formulaic approach to that series, so the next two reviews will be wildly different.

Today's post might require a bit of background, especially for anyone who is new to this site.  Toys R Us was a huge part of my life back when I first started blogging.  I used to take weekly "research" excursions to the big store in South Portland, Maine (which I'm pretty sure is now a furniture warehouse).  I loved going there.  The variety of merchandise was unmatched, and I felt like I always found some new doll or action figure that fascinated or amused me.  Between that store and the nearby Target, there was practically nothing in the play doll world that I couldn't get my hands on.  I mean, Toys R Us even carried American Girl dolls for a while.

In addition to my routine visits to the Toys R Us in Maine, I also have fond memories of the jaw-dropping flagship store that used to be in Manhattan.  That place was even more impressive than F.A.O. Schwarz, if you ask me.  There was a massive ferris wheel and a freakin' life-sized Tyrannosaurus rex, for goodness sake.  I was heartbroken when Toys R Us closed it doors in 2018.  That marked the end of an era for me, and it took a lot of the fun out of toy shopping.  And of course it was only a few months later that I made some decisions that I assumed would bring this blog to a permanent end as well.

Who could have predicted that four years later I'd be happily blogging again and--wait for it--Toys R Us would be opening new stores?  It's true!  From what I've read, these stores are all going to be smaller boutiques inside Macy's, which is disappointing, but I guess it's still better than nothing.  However, there's one full-sized Toys R Us that's been open for a while: the new flagship store at the American Dream mall.  And the American Dream mall, as luck would have it, is in New Jersey...only an hour away from my house.  So of course I went for a visit.  Do you want to check it out with me?

Toys R Us at American Dream (East Rutherford, New Jersey).

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Glamour Girlz by New York Doll Collection

Today's post is the third in a series of six short-ish reviews that will compare some of the 14-inch dolls that are on the market right now.  You can find the other two reviews here and here, or you can click the "14-inch comparisons" label to see all of them together.  After this review, I'm going to take a quick break from the series before returning with the final three brands.

Today's doll is from the New York Doll Collection, which is not a company I'd even heard of until a few months ago.  I was looking at the I'm a Girly dolls on Amazon, and the answer to a clothes-sharing question mentioned this brand.  I immediately did a search to learn more, and the first New York Doll Collection dolls I found were the 14-inch Glamour Girlz.  This company also makes 18-inch dolls, which I may or may not review at some point in the future; I saw them in person recently and was not completely sold on the faces.  But I was eager to buy one of the 14-inch girls because I knew I was going to do this series, and the Glamour Girlz offer one of the less-expensive 14-inch options.

It might shock you to learn that this doll, who I've named Ellery, is the only redheaded character in my 14-inch series!  She represents redheads well, though, with lovely copper hair that--spoilers--is easily her best feature:

Glamour Girlz doll by New York Doll Collection, $30.99.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Kindness Club by Madame Alexander

I mentioned in my Gwynn Tan review that I've gotten a little obsessed with 14-inch dolls lately, and so I decided to write a series of short (for me) reviews featuring this appealing size.  The reviews will be cumulatively comparative...meaning that I'll compare each new doll to all of the ones that came before her.  So I suppose the reviews will get slightly longer as I go.  In any case, my intention is to review six dolls in this series (it was five, but I've already found another brand that looks great).  I might take a few breaks to review some other things, too, otherwise we could be talking about nothing but 14-inch dolls for months!

Today I'm going to review a 14-inch Kindness Club doll by Madame Alexander.  I'm especially excited about her because, as I've mentioned in some of my older reviews, I have a soft spot for the Madame Alexander company.  I didn't have a huge collection of dolls when I was growing up, but many of the ones that I did have were made by this company--including my most cherished childhood companion, Baby Victoria.

The funny thing is, despite my affection for Madame Alexander products, I didn't even realize that they have a line of 14-inch play dolls until about a month ago.  I stumbled upon the Kindness Club girls by chance during an online search for a completely different brand.  I thought the dolls looked lovely in their promotional photos, and this girl (who has a very similar name to mine!) was an early favorite:

Kindness Club Emmi by Madame Alexander, $59.95.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Gwynn Tan by American Girl

I got a little nostalgic about the blog this week.  As I was writing today's review, which features Gywnn Tan, a 14-inch American Girl doll, I thought to myself, "I should reference the WellieWishers review I wrote not so long ago."  Well, "not so long ago" turns out to be six years ago.  I was struck by my commentary at that time; I mentioned being caught up in our town's high school musical, which was, indeed, a big part of my life back then.  But both of my kids were in high school six years ago...and now they're done with college and interviewing for jobs.  Ack!  And I know from the wonderful letters that I've gotten over the years that many of you were little when you first started reading this blog (some of you even wrote guest reviews!) and are now in college or working at jobs of your own.  It's crazy.  The doll world can slow time in funny ways (the WellieWisher kids are the same age they were six years ago, after all) but real life forges ahead.

Enough about that, though.  Let me tell you a little bit about why I'm bothering to revisit this style of doll six years later.  The first reason is simply that I'm excited about Corinne, American Girl's Girl of the Year for 2022.  I'm excited about Corinne because she's the first Chinese Girl of the Year, and I'm also excited because she has doll siblings--like Gwynn!  Corinne herself will make an appearance on the blog at some point in the future, but for now I'm focusing my attention on her little sister.

I'm focused on Gwynn because of the larger purpose of this review.  I've noticed a variety of 14-inch dolls on the market over the past few months, and, because I tend to get obsessive about certain ideas or styles of doll, I bought five of those different varieties.  These five dolls aren't different enough to each need long, complicated reviews, so I had the idea to run a series of shorter, interconnected reviews that will take a more comparative look at the five brands.  Every comparison series needs to start somewhere, and with some benchmark, so I figured where better to start than with one of America's most popular doll brands?  With all of that in mind, here's Miss Gwynn Tan to kick off this 14-inch doll extravaganza:

Gwynn Tan by American Girl, $65.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Freestylin' Fashion Lay Lay by Just Play

I'll confess that these days I do most of my doll shopping online.  This is mostly because of the pandemic, of course, but also because there are many enticing doll brands that I can only find online...or that I find through random online searches.  However, I try really hard to visit an actual store every now and then, because that's when I find things that I never would have learned about otherwise.

Case in point is the doll I'm sharing with you today: Freestylin' Fashion Lay Lay.  That's a series of words that I never would have known to search out on the internet, but as I cruised around Target back in May, preparing for my mermaid-themed reviews, there she was, sitting on a shelf right next to Mermaze Mermaidz Orra.  As I dallied in the aisle, her broad smile drew me in.  She was completely different from any of the other dolls on the shelf, with relatively normal proportions and a lot of personality in her face.  When I peered into the box, I could see that she looked well articulated, too.  So, knowing absolutely nothing about who Lay Lay is or why there's a doll that looks like her, I popped this charmer into my cart and took her home:

Freestylin' Fashion Lay Lay by Just Play, $19.99.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Revisiting Paola Reina's Las Amigas...and a knockoff

Today's review grew out of two different things that have been kicking around in my head recently.  First of all, Paola Reina added new joints to some of their Las Amigas dolls and, as you can imagine, I got really excited about this development.  As soon as I heard the news, I purchased a beautiful-looking redheaded Las Amigas doll with the new articulation.  However, I ended up being disappointed by that doll, so I did a quick review on Patreon and then sold her.  The upside is that in the process of researching that doll, I discovered about six other traditional Las Amigas girls that I love!  I bought two of those six, and they'll appear in this post. 

The second thing that happened was that my friend Arin drew my attention to a collection of Las Amigas lookalikes that are being sold on Amazon.  For some reason I'm always fascinated by knockoffs, even though I should probably be offended by them.  I was eager to see what these imposters look like up close, and so I purchased one...and then purchased another authentic Las Amigas doll who I thought would offer a good comparison.  Both of these girls will appear in this review, too.

I've written about Paola Reina dolls many times before (including a review of a Ruth Treffeisen doll who is equivalent to a Las Amigas), but I couldn't resist the chance to revisit this charming brand.  And there's even more going on in the Paola Reina world than I have time or resources to write about today.  For example, there are now 8-inch Mini Amigas that are completely adorable and will have to make an appearance here at some point in the future, and also a lot of boy characters who melt my heart.  For now, though, let's start with this standard-size Las Amigas girl, Dasha, and her gorgeously freckled face:

Las Amigas Dasha by Paola Reina, $71.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Sunday Surprise: Mini Fashion and Real Littles!

I was disappointed that I couldn't quite get last week's review done in time for a Sunday Surprise, so I decided to try really hard to get a quick surprise-themed review done for you today!  

My progress was slowed down a little bit this weekend because I finally hit a breaking point with my work space.  I've been writing reviews almost non-stop since October, and I forgot that if I don't take a day or two every now and then to stop and clean up my mess...well, things can get very out-of-control!  On Friday, when fetching the doll for my next review felt like an obstacle course, a death trap, and a game of hide and seek all wrapped into one, I realized that it was time to pause and clean up.  But now my room is beautiful and clean again and it's such an amazing feeling!

As I was tidying and sorting through my stash, I realized that I'd accumulated two different surprise-themed toys that involve purses or bags of some kind: Mini Fashion by Zuru and Real Littles by Moose Toys.  I thought that these two brands might be fun to compare and contrast.  Lena was excited about this idea because she's been pestering me for months to de-box the Mini Fashion sets.  She knows that they contain high-end purses that might be just her size!

Barbie Lena with a Surprise Mini Fashion ball (Zuru, $9.99).

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Mischa's Toy Jewels (now with answers!)

I'm traveling a bit this weekend, so today's review will be pretty short, and very different from what I normally write.  Anyone who's read any of my Sunday Surprise posts, especially recent ones, will know that I often comment on how the expense of surprise-themed dolls, particularly those that cost over $10, is risky because of the chance of getting a repeat.  And what happens to all of those duplicate dolls?  Some end up on eBay or at Goodwill, I'm sure, but many probably land in the garbage.  As if the packaging waste from this type of toy wasn't bad enough.

Knowing how I feel about all of this, my friend Ariel messaged me the other day and showed me a cool Instagram page called Mischa's Toy Jewels.  Mischa gathers up unwanted mini toys and turns them into children's jewelry!  How cool is that?  What's even better is that she donates half of the profits from her sales to a local food bank.  I wanted to showcase this neat project, so I purchased several bracelets and necklaces to share with you.

I had so much fun looking through Mischa's selection, not just because the jewelry is colorful and attractive, but because of the variety of mini toys on display.  I could identify some of the brands right away, but not all of them.  The unidentified mini toys were irresistible little mysteries to me, and I had a great time trying to figure out what all of them are.  And I'll confess--Mischa had to come to my rescue a few times!  I thought some of you might be similarly amused by identifying these small toys, and so today's post will have two goals: one is to simply showcase Mischa's fun jewelry, but the other is to play a little guessing game!  I'll show you what I bought, with no labels, and then in a day or two I'll post the answers and a little follow-up review.  Be warned, though, that there's one mini toy in the mix that neither Mischa nor I could identify.  Bonus points to anyone who knows what it is!

A necklace from Mischa's Toy Jewels, $10.00.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Hairmazing Hairdorables by Just Play

I decided to take a little break from mermaids for a week or two, just in case some of you aren't interested in the underwater side of doll collecting.  But I'll return to the subject later so that I can explore a few of Mattel's best mermaid options.  In the meantime, I wanted to get back to the review that I was working on when the Mermaze Mermaidz stole my attention.  The dolls I'm going to look at today are from the Hairdorables Hairmazing collection.  Word play on the adjective "amazing" is popular in the doll world these days, isn't it?  "Hairmazing" doesn't work quite as well as "Mermaze," if you ask me, but--again--at least they didn't go with Hairmazeballs.  That makes me thinking of hacking cats.

Anyway, I reviewed the smaller, huge-headed, surprise-themed Hairdorables back in 2018, and found them a bit goofy--with a lot of plastic waste.  The newer Hairmazing dolls are basically the Hairdorables characters when they're all grown up and in high school.  The dolls still have caricatured faces and brightly colored hair, but as they matured, they appear to have grown into their heads and also acquired an impressive number of new joints!  The larger size and better articulation on these dolls made them something I didn't want to miss.

There are three waves of Hairmazing dolls available: the first release dolls, a Prom Perfect themed collection, and a brightly-colored Kaleidoscope trio.  The first two groups are really easy to find (and often on sale) but the Kaleidoscope girls are more elusive.  I gather Just Play had some distribution problems in 2021 that made these dolls rare in the United States.  There are still plenty of great options available, though, and I had a tough time deciding which of the dolls I should feature in this review.  Fortunately, my Patrons stepped in and, through a series of polls, they chose the dolls I'll look at today.  Thank you for the help, guys!  Sorry it took me so long to write the actual review.

Hairdorables Hairmazing Noah by Just Play, $19.99.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Mermaid High by Spin Master

I'm back with the second post in the mermaid series!  I learned so much from your comments on the Mermaze Mermaidz review.  As I've said before, the comments are always a hugely valuable (and humorous...) part of this blog.  Thank you so much for all of your contributions.  I'll single out a few mermaid-related things that were mentioned: first of all, Lurkins noted that I never tested Jordie's color change feature, which is embarrassingly true.  I went back and did that and added in some pictures of the results.  It's pretty cool!  Séverine's tip that one of the dolls (Riviera) has bad hair is very helpful, too, especially since I was so pleased with the hair on Orra and Jordie.  Last of all, I had no idea about the alleged backstory of the Mermaidz or which body parts were taken from other MGA lines.  I should have at least recognized the Project Mc2 eyes!  Thank you to Alé for those tidbits.

But today is all about Spin Master's Mermaid High dolls.  The first wave of these fishy friends has been out since late 2021, and the second wave of dolls hit the market this spring.  I've been waffling back and forth about whether to write about this brand for several months now, mostly waiting to see if the high original price (around $27) would come down at all.  The dolls never struck me as being worth quite that much.  I guess I waited a good amount of time, because the first wave characters recently went on sale at Target.  They were around $5 for a while, which was insane, but are now $19.99, which is a reasonable price for this brand.  I purchased first wave Finly at full price a few weeks ago, and then added Searra during the $5 sale.  This review got too long to include Searra, though, so I'll put those photos over on Patreon.

I'm going to feature Finly today because when I was looking at all of the characters in the store, she's the one who impressed me the most.  I love her rainbow-themed outfit and her cute green-eyed, freckle-filled face.  In this review, I'll contrast first wave Finly to the newer version of the same character:

Mermaid High Finly by Spin Master, $26.99.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Mermaze Mermaidz by MGA Entertainment

Whew!  My husband and I are finally finished with our whirlwind graduation tour of the East coast.  We had some absolutely incredible moments with our kids, but now I'm glad to be back in something that resembles a routine.  As usual, I have a billion things on my mind and in my review queue, and my slow self can't work fast enough to keep up.  The other problem is that I often get distracted by new and shiny things; today's review is a good example of that.

I was happily at work on a review that features a doll from a few years ago (there are a lot of those that I need to get caught up with!), but then a mundane trip to Target threw me completely off course.  I was doing a quick sweep of the doll aisles on my way to get some hand lotion, and was stopped in my tracks by a doll with hypnotic inset eyes.  She's one of the new Mermaze Mermaidz dolls from MGA Entertainment, and her name is Orra:

Mermaze Mermaidz Orra doll by MGA Entertainment, $44.99.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Patron Post: Is This Blythe?

It is so easy to fall down rabbit holes in the doll world, isn't it?  Well, I've fallen down another one.  A really, really big one.  Bigger, even, than I suspected the first time I wrote this review (more on that in a sec)!  It all started with my wonderful Patron Katrina's suggestion that I look more in-depth at the Blythe universe.  I haven't purchased a Blythe doll in about ten years, and I've never written a formal review of the brand, so this was an excellent suggestion!  Today's review will not address authentic Blythe dolls, though, but rather a few of the enticing imitations that exist on the market.

As some of you might recall, the first version of this review featured an imitation Blythe doll that I purchased from the shop that sniped Gina Garan's old website and is named after her iconic book, This is Blythe.  The doll was lovely, but she was significantly more expensive than similar dolls that I found as I was doing research for the review.  I stated this fact in my post, including my best explanation for the price difference, but this was apparently not okay with the shop--nor was my talking about their competitors in any way.  They asked me to edit the review to remove all mention of certain other retailers.  In hindsight, their request was ludicrous...and suspicious.  But I'm never looking to upset anyone, so I offered to try and help.  I stayed up until 3:00am one night (they're in a dramatically different time zone), emailing back and forth and changing the review to make them happy.  However, when I (finally) put my foot down and refused to edit and lock the comments section, they abruptly threatened to sue me--using private information that they'd obtained from my purchases.  That's not nice.  A quick Trustpilot search revealed that they have a history of threatening similar nonsense to other customers (including two fellow bloggers).  I dislike bullies, so I didn't want to imply endorsement of this shop by featuring their products. I would advise avoiding this shop at all costs.  After considering my options, I decided to delete the old review and write a new version using equivalent items that I bought from other retailers.  And it's a happy ending, because I had so much more fun this time around!

I didn't want to delete the old review without replacing it, because looking at imitation Blythe dolls is an important part of a bigger series of articles that I'm planning.  This is quite an exciting (and nerve-wracking!) time for the authentic Blythe brand because Hasbro recently severed its long-term connection with Takara/TOMY (the manufacturers of Blythe dolls) and has entered a new relationship with Good Smile Company.  Good Smile has a wonderful reputation in the figurine world (they make Nendoroids), but they do not have an extensive resumé in doll making.  So everyone's been waiting anxiously to see if the new Blythe dolls will be as good as the old.

Today's review will include an in-depth look at a girl I bought from Blythe Homes (an AliExpress vendor), and a more cursory look at a few similarly-priced dolls that I found at various other places.  I'll also throw in some terminology, market observations, and thoughts about what it means to be Blythe.  At a later date, I'll follow up with a review of an authentic Takara-made Blythe doll, and then compare her to a new Good Smile Company doll.  Are you ready for a review re-do?  I hope so!  Here we go again:

Imitation DBS Blythe doll from Blythe Homes, $35.20 (outfit not included).

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Monster High Haunt Couture Clawdeen Wolf

Monster High dolls were among the very first things that I reviewed ten years ago when this blog was brand-new, so they will always have a special place in my heart.  I delighted in their strange body proportions, excellent articulation, outstanding design, intricate accessories (those shoes!), and refreshing originality.  I've reviewed a lot of characters from this line over the years, both on my own and with the help of some wonderful guest reviewers.  When the brand was retired in 2017, I had mixed feelings.  In the year or two leading up to the cancellation, I had begun to grow weary of the overabundance of dolls on the toy store shelves.  The sheer number of characters made each individual doll feel less special.  And the dolls themselves were literally less special; the quality and attention to detail had begun to decline.  For the most part, the later dolls have simpler outfits, fewer accessories, more basic painted features, and lots of trouble with gluey heads and arms (or tails!) that fall off too easily.

After the dolls were gone, though, I missed them more than I thought I would.  Specifically, I missed the anticipation and excitement that surrounded the release of new characters.  There was always the chance that one of the new dolls would stand out from the pack.  Because the thing is, even as the overall quality and originality of the brand was declining, there were little bursts of brilliance.  Avea Trotter, for example, is still one of my favorite dolls of all time.  I also thought the Inner Monster series was a huge amount of fun.  There was a limited edition Draculaura released in 2015 who is beautiful (I owned her briefly), and the 2017 special edition of Zomby Gaga is incredible, too.  She's one of the rare dolls that I'll never sell.  So even though I coveted fewer and fewer Monster High dolls towards the end of their original run, the brand still had the ability to create some absolute treasures.

Over the last few years, mostly while I wasn't paying attention, hints started to swirl around that Monster High might reboot.  For example, in 2020, Mattel released a small series of movie-themed dolls (Pennywise and the Grady twins...covet!).  There was some buzz about a new animated television show and a new movie, too.  Then, finally, the official announcement came: new dolls would be released in 2022.  Despite the mixed feelings I'd had in previous years, I got very excited about this news; it was a chance to find some new treasures!  And the reboot wave looked like it might have some gems among it.  This group includes three collector's edition dolls; Draculaura, Frankie Stein, and Clawdeen Wolf.  Clawdeen has always been one of my favorite characters, so she's the one I chose:

Monster High Haunt Couture Clawdeen Wolf, $75.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Ruby Red Fashion Friends

It's pretty safe to say that the one doll brand that's been recommended to me the most since I started writing reviews again is the Ruby Red Fashion Friends.  I wish I could individually acknowledge everyone who brought these little dolls to my attention, but my memory isn't that good.  Nevertheless, I'd like to express my gratitude to all of you who thought I might enjoy taking a closer look at the Fashion Friends.  You know me well.

The Fashion Friends are 14.5-inch vinyl dolls that were first released in 2019 and are still going strong.  The brand was founded by Ruby Ho, hence the Ruby Red part of the name.  Some of the face molds were sculpted by Ms. Ho herself, and some of them (including the dolls in this review) were sculpted by Dianna Effner.  All of the faces are beautiful.  I'm a big fan of Ms. Effner's work--as you might have gathered from my Maru and Friends, Mini Pal, and Little Darling reviews--and so I'm always excited to get my hands on another one of her creations.  Ms. Effner's death in 2020 was a huge blow to the doll world (as if 2020 wasn't bad enough) and it made me cherish my Effner dolls all the more.

I actually pre-ordered the dolls for this review back in October--before I'd even started blogging again. My brilliant idea was that by the time they were released (around Christmas) I'd have the blog up and running and I'd be able to present you with a review of two brand new releases!  That went well, didn't it?  Sigh.  Instead, I got distracted by a million other things and now find myself reviewing Christmas-themed dolls when it's 70 degrees outside, the flowers are blooming, and the birds are singing like they're in a freaking Disney movie.  I'm silly to have waited so long to write this review, but at least I'm finally here, sharing my Christmas girls with you.  First, let's meet Jennifer:

Ruby Red Fashion Friends limited edition doll, Jennifer, $169.99.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Sunday Surprise: Capsule Chix by Moose Toys!

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with vending machines.  The big displays outside of the grocery store were the biggest temptation, with so many mini-sized toy and novelty options.  There were even a few machines that had a special prize like a watch or a necklace mixed in amongst more ordinary fare.  I was rarely given the chance to use a vending machine when I was young, though, and so I overcompensated for this when I became an independent adult.  Not only did I get toys from these machines for myself with more frequency than I care to admit, but I always indulged my kids when they asked for the money necessary to get a treat.  When we moved to Maine, I even bought my own old-fashioned capsule vending machine and set it up in the basement.  I kept my eye out for interesting small toys, and so the machine was always full of new stuff.  All of my kids' friends could use the vending machine (once) every time they came over.  Younger brothers and sisters would often tag along to pick up their sibling from a play date, clutching their own quarter in their hand and hoping for a turn at the machine.  It was a big hit.

Back in February, when I wrote the first part of the L.O.L. Surprise review (the second part will come eventually, promise!), Gabby asked if I'd ever heard of the Capsule Chix.  These are small surprise-themed dolls that come in, wait for it, vending machine packaging!  How cool is that?  It's exactly the kind of thing I would have gone bonkers for when I was young...and, frankly, it's the kind of thing I still go bonkers for now.  I found a few sets for about $13 and stored them away for a future review.  Then, a month later, Amy asked about the Capsule Chix on one of my Patreon reviews, so I figured it was high time to get the sets I bought out and learn more about these intriguing blind box characters.

Capsule Chix dolls are assembled from several parts (head, hair, torso, legs, and some extra clothing bits like skirts and shoes).  Each part is wrapped inside of a vending machine capsule, and then the capsules are packaged into a box that dispenses the capsules one by one.  Every set is guaranteed to include the parts you need to make one doll, but the parts in each box are randomly assigned, so you're very unlikely to get a matched set; everything's mixed up.  You can either be happy with the mix-and-match doll you receive, or you can buy more of the sets hoping to find the parts you need to build a specific doll.

I knew these dolls and their fancy packaging would involve tons of waste, which is one of my least favorite things in the doll world right now, but I absolutely could not resist the idea of the vending machine box.  So here we go!

Capsule Chix Giga Glam doll, $12.99.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Catwalk Kitties by Lanard

And now for something completely different!  Today I'm going to share the wacky world of Catwalk Kitties with you!  This is a discontinued brand of anthropomorphic play dolls that was introduced in 2005 by the Hong Kong-based company, Lanard.  

The Catwalk Kitties were not very popular in their time, judging by the fact that they were released in 2005 and discontinued in 2006.  I'm interested in the Kitties because there's speculation online that these fashion felines might have been Mattel's inspiration for Monster High, which debuted a few years later in 2010.  However, Mattel explored cat fashion themselves back in 2003 when they released the Lounge Kitties--a group of Barbie dolls clad in cat suits.  Regardless of who was inspired by whom, there have been some fascinating animal-themed play dolls in the past few decades.  In this review I'll focus mainly on the Catwalk Kitties, but I'll also do short comparisons to a Monster High cat and a Lounge Kitties doll--and I'll throw in a little Pinkie Cooper to keep the dog lovers happy.

Before I get started, I want to acknowledge two good friends and their roles in this review.  First of all, even though I mentioned the Catwalk Kitties briefly in my Pinkie Cooper review, I never would have remembered them if it wasn't for Katrina.  She sent me an excited message through Patreon when she found one of these dolls on eBay, and that's what got the ball of yarn rolling.  I also want to thank Darcy, who suggested that I review something vintage and strange.  What could be more vintage and strange than a big-headed fashion cat from 2006?  Also, Darcy loves cats more than anyone I know, so--Darc et al., this one's for you:

Catwalk Kitties Sienna, by Lanard ($114 on the secondary market).

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Nendoroid Doll: Little Red Riding Hood (Rose), by Good Smile Company

I have to start with a little piece of business this time because I've heard from many people that it's become difficult to know when I've posted a new review.  I'm really sorry about that!  Blogger changed their set-up last summer so that email notifications are no longer being sent.  I don't have a great workaround yet, but I always post a quick link on Twitter (@TBP_emily) when there's a new review, so that's one option if you're interested in getting a heads-up.  If Twitter's not your thing, my kids are encouraging me to get a TikTok account, which is tempting.  We'll see what happens there.

Thank you so much for the fun and informative comments on the previous Nendoroid review!  I found it really interesting to hear more about the brand and learn how your Nendos compare to Link.  I'm suddenly very caught up in the whole chibi figure world and am excited by Rachael's suggestion to compare the Nendoroids to a similar type of figure called Cu-Poche.  I also got very caught up in the Legend of Zelda world again, and had to hold myself back from spending the rest of the week playing Breath of the Wild.  I galloped around Hyrule for a little while, I'll admit, but then got right back to work because I'm very excited to talk about this next doll!

Most Nendoroids on the market right now are 4-inch tall PVC figures like Link.  However, there's a newer line of Nendoroid Dolls, and these have some important differences to the standard figures.  First of all, they're taller (about 5.5 inches tall), and they also have different articulation with not quite as many removable parts.  I think one of the best things about these dolls is that they come dressed in removable, fabric clothing, and so they can easily change outfits and adapt to a variety of different styles.  The selection of Nendoroid Dolls is nowhere near as extensive as the array of standard figures, but there are several cute options available.  I chose Little Red Riding Hood: Rose, who was easy to find and cost well under $100:

Nendoroid Doll Little Red Riding Hood: Rose, ($65.99).

Monday, March 21, 2022

Nendoroid Figures by Good Smile Company

I was chatting about various dolls with my friend L last month, and when Calico Critters and Li'l Woodzeez came up, L mentioned that some of the furniture and accessories for those fuzzies can work for Nendoroid figures, too.  I had only a vague idea about what Nendoroid figures were at that point, so I did a deep-dive into the brand to see if it might be a fun topic for the blog; it most certainly is!

Nendoroids are popular four-inch tall hard vinyl figures with a Japanese chibi design.  The brand includes a wide range of characters that tend to be based on video games or anime series.  There are a lot of Disney-related figures, too, for those who aren't into anime or video games.  The Nendoroid interpretation of Rapunzel from Tangled is especially sweet.  Nendoroids are made by Good Smile Company, and since I'd just been talking about Good Smile in reference to the newest Blythe dolls, I figured this would be an interesting time to review something from this company.

Nendoroids are pricey--especially for such a small toy.  Most newly-released figures cost about $60, although some models are more expensive.  Characters that have sold out can go for well over $100 on the secondary market.  Because of this popularity and demand, there's an insidious supply of fake Nendoroids out there, tricking people left and right on platforms like Amazon and eBay.  In this review I'll take a look at one of my favorite characters--Link from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild--and compare him to a fake version that I found on eBay.  Here's Link:

Nendoroid DX Edition Link from Breath of the Wild¥6,600 (~$55).

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Boombox Battle! L.O.L. Surprise vs. American Girl

Is anyone in the mood to go back to the 1980s for a toy boombox battle?  I hope so!  During my research for Part One of the L.O.L. Surprise catch-up review series, I got irrationally intrigued by the L.O.L. Remix dolls that have packaging which combines to make a plastic boombox.  I'm a huge fan of the 80s and have really fond memories of boomboxes, so I'm always tempted by this type of vintage, nostalgia toy.  I was shocked, however, to discover that in order to assemble the three sets necessary to make the L.O.L. boombox, you have to shell out around $50 ($44.97, ~$51 with batteries).

Most of us would think hard about a $50 purchase, but it's so easy to spend that much (or more) on a few smaller items.  Blind bag toys are especially good at tempting people to buy more, because there's always a collection to complete or a highly-desirable but hard-to-find toy in the mix.  But if you know ahead of time that you're going to end up spending $50 on a specific assortment of blind bag toys, you have options.  Maybe there's something else for that price that you or your kids would rather have.  But what is comparable to a freakin' L.O.L. boombox? 

It just so happens that for the last few months I've been drooling over another boombox toy that costs $50: Courtney's Sleepover Accessory Set from American Girl.  This toy doesn't offer a perfect comparison because, unlike L.O.L. Surprise, there are no dolls included in the set.  But it offers an excellent way to put the Remix toys into some context.  It also pits the two biggest toy companies in the country (MGA Entertainment and Mattel) against each other.  What could be more fun?  

So let's check out these two popular $50 boombox-themed toys and see which one comes out on top!

L.O.L. Surprise Remix assortment ($44.97) and Courtney's Sleepover Accessories ($50).

Thursday, February 24, 2022

I'm a Girly Doll

I'm a Girly is a Swiss doll company that launched in 2017 and expanded into the United States market in 2020.  The dolls seem to have been (still are?) quite popular in Europe, but didn't make as much of a splash here--perhaps because they occupy the same niche as American Girl.  The mission of the company is to produce "sustainability with style" by using top-quality materials and as little waste as possible.  That's certainly a mission that I can get behind, although nothing specific about the realization of this goal is mentioned on the website--beyond the fact that the cardboard packaging can be reused or recycled.  

The thing I find most unique and interesting about the I'm a Girly brand is that the design of the dolls is overseen by a group of children, the Kids4Kids team.  These boys and girls (ages 9 to 13) were instrumental in tweaking and perfecting the first prototypes, and continue to be involved in designing and testing the dolls' accessories and clothing.  Specific items of I'm a Girly clothing can be attributed to specific young designers or design teams, and I can't imagine anything more exciting or empowering for a child!  What a great idea.

I happened upon this brand only by chance.  I was browsing the Target website, looking at some of the ILY 4ever Disney dolls, and the thumbnail of an I'm a Girly character popped onto my screen.  I was captivated by the doll, but her $80 price was high enough to give me pause.  I continued my search on Amazon, where I found several of the dolls being offered for under $20.  That seemed way too good to be true, but I took a chance and ordered the least expensive character, Lucy, who at the time was $9.92 (with free shipping).

I'm a Girly doll, Lucy, MSRP $79.99, on sale for $9.92.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Catching up With L.O.L. Surprise Dolls, Part One: Boys, Minis, and Hair!

I clearly remember reviewing my first Li'l Outrageous Littles (L.O.L.) Surprise dolls back in 2016.  I was delighted to find a doll with packaging that mimicked the idea of an original surprise ball, i.e. a ball with many layers to unwrap, each layer containing a little treat.  As I mentioned back then, the fun of unwrapping an L.O.L. doll also reminded me of the "pass the parcel" game that I used to play at some of my friends' birthday parties when I was younger.  I loved that game, even if the treats hidden in each layer of paper were only single sticks of gum.

I can also remember that back in 2016 L.O.L. dolls cost $7.99 and showed up in stores one variety at a time, presented in big cardboard display boxes or tall cardboard chutes.  These displays were mostly empty (the toys sold out quickly), and I often had to resort to online shopping to get one of the dolls to review.

I was chatting with one of my lovely Patrons recently, and she suggested that I do a L.O.L. "bonanza" review that would attempt to explore all of the new incarnations of the L.O.L. concept.  I'd been thinking that I should get up-to-speed on these ultra-popular dolls anyway, and so her suggestion was exactly the inspiration I needed.  A few months ago I started paying more attention to the L.O.L. aisle at Target and accumulating a collection of L.O.L. products.  Over a multi-part review series, I'll share my thoughts about how things have changed for this brand in the last six years.

L.O.L. Arcade Heroes Flyer ($17.79) holding two minis.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Smart Doll by Danny Choo

Even during the time when I wasn't actively reviewing dolls and tracking trends, I was aware of Smart Doll.  I do a lot of wig shopping for the My Twinn Project, and I noticed over the last two years that several of my favorite wig vendors, who had previously been offering mostly American Girl wigs and accessories, were switching their focus to Smart Doll.  That got my attention because few things in the doll world are more popular than American Girl.  After a while, it became impossible to shop for a wig without seeing a dozen gorgeous photos of Smart Dolls in the process.  So, when I decided to start blogging again, one of the very first things I did was visit Danny Choo's site to learn more about this enticing brand.

Danny Choo (son of fashion designer Jimmy Choo) grew up in England with a fascination for Japanese popular culture.  This fascination led to the creation of a television show, Culture Japan, and the design of an anime mascot for that show.  The mascot's name is Mirai Suenaga, and she's described as a second year high school student with an interest in journalism.  Mirai loves the color orange and is often shown in orange-themed outfits.  The Mirai character went on to become quite popular, getting her own anime series (Mirai Millenium), and even being recognized as the official symbol for Japanese and Malaysian tourism.  In 2012, Mr. Choo began the process of turning Mirai into a 60cm fashion doll: the first Smart Doll.  Mr. Choo currently lives in Japan, where all Smart Dolls are made.

I probably should have chosen the Mirai character for this review, since she's the original Smart Doll, but those of you who know me won't be surprised that it's the smiling redhead with freckles who I couldn't resist.  She's a newer doll from the Story Tellers collection and her name is Monday:

Smart Doll Monday (Tea skin tone, Cherry wig, replacement eyes), ¥52,000 or ~$453.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Honey Bee Acres, Calico Critters, and Li'l Woodzeez: a Comparison Review!

Today's review was originally the second half of my Honey Bee Acres post, but the whole thing was crushingly long.  I was boring myself every time I tried to edit that monstrosity.  I really appreciate those of you who stopped in to say that you don't mind the longer reviews.  You're so nice!  Thank you.  Maybe I'll plow ahead with longer reviews in the future, but for this time around, at least, I've split the review in half and this is the conclusion.  Today's post will make a lot more sense if you've read the first half, though, so I highly recommend starting there and coming back here if you want to know more.

The first review took a cursory look at the Playground Pals (a set that includes nine different animals) and a more in-depth look at the four members of the Barkster dog family.  I concluded that post by summarizing the flaws that I noticed in the Honey Bee Acres line.  Today's job will be to see how the Barksters measure up to dog families from both the Calico Critters and the Li'l Woodzeez brands.

Honey Bee Acres, Calico Critters, and Li'l Woodzeez dog families.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Honey Bee Acres by Sunny Days Entertainment

Well, this has been a bumpy month so far with the failed migration and then the massive shutdown at Enom.  Yikes.  I'm cautiously optimistic that there will be no more technical drama on the horizon for a while, but I guess these things can be hard to predict.  Thank you very much for being patient with all of the disruptions.  In the future, you can always get news from me even when the blog is down if you visit Twitter or Patreon.

One of the things I noticed when I started looking over this site back in October is that my Li'l Woodzeez vs. Calico Critters review still gets a lot of traffic.  It's neat to know that the information in a ten-year-old review can be useful.  Because of that post's popularity, I started toying with the idea of writing an updated comparison review between the Calico Critters and the Woodzeez.  Then, in November, when I did the Li'l Woodzeez Sunday Surprise post, Sar mentioned to me in the comments section that Walmart now has their own line of small flocked animal figures: the Honey Bee Acres collection.  That was exactly the inspiration I needed to follow through with a new comparison review--this time including all three brands of flocked mini animals!

I originally planned for today's review to be a comprehensive post looking at all three brands, but with over 240 photos, that got way too long.  One of my New Year's resolutions is to stop producing novel-length reviews.  Nobody has time for that.  So, I've split this massive review into two parts.  The first part will look only at the Honey Bee Acres animals.  Part two, which will be posted this Wednesday, will compare a Honey Bee Acres family to equivalent Calico Critters and Li'l Woodzeez characters.  I also have plans to compare a few playsets in the future (update: here's one of the playset reviews).

There's a lot to talk about here, so let's get started!

Honey Bee Acres Playground Pals characters, $19.97.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Cave Club Dolls by Mattel

Well, I guess it's clear at this point that the blog migration didn't work.  It worked in the sense that all of the data (including the comments and links!) got transferred from here to WordPress.  That seemed pretty magical to me.  But it didn't work because none of the pictures were aligned correctly, any picture with a caption was huge, I couldn't edit photos in old posts anymore, new photos took ten years to upload...and the list goes on.  I could tell you the whole story some day if you're interested.  The upshot is that it would have taken me literally over a year to correct all ~43,000 images by hand, so I bailed and came back to Blogger where it's safe and familiar, and (most) things work.

However, the commenting problems here are real and I'm trying to fix that.  I've found a workaround for myself that might help some of you--especially if you're using Safari: if you go to your Safari settings, select Preferences, then select Privacy, you should see a way to change the "cross-site tracking" configuration.  When I did this, I was suddenly able to comment again--and lots of other little things about the site are working better for me, too.  So give that a try if you feel like it, and please let me know if you have any success.

One of the reasons that the migration was so frustrating to me is that it took several full days away from my time with dolls.  I have a huge list of interesting things that I want to share with you, and I hate falling behind.  So let's forget about technical stuff as much as possible for right now and get back to the fun!  Today's fun is in the form of a quirky little collection of dolls that I discovered about two months ago.  The line is called Cave Club and is made by Mattel:

Mattel's Cave Club doll, Lumina ($14.99).