Sunday, December 18, 2022

Sunday Surprise: Penny's Box Natural Wonderland Antu Dolls!

Twitter is a bit of a disaster these days, so I hate to even mention it here on the blog, but I kind-of have to for this post, because without Twitter, I never would have known about the dolls I'm featuring.  I should mention, though, for anyone who is fleeing the Twitter chaos, that I've started an account at Mastodon.  I'll put everything that I post on Twitter on Mastadon, too.  Here's the link, which you can also find over on the right side bar -->

I joined Twitter so that I'd have a way to announce when I'd written a new review, and it's worked fine for that, but after following a bunch of people, I realize that it's also a great platform for learning about new dolls and appreciating talented artists.  In fact, it's maybe too good of a platform for learning about new dolls.  I feel like every time I log in these days, I end up buying something.  

Today's review was inspired by a Twitter friend from New Zealand, surprise-yawns, who introduced me to Penny's Box and their whole range of adorable blind box BJD-style dolls.  I find it mind-blowing that you can get a fully-articulated, adorable little elastic-strung doll in a blind box format...for about twenty bucks.  Sounds too good to be true, right?  Let's find out.

Box photo from Penny's Box Natural Wonderland Antu, $22.
The dolls in this review are from the Penny's Box Natural Wonderland series, which includes seven different animal-themed characters:

Because it's a blind box toy, you don't know which character you're getting ahead of time... unless you order the full case (for $125).  But even then, that case could include the six regular characters, or five of the regular characters plus the mystery figure.  

I decided to order two dolls and hope I wouldn't get a repeat.

While I was in the process of writing this review, I realized that there are a few other Penny's Box releases available right now, too, which I'll quickly show to you.

There's this School Hunting series:

There are these incredible little centaur-like dolls from the Dreamlike Tea series:

And these boys, who I'm completely obsessed with:

In fact, I was so obsessed with the boys, that I've already ordered a few.  I really wanted to get one of the figures that comes with a dog, like this guy:

So I actually went to AliExpress where some vendors allow you to choose which character you get.  I picked a boy with a dog, and I can't wait to get him!

Anyway, it seems likely that there will be more Sunday Surprise posts with Penny's Box dolls.

But for now, here's the first Natural Wonderland box that I opened:

All of the boxes feature the same character on the front.  She's called Family Helper and is meant to look like a cat.  I hate to say it, but this is the character that I least wanted to get.  It's cute that she's winking, but the wink doesn't look right to me--her closed eye isn't squinty enough.  It's more like an eye patch.

One side of the box has some writing in Chinese that I wish I could read:

And the other side shows six of the possible characters, and a silhouette of the mystery girl:

Here's a better look:

I can't read much of what's on the back of the box, but there are a few things in English, like the materials (PVC), and the address of the company (Guangdong, China):

Like the Monst dolls I reviewed earlier, these little ones are recommended for people 15 and up.  And again, I think that's a bit too limiting.

I was so excited to open this box, I can't tell you!  I actually pre-ordered my two dolls on September 9th, and they only arrived a few days ago, so it's been a long wait!

I ripped right into the perforated top of the box:

Inside the box, the doll was held in place with a plastic carton.

I wasn't sure how quickly the surprise would be revealed, so I tried to pull the carton out very slowly...

And boom!  I could almost immediately see who I got!

It's the little bear character, Honey Snatcher!

I'll just call her Honey for short.

Honey came without any clothing on, and with her shoes secured in the plastic carton next to her:

Han Solo would sympathize.
The dress and a trading card came stashed next to the carton.  

Here's everything that was in the box:

The collector card is very nice, and has a photo of Honey on it:

The back of the card is pink, with a funny little graphic of a doll coming out of a box.  I suspect this is the Penny's Box logo:

I'm not sure how the word Antu factors in, but I think it's the name of the girl characters?  If that's true, then the boys are called Adou.

Honey's outfit consists of a dress, white socks, and shiny brown plastic shoes:

The dress has a lot of detail for something so small, including a lined collar, and two tiny little buttons sewn to the bodice:

I like the printed bear head silhouettes on the skirt--they're so small!  I wouldn't mind having a piece of clothing for myself made out of this print; it'd look like regular polka dots from a distance, but then the bear heads would be clear when looking at it up-close.

There's also a delicate brown ruffle all along the hem:

The dress opens all of the way down the back with velcro:

And it's stitched beautifully, with immaculate little reinforced seams.  It's fully-lined, as well, which is amazing:

Honey herself is adorable...and really well articulated!  

It's cute how her bottom sticks out in profile:

And I love the fact that she can easily stand on her own!

There's a lot going on with Honey's hair.  She has regular ears sticking out at the sides of her head, although these are bright red and look a bit like goat ears.  She also has fuzzy bear ears coming out of the top of her head...and a horn in the middle of her head:

So she's like a Goaty-Bearicorn.
Her hair comes in two pieces, much like the Nendoroids and Nendoroid dolls.  The hair can be removed by pulling the two pieces apart:

When the hair is gone, it's easier to see Honey's facial features.  You can see how unusual her ears are here.  She also has very simplified irises that are light brown at the top and white at the bottom:

She has a tiny birthmark under her right eye, and extremely small eyebrows that make her look slightly cross.

The head is hollow at the back, which exposes a hook that holds the body's elastic:

The head can slide off the body...

And be completely removed!

Because Honey is elastic-strung, there's a lot of freedom in her mobility.  Her head can look all around:

And it can also tip from side to side:

She can look up and down a little bit, too, and can hold most poses with no trouble:

Her shoulders have a rounded connection to the body and so she can move her arms in any direction.  She can even hold her arms up close to her head without the elastic snapping them back down:

There are little slits at the shoulder joint where you can peek in and see the elastic:

Honey has double-jointed elbows that can bend to 90 degrees using one of the joints, and to nearly 180 degrees using both of the joints!

Her wrists have a ball-shaped connection to the arm, and so they are very flexible, too.  And, again, they can hold their position quite well:

She can easily touch her mouth and ears:

Or rest a hand on her hip and look at me with exasperation:

Honey has a torso joint that allows her upper body to rotate from side to side:

There's some forwards and backwards movement possible with this joint, too:

Although in order to tip forwards, the inner lip at the back of the joint has to be exposed, which I'm not sure is supposed to happen:

Honey's elastic hips can't move very far into side-to-side splits if the joint is facing forwards...

But with the joint rotated upwards, she can do amazing splits:

Unfortunately, that cute bottom gets in the way of her front-to-back splits:

That cute bottom allows for some very robust floor-sitting, though!

Honey has double-jointed knees, but these don't function as well as the elbows:

They do allow her to sit nicely in a chair:

And do this, whatever this is:

Her ankles are ball-shaped, and allow her feet to flex and extend a little bit:

Her feet can also rotate from side to side:

Honey is an amazing little doll--especially for $22.  I can't believe how well she can pose...and how well she can balance in so many different positions!  I'll let her show off for a sec:

I don't own a lot of elastic-strung dolls because I worry about the elastic loosening.  Elastic simply does not stand the test of time.  I know it's possible to re-string a doll, but I've never tried it.  If I were ever to attempt a restringing project, however, Honey's size and price point seem like a good place to start!

Also, strung dolls can be "kicky," which I take to mean that their limbs can spring in and out of poses at any given time.  Honey is definitely a bit kicky, and she will occasionally collapse, but I love how she moves for the most part, and I can't believe how well she balances.

Here she is in her full outfit...with her hair back in place:

The hair makes a big difference.

Honey is 5.5 inches tall, so about thigh-high to my towering assistant, Lina:

Penny's Box BJD (left) and Barbie Signature Looks doll (right).
She's slightly taller than Nendoroid dolls like my Little Red Riding Hood Rose, though, a fact that Rose is not happy about:

Penny's Box BJD (left), and Nendoroid doll (right).
Both dolls are extremely poseable, but of course Honey is strung and Rose has more conventional vinyl joints.  Because of her double-jointed elbows and knees, Honey just barely beats Rose in points of articulation: 18 to 15.

Penny's Box BJD (left), and Nendoroid doll (right).
The two dolls can share clothing, though, which was a surprise to me:

Nendoroid doll Rose wearing Penny's Box dress.
Penny's Box BJD wearing Nendoroid doll outfit.
Nendoroids can use some furniture and accessories that go with Calico Cristters, Li'l Woodzeez, and Honey Bee Acres dolls, but unfortunately these items are too small for Honey:

Especially this Calico Critters bed!

Feeling very Goldilocks here, Emily...
Since the Monst girls are still wandering around my photo area, I'll include a picture of Kani with Honey, too:

Monst doll (left) and Penny's Box BJD (right).
Both of these dolls impress me with their quality-for-price ratio.

Last, here is Honey next to a New York Doll Collection mini (who is the same size as an American Girl mini):

New York Doll Collection mini (left) and Penny's Box BJD (right).
Honey is a wonderful size, perfect for fitting in a purse or backpack and going along on adventures.

I had a great time posing Honey in her full outfit:

Although her sitting poses are not as varied or natural-looking as other dolls with 18 points of articulation.

Now she's mad at me for saying that...

But her arms have fantastic movement, and are very expressive for such a tiny creature!

Okay, I know you're all wondering which doll was in the second box, though!  I was, too!

Honey was excited about getting a new friend...or perhaps a twin?

I was nervous opening this box, which is strange.  After waiting for so long, I really didn't want to find a duplicate!  I think maybe the shop can see which doll is which by looking at a code or something, and then they make an effort to not send duplicates, but I wasn't sure.

As soon as I opened the box, though, Honey and I could see that it was a different doll inside.  Look at the bright hair!

I'll admit to being a tiny bit bummed at first, because I knew the doll with the brightest hair was the winking cat:

She's definitely cute, but not my favorite.

...however, I was in for another surprise!

I actually got the special mystery character, who isn't even shown on the box!

She's called Ms. Goldfish of Wonderland, which is the best name ever!

She comes with a pink and red outfit that's very similar to Honey's ensemble, but she has an extra "fin" accessory:

The red in this outfit might have worried me because of the potential to stain, but the whole dress is lined in white, just like Honey's dress:

I put the dress on first and saved the fins (which look more like wings) for later:

The dress has the same design as Honey's dress, but with different colors and a fish scale print on the skirt:

Here she is from the side so that you can see her cute little spiral horn:

This girl's hair is a shiny, candy pink color and reminds me of a lollipop.  There are little balls at the top of her two molded ponytails, and these have some swirls of gold inside:

The ponytails themselves look like candy twists:

I think I'll name her Lolli.

With the wings fins in place, I think Lolli looks more like a candied fairy than a fish!

I'm a Candy Fish-Fairy, obviously!
The fins also remind me of a Christmas bow, which is a fun thing to have around this week:

The bow sheds red glitter everywhere, though, which is annoying.

Oh--I almost forgot to remove Lolli's hair so that you could see her face paint better:

She has reddish-pink eyes with white diamonds in the middle, the same goat ears that Honey has, and another slightly irritated expression.

I love Lolli's drama, though!  And I love that there's a doll made to resembled a goldfish.

Even if she looks more like a candy fairy.

Umm, that's candy fish-fairy to you.
Here are Honey and Lolli together:

These two can share clothes, of course, which makes for some fun mixing and matching:

And they can even swap hair, just like the Nendoroid dolls:

I like how Lolli looks with Honey's hair.

Little dolls like this are perfect for taking on outdoor expeditions, so the other day I ventured out into the woods with Honey and Lolli.

Honey got to explore first:

She enjoyed lounging on some of the soft moss.

And also climbed on everything in sight:

Climbing trees might not seem like a typical bear activity, but bears are actually excellent climbers!

Honey scaled this tall tree and found a perfect little sitting nook:

She blends in so well with all of the bare trees and brown foliage!  She was definitely right at home in this setting.

Lolli, on the other hand, stuck out like a sore thumb:

Umm, like a sore candy fish-fairy.
She searched the woods for other bright things that would make her feel less conspicuous.  She stumbled upon these bright orange mushrooms:

But I wouldn't let her touch them.

She got a little mad at me, but you can't be too careful with wild mushrooms.

I think all of my talk about fairies convinced Lolli that maybe she could fly, so she launched herself off of this high log:

And while she didn't actually fly, she didn't hurt herself, either.  The ground cover is nice and soft at this time of year.

After that, she stuck to the safety of the forest floor.

Bottom line?  These little dolls are wonderful-- and every bit as fun as I hoped they'd be.  I had no idea that it was possible to get such a high-quality doll in the blind box format.  The impressive articulation, the beautiful construction of the clothing, and the originality of the concept are all things I don't expect to see until I'm spending at least $50.  To get two of these Antu dolls for under $50 feels remarkable.

Of course I can always find little things to critique, and with these two, one thing to note is that the stringing can be frustrating.  The dolls occasionally kicked their limbs out in random ways or lost their balance because of shifts in the elastic.  I also know that elastic will loosen over time, and replacing it requires some skill and effort.  But the stringing also makes these dolls wonderfully poseable, and allows them to cradle into my hands and settle into poses in a way that rigid-jointed dolls simply cannot.

The faces are also a little strange, with unconventional eyes that might be alienating.  But on the other hand, the eyes fit with the fantasy theme of the line, and I like how creative they are.  I'm curious to search around and see if any artists are repainting these faces, because that would be interesting to see.

Another down-side is that, as with any blind box toy, you run the risk of repeats.  I got lucky with Honey and Lolli, but in the future I'll either just buy a single doll from each release, search out the specific character(s) I want on AliExpress, or maybe just buy the whole freakin' collection.  I can't say it hasn't tempted me--especially with those boys!

The market has been overrun with surprise-themed toys in the last few years, which has drained some of the joy out of these Sunday Surprise posts.  Opening a surprise-themed doll used to feel exciting and novel to me, but over time it began to feel monotonous and wasteful...sometimes laced with buyer's remorse.  But the Penny's Box dolls have breathed new life into my enthusiasm for surprise dolls.  In my eyes, they have all of the ingredients for a perfect surprise toy: there's no extraneous packaging, all of the options are appealing (even that winking cat), and the dolls themselves are made with care and skill, to be cherished for years.  

When I was playing with Honey and Lolli in my studio and in the woods, I didn't think of them as blind box dolls at all; they're just highly poseable, affordable, engaging little sprites who happened to surprise me with their identities.  The de-boxing mystery was exciting, for sure, but it was secondary to my enjoyment of the dolls themselves.  The real surprise will be all of the adventures and antics that these two personalities inspire in the future.


  1. what a great find! I love that they can swap hair and faces, and Honey looks amazing in the Nendoroid dress. She also looks perfect as a preschool-age child for Nina to babysit - albeit, y'know, a unicorn bear goat child. And how great that you got the secret character! I'm happy because otherwise we'd never know what she looked like, what with that silhouette on the box. XD

  2. Adorable, they really remind me of the neondroids. Thanks for the review and happy holidays!!

  3. I'm pretty sure those aren't eyebrows, they're eyelid creases! The only one who seems to have actual eyebrows is winky cat girl (and she displays the eyelid creases better, what with the wink). I wonder why?

    Anyway, these are super cute and I just put in an order for one of them and one of the centaur variety. I honestly don't think I could pick which ones of them I'd want if given the choice, so the surprise box aspect is a plus for me in this case!

  4. So cute! Honey's hair is honestly so adorable! The little centaurs look amazing, but I'm trying to be good! I hope you do a review for the cute boy when you get him!

  5. They have great posability! And how fun that you got the mystery character. Maybe she can be a Swedish Fish candy fish-fairy?

  6. Aaah, these are so cute!! You're really on a cute doll roll here, Emily. I never knew Aliexpress offers such an amazing array of high-quality dolls, and at such affordable prices, too. These are just lovely. I really like the concept of the line, the colors, the outfits, and how posable they are. For such a tiny doll, you get a lot to enjoy. One of the things I like about smaller dolls is how well they fit in your hand. There's just something so satisfying about holding a small doll, posing them and carrying them around in one hand. A bit of a kid-like experience perhaps, haha. I think these dolls would be wonderful for that. I understand the recommended age, and that the elastic might make them slightly more vulnerable, but I think these would also make wonderful gifts for a child. All in all... rip my short Aliexpress wish list haha!

  7. They are very cute.

    I do find it a bit weird that they are going commando in those cute little dresses. I guess it's a cost saving measure not to include underwear but they do get socks and shoes.

  8. This feels like dangerous knowledge to have, that amount of articulation and quality in a ridiculously inexpensive blind box? Wow!

    I think that little line above the eye might actually represent the eyelid, based on placement and similar face styles I've seen on other little toys like this. The bangs go so low they might have not bother with brows since they might have been scraped off over time with the over lap.

    I'm also guessing the big balls of hair on the goldfish girl might be to suggest the sillouhette of eyes, like that breed of fish that was bred for selectively larger and larger eyes? The big bow for a pretty fan tail is a clever choice!

    Absolutely adore these, if you don't get the centaurs, knowing you, I'll be very surprised!

  9. I've been looking for a little doll that I can carry around in a pocket and these just might do the trick!

    Very glad to see nendoroid Rose is still around, as it was her review that made me find this blog, and what cemented my decision to pick up a nendoll (or three... 😅 [They made a mouse king and a nutcracker! How could I resist?!]) for myself!

  10. I love these so much-- however, the one I got (the cute little dog!) had a tail that was very difficult to insert-- and it snapped off! :( I still love her but OOF that one was painful.

    Have you seen the centaurs they released recently!? I want one so bad, haha.