Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Mali and Lilli's Boston Adventure

There has been a lot going on in my life recently!  A few weeks ago, in a very spontaneous decision that I might live to regret, I got a job.  I didn't really set out to get a job, I actually just wanted to do some volunteer work at a local no-kill animal shelter.  But that effort somehow translated itself into a part time job.  So my schedule is going to be a bit chaotic for the next few weeks as I get used to this new reality.  I'm optimistic that I can keep the blog going at a fairly normal rate, by writing shorter reviews or perhaps less frequent reviews, but who knows.  I will certainly do my best to make it awesome.

To add to the complexity of life, I also had a four-day trip to Boston planned around this past weekend.  My son and his lovely girlfriend still live in Beantown, and we wanted to go visit them.  I was very excited about the trip, but I didn't really feel like I could miss a weekend of blogging--what with the new constraints on my schedule and everything.

My solution to this problem was to find a small doll or two to bring with me on the trip, and try to take all of the photographs I'd need for a review while I was on vacation.  I also thought I could actually write the whole review while I was away, but that was unrealistic.  So here I am back in New Jersey, grabbing a few hours before work to tell you the tale of two little friends and all of the fun things they did together in Boston:

Little Friends Mali and Lilli by HABA, $11.99 each.

There's more to this story, though.

I didn't get the bright idea of bringing a small doll with me on the trip until late Thursday--the day before we left.  I rummaged through my stash of dolls and found a few contenders, but all of them had too many small parts and would require too many photographs.

So, I turned to Amazon.  I searched for "small dolls" and then filtered the results for items that could be delivered to me overnight.  And, believe it or not, I got a few options!  I ordered the three most interesting items and brought everything with me on the trip.  

I'll be featuring the girls in the cover shot today, but I might as well show you who else I bought, right?

First of all, I was intrigued by this trio of identical 6-inch boys with a word salad Amazon description:

"Beem Jun 3 Pcs 6 Inches Small Boy Dolls, Boy Model 13 Movable Joints Plastic Painted Eyes, for Children Toys 3 Colors Clothes Baby Doll Toys."
They seemed a little pricey at around $24, but they have cute faces and a lot of joints, so I decided to give them a chance.

They came in a decorative cardboard box, with a photo of the trio superimposed over a construction site background:

My Little Boy doll set, $24.99.
Incidentally, I took a lot of the photos for this review on the kitchen counter of our Airbnb Boston rental house.  There was a skylight in the kitchen, so it was a bright and cheerful space.

The box opened up to reveal the three dolls...and a Christmas card:

It gets earlier every year.
There's nothing fancy about the presentation; it's just three dolls in plastic bags:

All three boys have the same face mold, skin tone, hair color, eye color, and shoes.  The only difference between them is the design on their shirts and shorts.

One boy has a blue tee shirt with a Shiba Inu on it.  Under the dog, it says "Shiba Inu," and then "tag line goes here."  I don't know whether the "tagline goes here" part is meant to be clever, or if the shirt image is stolen from a template design that left space for an actual tagline:

Either way, this little guy clearly needs a tagline.  So, I used a tagline generator to come up with a nice slogan for him.  I requested that the word "Doge" be included--you know, because of the whole Shiba Inu Doge meme:

I think my favorite tagline result is "good to the last Doge."  And also, "maybe she's born with it, maybe it's Doge."  I might have to find a way to use that in my life.

Anyway, the second little guy has a green shirt with a blue excavator on it:

This shirt reminds me a little of Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.  Although in that book, the steam shovel, Mary Anne, is red.

The last doll has an orange and blue striped shirt with a boy playing soccer:

There's also a little soccer player on the blue shorts, which is pretty cute.

Of the three, I decided to take a closer look at the Shiba Inu boy:

Nothing comes between me and my Doge.
He has a sweet face with molded brown hair:

Let your Doge do the walking.
His eyes are light brown, and are framed by dark black eyelashes on top and very fine light brown lashes on the bottom:

He can stand on his own without any trouble:

Nobody does it like Doge!
And his outfit is reasonably cute (although I wish the collar on the shirt wasn't so big) and is easy to take off and put back on again.

Underneath the clothing, he has a hollow, lightweight plastic body with thirteen points of articulation:

Most of the joints are rotating hinges with good range of motion, but the neck is a simple joint that can only spin, which is too bad.

The body feels low-quality, but I love the flexibility.  He reminds me a lot of the cheap knockoff dolls that I got from AliExpress.

I obviously decided not to feature this doll in today's review, but here are a few outdoor pictures of him:

Wave if you Doge.
Sitting by the Doge of the Bay.
Another option from Amazon that I decided not to feature in this review was a boxed set of 6-inch princess dolls:

This set cost $20, which seemed like a good deal compared to the boy dolls.  Not only are there three dressed dolls, but the dolls have inset eyes and an extra outfit each.

Let's take a quick look:

The presentation is very similar to the boy dolls.  There's a colorful cardboard box that opens up to reveal all of the items wrapped in plastic:

If I were to give this as a gift, I would try to tidy up the presentation.  It looks sloppy:

Here's everything that was in the box:

The three dolls come dressed, but without shoes.  The shoes are packaged inside a separate small bag, along with three tiaras.  The other three plastic bags contain the extra outfits (all of which include shoes).

Two of the dolls have the same face mold and pink hair, but the third doll is different: 

The first pink-haired doll is wearing a pink dress with large off-the-shoulder sleeves and a feathery skirt.  The top of the bodice on this dress runs across the middle of the doll's torso, making it look way too big for her...or just poorly designed:

Talk about a plunging neckline.
She's also wearing a choker necklace that's glued in place.

The skirt is made out of a netted fabric with feather-like strips of trim sewn to it.  It looks pretty ragged:

Or like she's being eaten by a sea anemone.
The second pink-haired doll has a lacy white dress with a well-fitted bodice and a tiered skirt.  The straps on the dress are made out of elastic, and there's a cute sequined band at the top:

The problem with this dress is that the lace is see-through.  The double layer of lace at the top of the dress is enough to mostly conceal the doll's body, but that tier is cut really short.

The last doll has a face mold with pursed lips, and her hair is a funny medium grey color:

Her purple dress has pom pom trim and a dramatically dropped waist that may or may not be intentional.

I decided to take a closer look at one of the pink-haired girls, because I like that hair color and face mold the best.

The dolls all have the same exact body as the little Doge boy I showed you at the beginning, with spinning necks and twelve rotating hinge joints:

This doll's body feels even lower quality than the boy body, though.  Several of the joints are very loose, and the plastic in the limbs does not match the color or texture of the plastic in the torso.

I re-dressed this girl in one of the extra outfits, just to try it out:

The fit of the extra outfit is good.  In fact, its design is better than any of the dresses that the dolls came wearing.

Here's a closer look at this girl's face:

She has a similar eyelash pattern to the little boy, but with more fine lashes on the lower lid, and a bit of pink eyeshadow around her eyes.  The eyes themselves are dark brown-ish grey and inset.

The hair fiber on these dolls feels fine, but it's not silky smooth and it has a funny smell.  The rooting pattern is decent:

I decided not to feature these dolls in today's review because they didn't seem like anything special, and their princess theme is not really appropriate for Boston...the heart of the American Revolution.  No taxation without Doge!

Here are a few outdoor pictures of her for the fun of it, though:

I can't really recommend any of these 6-inch dolls, despite their excellent articulation.  They feel cheaply made, with very little thought put into the fashions.  And who knows what kind of plastic they're made out of...or what other type of doll they're copied from.  You can find mass-produced plastic dolls like this, with the exact same bodies and faces, on AliExpress for about $6 each.

The third kind of doll that I found on Amazon is very different--thank goodness.  These are called Little Friends, and they are 3.5 inch vinyl dollhouse children made by HABA.  The two characters that were available for overnight delivery were Mali (green dress) and Lilli (pink dress):

HABA makes these figures along with their wooden dollhouses and dollhouse furniture.  Here's an example of a HABA dollhouse:

I love the open structure and all of the wood.

HABA also makes adorable larger rag dolls that have similar features to the Little Friends:

HABA is a family-owned German company that has roots way back to 1938.  The company has a wholesome vibe, and seems responsible and deliberate about their toy-making choices.  So, unlike the cheap dolls I just showed you, I have little doubt that these Friends are made out of safe, durable materials.  I feel like you could probably chew on them or put them in your mouth and be okay.

Mail and Lilli cost about $12 each and come in colorful, compact cardboard window boxes:

The backs of the boxes have photos of some other HABA Little Friends products:

The dolls were held in place inside their boxes with molded plastic shells (no plastic ties!) and were very easy to unbox.

These two are made out of high-quality vinyl, and they have a wire armature in their limbs that allows for some flexibility.  Here's Mali demonstrating her side-to-side splits and arm lifts:

And her front-to-back splits:

Her head can't move as much as her limbs, but she can look upward a little bit.

I forgot to take a photo off Mali from the back, so I had to do that back at home:

She has some molding holes on the backs of her arms, legs, and chest.

Mali's skirt is not removable, but it's made out of highly-flexible vinyl (like Polly Pocket clothing) and so it doesn't interfere with leg flexibility.

Her painted tights stop at the tops of her legs and she does not have painted underwear.

These dolls remind me of the bendable smiley-faced figures that I bought for my kids one year when we went on a big trip:

The kids were young, and I thought that if they carried the smiley guys around and included them in photographs, it would be a fun way to stay engaged with all of the cool places we went and all of the interesting things we saw.  

It worked pretty well:

Mali and Lilli certainly kept me engaged with all of the cool places we visited in Boston!

The first place we went to was the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum.  This museum was built in 1901 by Ms. Gardner to house her own impressive art collection.

The museum is four stories tall with an interior courtyard that is graced with numerous windows and arches:

The courtyard also houses an impressive garden:

The girls were excited to explore this massive space!

Lilli loved looking at all of the flowers:

And Mali enjoyed playing hide and seek among the stone pillars:

They were both awed by a huge stained glass window on the third floor:

The girls have good taste, because that window is actually considered to be the best example of 13th century French stained glass in this country.

Another one of Mali and Lilli's favorite discoveries was a mechanical drawing from The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices.  They couldn't read the Arabic writing, but the elaborate contraption looked to them like it was designed to control a small doll or puppet! 

I hate to disappoint them, but I think the little person in that drawing is meant to be a real person standing far away, and the contraption is meant to dispense drinks.

As we were leaving the main building of the museum, Lilli strayed a bit too far away from the group.  And I don't know if it's because she looks like a strawberry or what, but she somehow ended up in the mouth of a ferocious lion!

I rescued Lilli and we hustled out of the courtyard--off to look at the more contemporary side of the museum.

Along the way, Mali couldn't resist the bars at the top of this glass corridor.  She said they looked "just like monkey bars:"

But eight feet in the air.
The only contemporary art on display while we were at the museum was Charmaine Wheatley's Souvenirs exhibit.  This was comprised of several rows of small watercolor portraits.  I love how the artist crammed little bits of information about her subjects into the compositions:

I did a little portrait in this style for Lilli:

After we left the Gardner museum, we strolled down the street right past the Boston Museum of Fine Art.

Mali and Lilli found a sculpture to climb on, but can you guess what shape it is?

What if I zoom out a little more:

It's an ear!
It's an ear attached to a huge baby head:

With its own gravitational field!
My son's girlfriend knew that this head was outside the museum and that Lilli, Mali and I might like it.  How right she was!

There's nothing quite like a massive disembodied baby head.
I gather that some locals even knitted this baby and its companion some hats for the colder weather.  I wish I'd seen that in person!

Mali and Lilli thought that the baby's eyelids were a good place to perch:

Which looks a little creepy up close!

I swear I only turned away for a split second this time, but while I wasn't looking, either Lilli fell...or somehow the baby head managed to strategically knock her down:

Nom, nom.
I wasn't quite sure if I could trust the baby head after that, so we moved on.

Next on our list of sightseeing adventures was to visit the Forest Hills Cemetery.  A cemetery is a strange place to visit, granted, but this Victorian-era spot has beautiful grounds, lots of funerary sculpture, and some creative gravestones like this one, with its faithful dog guardian:

Good Doge dog.
The biggest reason that we wanted to visit the cemetery, though, was because it has a small village of concrete houses.  Mali and Lilli were very excited to play on these houses:

Some of the houses were modeled after the actual homes of people buried in the cemetery, and there are labels indicating the professions of those people.

The grocer's house has started to tip to the side over the years!

But, not surprisingly, the architect's house is in great shape:

As we were leaving the cemetery, my son made a startling discovery!

It looked a bit like a tombstone at first, but this huge snapping turtle was very much alive!

Be careful, Lilli!  Don't get snapped up:

We spent a large part of the next day walking around Boston.  It was a gorgeous day, and there is so much to see.  There are tons of little parks, like this fish-themed spot with a big fountain:

There were big Atlantic cod sculptures surrounding the fountain, too, and Mali decided to ride on one:

There's a perfect little break in the dorsal fins where she could sit!

Mali also befriended a cute frog sculpture that she found hidden amongst the plants:

But wait...where did Lilli go?  Oh for goodness sake:

Do cod even like strawberries??
Lilli didn't seem too upset about being mistaken for a snack, again, but I was getting frazzled!

I take back what I said about putting these dolls in your mouth.
Everybody got out of the cod park in one piece, and we headed across the Charles river, with a great view of the Bunker Hill bridge in the background:

Mali's gripping hands allowed her to scale that chainlink fence with very little danger of falling!

Once we got to the North End, we followed the Freedom Trail right to Quincy Market:

After a coffee break and a stop for some unsalted nuts, we headed to the Public Garden to make way for some ducklings and try to feed the animals.  Whether or not this is a good thing to do, it's become a bit of an institution in my family.

Lilli got one nut out of the bag and was immediately surrounded by birds!

This squirrel was not at all shy about getting his fair share:

Even though there was some competition from a brave pigeon:

I was a little worried about Lilli:

Don't get stepped on!
Or eaten!
So I asked her to sit in this relatively protected nook in a large tree:

But there was no escape from the pigeons!

Ahhh!!  Did they eat her??
Oh, phew.  She survived:

Just barely.
The last mission of the day was to go apple picking.  Apple picking is a big deal in New England for some reason.  You don't just go out into a quiet orchard and fill up a bag or two of apples, no.  You stand in line to get some bags, stand in line to buy some cider, stand in line to buy a few doughnuts, and maybe even stand in line to buy an overpriced pumpkin or go on a hay ride.

I didn't participate in this adventure because I had to look after my dog, Kit, but Mali and Lilli really wanted to go.  So the rest of the family watched over them.

As I understand it, both girls (but especially Lilli) got a pretty firm lecture about safety before they were allowed into the orchard:

But everyone figured it would be okay to let them climb on this old tractor:

It seemed pretty safe, and it's not like a tractor was going to try and eat Lilli, right?

Wait--what?  Are you kidding me?

Oh, Lilli.
Lilli was rescued yet again, and the girls finally got to pick some apples:

Lilli must have been rattled by all of her near-death experiences, because as soon as she got to the top of the tree, she fell right down:

But Mali managed to pick quite a few apples:

And was excited to get back to the house and make a pie:

I'm not showing my face any more.
Lilli did not want to be in any more photos after all of her misadventures, but Mali was willing to pose for one last shot amongst the flowers:

Bottom line?  It's been a while since I've posted anything about dollhouse scale items, so in a roundabout way I'm grateful to the chaos in my life for instigating this review.  Mali and Lilli are delightful, and I might never have noticed them if they weren't among Amazon's next-day delivery options.

The dolls are sweet, cheerful, flexible, and colorful--perhaps a bit too colorful in Lilli's case!  I wish their heads could bend around a bit more, but I really like the flexibility in the limbs.  And the gripping hands work well to hold onto everyday objects (like chainlink fence) and I suspect they'd also be good for interacting with Little Friends accessories.  At first I was disappointed that the rubbery skirts aren't removable, since that leaves no option for outfit changes, but in retrospect the permanent skirts make these dolls great for really young kids.  The $12 price point feels a little high to me (equipping a dollhouse with a simple four-person family would cost almost $50), but it's clear that the quality is good and the dolls feel durable.  They are also excellent travel companions, and a huge step up from the yellow figures that I gave my own kids many years ago.

Maybe I don't spend a lot of time looking at dollhouse dolls these days, but I feel like it's been ages since I saw a 1:12 play doll design that I liked.  Wooden dollhouse dolls are wholesome and environmentally friendly, but they aren't quite realistic enough for my liking.  The plastic dolls can look more realistic, but a lot of them also look cheap, have strange faces, or don't have enough articulation.  Fisher Price's Loving Family dolls have had different appearances over the years, and some of those iterations were pretty good, but I never got around to buying any of the sets.  Maybe Mali and Lilli will inspire me to do a deeper dive into dollhouse products for younger kids?  I know both HABA and Hape have nice wooden houses and furniture (comparison review?) and going back in time to explore some of the Loving Family dolls could be fun, too.  

For now, I'm grateful to my pair of Little Friends for being excellent companions on an awesome trip, and for helping me get back to blogging despite a new and very busy schedule.


  1. So fun! Thanks <3

  2. I just moved from Boston after spending many happy years there. Thanks for this wonderful post- it brought back so many lovely memories!

  3. These girls remind me of a book I read when I was young, about some porcelain Victorian era little dolls and their fancy dollhouse, and then the newer plastic little kid doll family that move in when the younger sister gets them for Christmas. It may have been called Doll House, I loved it.

    Anyway great review, and congrats on the job!!! I hope you love it, don't stress too much about the blog, remember it should be fun!


    1. I believe it’s called The Doll People. What an amazing book, I spent my childhood reading it and wishing my dollhouse dolls could come to life like theirs 😂

    2. The other commenter is correct and there are actually 5 books in total, 4 novel books and a picture book; ‘The Doll People’, ‘the Meanest Doll in the World’, ‘The Runaway Dolls’, and I think the last book that is novel length is called ‘The Doll People Set Sail’. The picture book is about Christmas I think. The other ones are good but I’ve never read the last book or picture book.

  4. Adorable, and funny post. You made me smile with the doge slogans and with Lilli's misadventures. Good luck with your new job!

  5. Can you please review the doll house from haba.

  6. ah, it hearkens back to the days of Adam Carpatina (where will he be hiding next?! who is going to eat Lilli next?!). I laughed a great deal at this (the slogans on those boy dolls' shirts, too...) and Lilli and Mali are really adorable. Doge you wish every review were this funny?

  7. Congrats on the new job, and best of luck! :)

    I'm glad you got to visit your son and his sweetheart.

    The boy dolls: I saw another blogger review one of those, and thought he was cute. Found him on Temu for cheap, but decided not to order. Now I'm glad I didn't, tho he is kinda neat in regards to articulation.

    The dolls you took with you: I like them! They remind me of some bendable Ariel I had as a kid. She had little holes like pinpricks in her vinyl. Took her swimming in the river one time, and she never bent again. :( I was convinced water got into her body via those holes, and mucked up her system. Still kinda miss her.

    Anyway, great pictures and fun review! Lots to smile about. Very colorful travel companions.

    I'd love to see any reviews from you regarding dollhouses. The Loving Family one circa-2006 has a special place in my heart. It was my child's favorite toy for two solid years. He didn't like the people who came with it, tho. Preferred to use Polly Pocket (the kind with the rubber clothes).

    1. P.S. After leaving the above comment, I was feeling nostalgic, so I tried to find a picture of my kid's old dollhouse, and you know what? It wasn't the Fisher Price Loving Family; it was the 'My First' house. I think I wanted to give him the former, but couldn't afford it. In my mind, I suppose I always just dubbed it the Loving Family. Those had the best furniture sets. :)

      As for Ariel: I looked her up, too. She was a Bend-Ems by Justoys. Might have to track one down on eBay and not get her wet or feed her after Midnight. ;)

  8. Good luck with the new job! I hope the positive emotions outweigh the sad ones.

  9. Your little girls surely had a big day. Boston is beautiful and the Gardner Museum is my favorite of all time! Lovely post, and all those critters looking the girls over...yikes! Sandi

  10. Best of luck with the new job, seems a very good fit for you! And thank you for sharing your adventure and sightseeing with us, the graveyard and it's houses were especially appealing, as was your trademark humour. :) those seem like great little dolls for kids to have on adventures, they're appealing, have a lot of personality, and seem durable.

    Re: the dog statue. I'm wondering if that's meant to be a Grimm? These were big, black ghost dogs that guarded graveyards from disruption and harm.

    1. Just to add, a quick google informed me they are called Church Grims.

  11. Congratulations on your job! I just started volunteering with a shelter this spring and I love it so much. As someone who isn't into social media, I never heard of this Doge thing before, and even after looking it up I still don't really get it LOL. But the little dolls are cute!

  12. Oh, what a fun review! I'd never heard of these dolls, but they're really sweet. I loved following their adventures, the pictures among the animals were especially impressive!

    I'd like to recommend Tinyly by French toy company Djeco, some of my personal favorite travel companion toys. They barely have three points of articulation, but I absolutely adore their designs!

  13. I like those dollhouse dolls. I can't bring myself to spend that much on a modern doll that tiny though. I got the boy doll in the Shiba Inu shirt on Temu, and he was only a couple of dollars. I decided against a girl because I have one of those cheap dolls like that, and the hair is not good as a rule. He's nice and posable, but I don't think I would give him to a child. Questionable plastic contents and pieces that might come apart. You know. As far as the doge thing, the first I ever heard of it was in a Homestar Runner video. You might find the videos amusing:

  14. Emily—you could start a second blog just of doll travels. Now I want to go to Boston!—MnGrl

  15. What a lovely review, Emily! Now I want a HABA doll. LOL!