Thursday, June 27, 2024

Unicorn Academy Dolls by Spin Master

I've been excitedly waiting for the Unicorn Academy merchandise to hit the shelves for several months now.  Not because I'm an avid reader of the original book series by Julie Sykes (although I recently read and enjoyed the first volume), but because I tend to be interested in everything Spin Master does.

I'm a fan of Spin Master primarily because of their Liv line, which came out way back in 2009 and jump-started my enthusiasm for dolls and doll reviewing.  I was also amused by the flamboyant La Dee Da dolls, despite their minimal articulation, and kind of wish I'd kept a few of those girls in my collection.  Most recently, I reviewed Spin Master's Mermaid High dolls and found them to be versatile and whimsical little play companions.

Based on that history, I tend to have a high level of enthusiasm when I learn about a new Spin Master doll line.  And with the Unicorn Academy release I was doubly excited because not only are there a bunch of new dolls, in two different scales, but there's a wonderful selection of unicorn characters to accompany them:

4.5" Sophia and Wildstar by Spin Master, $14.99

Fans of the Julie Sykes Unicorn Academy books might already be confused by the caption on my cover shot.  Why is it Sophia and Wildstar?  Sophia's unicorn is supposed to be named Rainbow!

Sophia and Rainbow by Julie Sykes.
Well, the Spin Master toys are not based directly on the Unicorn Academy books, but rather on the new animated Netflix series of the same name.  And the television show takes some liberties with the characters.  Not only are many of the names changed, but the gender of the unicorns is not consistent (Rainbow is male and Wildstar is female), and while the unicorns can talk in the books, the television show has rendered them mute--save for some Disney-esque expressive whinnies:

But what are the books and television show about?  Why are unicorns involved?  The basic premise is that there's a secret boarding school to which special kids are recruited.  At the school, the students are sorted into houses and then paired with unicorns.  As the magical friendship grows between unicorn and rider, each unicorn will uncover a special gift--like the ability to control light or fire.  Sound familiar?  It's basically Harry Potter meets My Little Pony and the Equestria Girls.  And the television show is more heavy-handed with the Harry Potter similarities than the books are.

Pastel Hogwarts.
The show is fun, with animation that's beautiful at times (the hair is especially realistic), but with physics that is occasionally jarring, and characters that can be over-the-top and a little annoying.  I prefer the simplicity of the books, with their lovely illustrations and sweet relationships.

But what about the toys?  There are two different sizes of doll, 4.5 and 9 inches tall, which means they're approximately 1:18 and 1:9 scale, respectively.  The larger dolls are sold separately from their unicorns, but the smaller dolls and unicorns come as a set.

I'll talk about the smaller dolls and unicorns first, and then look at the larger versions later on in the review.

There are five small sets at the moment.  In addition to Sophia and Wildstar, there's also Ava (who is Sophia's best friend) and Leaf:

Leaf's magical power is that she can control plants.  In The Unicorn Academy books, Ava's unicorn is named Star.

The sporty character is Isabel, with her unicorn River:


River can control water.  There's an Isabel in the book series, but she's Black and her horse is named Cloud.

The book-smart girl is Layla.  She's my favorite character in the television show, and I think her unicorn, Glacier, is beautiful:


Glacier can control ice, which is pretty cool...no pun intended.  In the books, she's named Dancer.

The troublemaker character who thinks she's better than everyone else is Valentina.  I love Valentina's hair and Cinder's coloring, but why do the obnoxious characters have to be redheads?

Cinder can control fire, which explains the red color scheme.  In the books, Cinder is named Golden Briar, and both he and Valentina are way meaner than they are in the television show.

There's a glaring omission here that I absolutely don't understand.  There's one more main character in the show, Rory, who happens to be the only boy.  He's one of the better characters, honestly, and his unicorn Storm is awesome.  I have no idea why Spin Master left them out.  

Give me my doll!
Despite Rory's inexplicable absence, I admire these small sets for their diversity.  Each doll has a different face and hair mold, and there are several different unicorn molds, too: Cinder and Storm share a mold, as do Wildstar and Glacier, and Leaf has a third mold unique to her.  The saddles all look like their have their own special designs, too.

I didn't know much about Unicorn Academy when I purchased my dolls, so I went the safe route and chose Sophia and Wildstar, who are the main characters:

Sophia & Wildstar, $14.99.
They come packaged together in an asymmetrical, open-faced cardboard box with a molded plastic backing.

The front of the box is decorated with gold metallic trim and a still shot from the animated show:


It's a sweet picture.  Here's a closer look:


There's a golden Unicorn Academy logo on the opposite side:


And another picture of Sophia and Wildstar on the rounded top edge of the box:


There's a cutout design on the top of the box that looks like the mane from the Unicorn Academy logo:


The back of the box is helpful because it has a picture of the entire girls-only friend group:

As if Rory doesn't even exist.
On the left side are Valentina, Layla, and Isabel:


And on the right are Sophia and Ava:

BFFs.
Underneath the picture, there's a very short blurb about Sophia and Wildstar's personalities:


They're both described as stubborn and impulsive with a rebellious streak.  They don't strike me this way in the book, but that fits them pretty well in the show.

I cut the box away from the backdrop:


The molded plastic was holding Sophia and Wildstar quite securely, but they were also held in place by several longer plastic ties.  Those were all easy to find and snip.

Here's everything that was in the box:


Before I take a closer look at Sophia, here's a reminder of what she looks like in the show:


And here's the doll:

Pretty good!
Sophia's legs were a little warped right out of the box, but after a while they straightened and she's now able to stand on her own.

I really like this doll's face and hair:


She has large brown eyes that fit with the animation style of the show, and I'm impressed that the paint looks good even up-close:

Very little graininess.
Sophia's eyebrows do not have any hair line detail and her lips are a very bold pink, but the color works well with her bright hair and outfit.

The hair has a wonderful molded shape that makes it look like it's blowing in the wind:


My first thought with hair this long and detailed is that it would almost certainly inhibit the movement of Sophia's head.  But she can actually turn her head to the left:


And to the right with no trouble!


That's a really good design.

The hair has rainbow streaks in the front and at the sides, but the back and the underside are plain brown:


In the television show, Sophia's hair is really beautiful and has colorful streaks throughout:


When Unicorn Academy students pair up with a unicorn, they're each granted a new costume.  Sophia's outfit is purple, pink and gold:


There's less color on the back:


Most of the clothing is molded and painted onto Sophia's body, and overall the detail and precision is really good.  I especially like the purple riding gloves:


The gold vinyl jacket has a vest-shaped portion that looks like it's removable:


Unfortunately, the jacket is attached to Sophia's back and so it doesn't come off:


One thing that I really like about dolls with an equestrian theme is that I know they're going to have decent articulation--at least in their legs.

And Sophia does not disappoint on this front.  In addition to the neck articulation that we just saw, Sophia has shoulder, hip, and knee joints.

Her arms can spin around:

Until they bump into her hair.
And while her elbows aren't articulated, there's a slight bend in her arms (especially on the right side) that will certainly help with holding reins:


Sophia has a bit of side-to-side movement in her hips:


And a lot of front-to-back movement:


She has hinge joints in her knees, so she can kneel:


And she also has rotation at the knee so that she can turn her feet towards or away from her body:


Sophia's leg articulation allows her to sit in a chair:


But she's a bit bow-legged, so she's obviously more comfortable sitting on a unicorn!


At 4.5 inches tall, Sophia is around the same size as some of the dolls that I was looking at in my Rolife Happy Meals Kitchen review:

From left: Barbie Chelsea, Littlest Pet Shop Blythe, Unicorn Academy Sophia, and Calico Critters mother.
What stands out to me in that comparison picture is how detailed Sophia is compared to other dolls her size.  Her facial screening is so much better than Chelsea's.

Here she is with Polly Pocket:

Polly Pocket (left) and Unicorn Academy Sophia (right).
Sophia's balance and articulation are much better than Polly's, as is her face paint.

Sophia is like the tall teenaged daughter of the Lundby mom who I bought for that Rolife review:

Lundby mother (left)and Unicorn Academy Sophia (right).
But she has much better clothing.

And yes!  Sophia fits nicely in the Rolife kitchen.  She can even hold some of the utensils:


I have to admit that I wasn't as excited to review this small set as I was about the larger Unicorn Academy dolls, but little Sophia is great.  Her dynamically molded hair and seven joints, in particular, make her quite special.

I shifted my attention to Wildstar next, hoping she would be just as special.

Unfortunately, Wildstar does not have any points of articulation, which I suppose should come as no surprise in a horse this small.  She's molded into a trotting pose, though, which looks good:


She has a rooted mane and tail, both of which have a pretty mix of colors, but are way, way too long:


Wildstar has large painted eyes, but her face does not have as much expression as it does in the show:


The vinyl tack is removable, but the saddle has a ratcheting girth that's stiff and hard to use:


The girth also doesn't hold the saddle in place very firmly; it's inclined to slip backwards.

Here's the saddle on its own:


It's made out of gold vinyl, and the sea green saddle pad is painted.

The bridle slips off fairly easily thanks to Wildstar's flexible horn.


The reins spin around on a peg-and hole joint, and there are grips for Sophia's hands:


Here's Wildstar without her tack:


Her body is made of plastic, with the exception of her vinyl horn.

She has painted white stars on her rump and withers, and her body is a shimmering opalescent purple that looks really pretty:


The mane obscures a lot of Wildstar's body on the right side:


I mean, the character has a long mane in the television show:


But it's not at all curly, and it certainly doesn't reach past the top of Wildstar's leg.

Underneath the mane, there's no decoration whatsoever on the right side of Wildstar's body, which is inconsistent with the show:


I don't like the laziness of leaving off half of Wildstar's magical stars, but I do like the cute molded hair detail on her fetlocks:


She doesn't have any detail on the bottoms of her hoves, save for something on her back left leg:


It's a tiny unicorn head!

That's cute.
The only other thing in this set is a brush, which is way too big for Sophia to hold:


The handle of the brush detaches on one side and lifts away to reveal some nice molded decorations:


The brush might be too big for Sophia's hands, but it's actually the perfect size to fit over my pointer finger.  So I used my finger to brush out Wildstar's mane and tail:

That looks even worse.
The hair is even more overwhelming after it's been brushed, but the fiber feels nice and silky.


Without the bulk of the bridle in the way, at least now we can see a hint of a smile on Wildstar's mouth:


Here are Sophia and Wildstar together:


Sophia was eager to mount up and go for a ride, but that saddle really wants to slide backwards!


Once she's seated, the tack works fairly well for Sophia.  Her feet fit into the stirrups and her body is secured nicely by the shape of the saddle:


And while the hand grips look strange, they work well to allow Sophia to hold the reins:

Like a steering wheel.
Sophia's hair is blowing in the wrong direction for Wildstar to run this way:


But the pair look great when I photograph them from the other side:

Except for that messy mane.
I definitely see a haircut in Wildstar's future, but these two are very fun to play with, and they capture the characters from the show in a satisfying way.


It'll be hard not to buy all of the mini sets, especially Layla and Glacier.

Before I move on, I have a little tangent to take because there's actually another version of the Sophia and Wildstar set that has a light-up feature:

Sophia & Light Magic Wildstar, $19.99.
This set has the exact same Sophia doll, but the Wildstar figure has an articulated leg, which intrigued me.

I bought the set so that I could compare the two unicorns:

Light Magic Wildstar (left) and regular Wildstar (right)
The articulated Wildstar is not as graceful as the original, and doesn't have painted details on the saddle.

Her face and neck are also much thicker:

Chipmunk cheeks.
This version of Wildstar has a star-shaped button on her rump that, when pressed, causes the articulated front leg to extend, and a lighted pattern to appear on the floor:


The lighted pattern is projected from a bulb under the neck:

That explains the larger head.
The gimmick is pretty fun, and I think I actually said "ooh!" or "wow" out loud the first time I tried it.  But overall I prefer the shape and simplicity of the standard figure:


The $15 price point for these little sets feels slightly high to me, $10 would feel better, but considering the level of articulation, detailed molding, and quality of paint work on the doll, it's fair.  And when I think of comparable toys, like the Polly Pocket set I bought for the last review, Sophia and Wildstar have more substance and play value for less money.

The larger fashion dolls and unicorns require a bigger investment.  The dolls cost $16.99 on their own, and the unicorns range from $21.99 (River and Leaf) to $34.99 (Wildstar).  So, in order to get a Sophia and Wildstar pair in the bigger scale, I had to spend just over $50.  That makes $15 look pretty great in comparison!

Anyway, I shelled out the $50 so that we could take a look at the larger toys.  Here's Sophia:

9-inch Unicorn Academy Sophia, $16.99.
She comes in an asymmetrical window box with a picture of the television character in the lower left:


The top of the box has the same design that we saw on the smaller set, with a picture of Sophia and Wildstar next to a cutout pattern:


The back of the box is similar to the other packaging, too, but only Isabel and Ava appear next to Sophia:


That's because there are no fashion dolls for Layla and Valentina's characters yet (let alone poor Rory).


I understand why Valentina was omitted here, since she can be somewhat antagonistic, but I don't really get why Isabel was chosen over Layla, since both have equal standing in the show.  Probably because there had to be at least one blond girl.

The description of Sophia on the back of this box is more detailed than what we saw before:


It says she always knew she was destined for something extraordinary, and then fate led her to Unicorn Academy and she found her true calling as a unicorn rider.

Sophia came mounted against a golden backdrop:


She was easy to de-box for the most part, but had a plastic tie in the back of her head.

Here's everything that was in the box:


Sophia comes with a brush that is the same size and has the same design as the purple brush that came with the smaller set:



The brush is way too big for this Sophia, too, but it still works great on my finger.


Sophia looked a little disheveled right out of the box, mostly because her curled hair was lopsided and messy:


But she has an elaborate-looking outfit and can stand on her own.


Here she is from the back:

Ugh.  That hair.
I got out my brush and tried to tidy Sophia's hair, but I only made it frizzier:

Hair like this is so frustrating.
The fiber feels good, but it's really hard to make it look nice.

Yikes.
This is especially disappointing given how great the hair animation is in the television show:

Lest you forget.
The rooting is decent, and the hair feels plenty thick:


Sophia has a cute face that resembles the character on the show:


Her brown eyes are clear and bright, with a glossy coating that looks good.  I'm not crazy about the little flash of teeth showing in her smile, but I love her freckles:


I tied Sophia's messy hair back so that we could see her head and outfit more clearly:


Here she is in profile:


Her ears look funny to me, I think because there isn't much molded detail aside from the rim around the pinna:


Sophia's fabric outfit is faithful to the television show, and has all of the same elements that we saw on the smaller doll:


She has the beloved star necklace that was given to her by her father:


Her other vinyl accessory is her belt, which comes tied to her pants:


The belt has buckle holes and stars that are painted a faint gold color:


It closes in back with a peg and hole:


Sophia's gold jacket has a velcro seam in the back, which confused me at first.  Why on earth would a jacket need a back seam?


Because the jacket is connected to the underlying rainbow tank top:


In order to take the jacket off, I first had to remove the riding gloves on Sophia's hands:


These are made out of super-soft vinyl--like what you see on Polly Pocket's clothes.  The gloves are surprisingly easy to take off and put back on again:


With the gloves out of the way, I was able to remove the top.  

The jacket has some nice details, like the collar and the slit cuffs, but the back side of the golden imitation leather fabric is white, which can look a little messy in the areas where it peeks out:


Still, the construction of this garment looks sturdy:


Sophia has golden riding boots that don't match the gold in her jacket perfectly, but come pretty close:


The boots have painted red laces and rugged treads on the bottom:

I don't think that kind of tread is standard for riding boots.
Sophia's leggings slide off easily once the boots have been removed, thanks in part to a velcro seam at the waist:


The leggings have unfinished edges at the bottom:


And all of the details, like pockets and chaps, are printed onto the fabric:


Underneath her clothing, Sophia has a plastic torso with vinyl limbs and nine points of articulation:


I wondered if Spin Master would use the Mermaid High body for these dolls.  But while there are certainly similarities in body shape and articulation, you can see that at 9 inches tall, Sophia is much shorter than Finly:

Unicorn Academy Sophia (left) and Mermaid High Finly (right).
Sophia has molded underwear with a little unicorn head design on the left side, which is really cute:


Sophia's articulation is solid, with nothing that surprises me and nothing that irritates me.

Her head can spin around and tilt up and down a little bit:


Her head can also tip from side to side:


Sophia's shoulders are rotating hinges, so she can lift her arms up and away from her body:


And spin them around:


She has hinged rotation in her elbows, too, and can bend her arms to about 90 degrees:


She can't rest her hand on her hip or touch her face, but she can run her hands through her hair and rest her fingers near her hip:


This is a bad GIF, but it shows how the lower arm can rotate back and forth at the elbow:


Sophia's hips have some side-to-side movement:


And she can do full front-to-back splits:


She has hinged rotation at the knee that allows her to kneel on one knee...


Or two knees, although her balance is precarious in both positions.


The rotation at the knee joint helps with some of Sophia's balance issues.

With all of her combined joints, Sophia can sit in a chair:


She can run, with the help of the stand:


And jump around:


I showed you a size comparison picture earlier on, but Mermaid High is a little obscure, so here's Sophia alongside my lovestruck assistant, Lena:

Unicorn Academy doll (left) and Signature Looks Barbie (right).
Sophia is closer in height to dolls like the FailFix girls, but the FailFix body is more petite:

Unicorn Academy doll (left) and FailFix doll (right).
And she's a bit shorter than the Creatable World crew:

Unicorn Academy doll (left), and Creatable World doll (right).
I had good luck last time I tried Creatable World clothing on a different doll brand, so I tried again with Sophia.

Unfortunately, the clothes don't fit super-well.  These pants are too long and the tank is too big:


On a whim, I compared Sophia to one of my Pinkie Cooper dolls:

Unicorn Academy Sophia (left), and Pinkie Cooper's Pepper Parsons (right).
I love the Pinkie Cooper clothing, and so I hoped that it would fit Sophia...

Looking good!
But it's way too small and does not close in back:

Boo.
I didn't have any luck finding other clothing that will fit Sophia, so I put her back into her original outfit.  Unfortunately, I had some trouble getting the right sleeve of the jacket over Sophia's hand:


Sophia's thumb, which sticks out quite a ways from the rest of her hand, got snagged on the mesh backing of the imitation leather:


Fortunately, the snag isn't visible from the outside of the jacket, but this will no doubt make further redressing difficult.


Here are the two Sophias together so you can see their similarities and differences, and also appreciate the stark difference in scale:

4.5" Unicorn Academy Sophia, and 9" Sophia.
I think they're both cute and both easily recognizable as Sophia, but I'm surprised by how much I like the mini.  I assumed she'd be my least favorite, but I love her molded hair, and she's easier to handle and more fun to play with than the larger doll.


I can't fully evaluate the larger Sophia without seeing how she works with her version of Wildstar, though.  Most importantly, I was curious to see if Wildstar's size would be believable.  You all know I'm mildly obsessed with that type of thing.

Wildstar is different from the other horses in the series, which is why her price is about $10 higher.  The other two horses, Leaf and River, do not have any special features.

Here's the promotional picture of Leaf, who is Ava's horse:


I love that Leaf is some kind of draft unicorn, and I appreciate the bold choice of pairing a yellow body with a purple mane and tail, but the combination is a bit hard on the eyes.

Here's River:


His blue coloring reminds me of Headless Headmistress Bloodgood's horse, Nightmare.  Do you remember her?

Anyway, Wildstar is different from Leaf and River in several ways.  First of all, she comes in an all-cardboard box with a photo on the front:


The name of this toy is "Rainbow Light-Up Wildstar," which may or may not be a casual reference to the fact that Sophia's unicorn is called Rainbow in the books.


There's a nice picture of Sophia and Wildstar from the television show on the back:


Both of them have awesome hair:


And there's a smaller photo of the Sophia doll riding Wildstar, with what looks like a lot of light-up action:


Wildstar was held within an all-cardboard restraint inside the box, and she came with a few instruction manuals:


It was practically effortless to get her out of the packaging:


This version of Wildstar also has a ridiculously long mane, but at least it lays reasonably flat--and the hair fiber feels nice:


Wildstar only has articulation in her neck, which is related to her light-up feature:


Her legs are molded into a trotting pose that's similar to what we saw with the smaller unicorn:


She has big purple eyes and a bit of a smile:


Wildstar is smaller than a 1:6 horse like Sindy's steed, Aspen:

Unicorn Academy Wildstar (left) and 1:6 Sindy horse (right).
And she is slightly taller than a 1:9 horse like this Traditional Breyer model:

Unicorn Academy Wildstar (left) and Traditional Breyer model (right).
Because Wildstar is so close in size to a Traditional Breyer horse, and because I know Breyer makes a lot of unicorns, I looked around to see if any of the Breyer unicorns were reminiscent of Wildstar.

As it turns out, there is a Breyer unicorn who looks almost exactly like Wildstar:

Rainbow Magical Unicorn by Breyer, $22.36.
Unfortunately, he's the smaller Classic size--so too big for the 4.5-inch Sophia and too small for the 9-inch Sophia:


One more size comparison that I think is useful is between Wildstar and the cheap Barbie horse that I included in my 1:6 horse overview:

Barbie horse (left) and Unicorn Academy Wildstar (right).
What's interesting here is that the two are basically the same size.  And yet, the Barbie horse is meant to go with an 11.5 inch doll and Wildstar is meant to go with a 9 inch doll.  So we already know that Wildstar will be more in scale with her rider than the Barbie horse.

Wildstar is also better quality than the Barbie horse.  Her mane and tail are softer and thicker, and she has an overall heavier, more solid feel.

You might have noticed that Wildstar is missing her tack in that last picture.  I got a little out of my chronology for a sec.  But clearly all of Wildstar's tack is removable.  The saddle is easier to manage than the smaller version, and the bridle is a bit harder to manage because this Wildstar's horn is less flexible.


The design of the saddle is almost exactly the same as the smaller version, but the stars on the saddle pad are painted gold and there's a glittery texture to the gold vinyl.


The bridle is very similar to the small version, too, complete with handles on the reins:


Here's Wildstar without her tack:


I brushed her mane a little for this shot:


The mane has a lot of styling product in it, so there aren't too many flyaways, which is nice.  It feels slightly greasy, though.

Once again, there's no star pattern on Wildstar's body on the right side:


Wildstar's belly is covered with features that are related to the light and sound action, including a speaker, a power switch with three settings, and a battery compartment:


The instructions reveal that the power switch's three settings are for three different languages: French, Spanish, and English:


The rest of the instructions are a bit confusing to me.  It looks like touching Wildstar's neck does something, as does touching or holding her horn.  And maybe placing Sophia in the saddle does something, too?


The black and white instruction pamphlet is more clear.  First you have to interact with Wildstar to build a bond.  This is cool because it mirrors the storyline of the show.  Once the bond is formed, Wildstar will be able to do more.


Once I had a basic idea of what Wildstar is capable of, I gave her a few batteries (not included) and switched the power to the English setting.

I interacted with Wildstar by petting her nose and touching her horn, and a lighted pattern started to flash over her rump area and around her horn.  She also made a few horsey noises:


As I interacted with her more, the lights extended up towards her head.  I also feel like there's more of a blue shade to the lights here:


After I'd interacted with Wildstar enough to complete the bond, she lit up with rainbow lights all over her body!


Here are still shots of that light display for anybody who doesn't feel like watching videos:



The flashing lights are really pretty, but they do not appear on Wildstar's right side--just the left.

Despite reading the instructions several times (both versions), I'm still not exactly sure how I got the title song to play.  But I got it to play:


I've also had that song stuck in my head non-stop for the past week.  Sigh.

And, as advertised, the song can be played in both French and Spanish, too.  Here's the Spanish version:


Wildstar also makes a clopping noise, but I'm not sure what triggered this, either.  Maybe having the saddle in place?


It was fun to play with Wildtsar's extra features, even though I'm not exactly sure which of my actions led to each sequence of sounds and lights.  I'll probably play with her more later, just to make sure I didn't miss anything.

The bonding gimmick is a really great idea, and it links these toys to the television show in a fun way.  My only complaint is that you have to re-bond with Wildstar every time you turn her off and on again.

Finally, it's time for Sophia to meet Wildstar:


The two are reasonably in proportion to one another, I guess, although Wildstar is much larger in the television show.  Here's a reminder:


Thanks to some low-hanging stirrups, it was easy for Sophia to mount up:


And she looks pretty good on Wildstar.  I wish Wildstar was a bit bulkier and taller, though.  She'd be more impressive and majestic:


At first I had a hard time getting Sophia's feet in the stirrups:


But if her leg is extended a bit more, she can reach:


This causes Sophia's bottom to lift out of the saddle a bit, but it's subtle:


The two make a cute pair:


I wish both of them had less hair or more manageable hair, but those rainbow locks allow for some dramatic poses.


I can imagine fans of the show planning all sorts of new Unicorn Academy adventures with these two, and Wildstar's light and sound feature adds to the magic.  $50 is a lot to spend, though, and it's hard to imagine buying one of these toys without the other.


I ended up spending even more money because I wanted to see if the other two fashion dolls had the same body as Sophia.  In pictures, it looked to me like at least Ava has a different body type:


Ava's face definitely looks like the character from the show, but her hair is even messier than Sophia's:

And I don't really like the exposed teeth.
And, sure enough, her body proportions are slightly larger:

Unicorn Academy Ava (left) and Sophia (right).
I also wanted to see what one of the standard unicorns looked like, so I bought Leaf, too:


The packing is different from what we saw with Wildstar.  These boxes have a plastic window, and a large picture of the unicorn and rider pair on the back:

Aw.
There's a small description of Leaf, too:


Here's Leaf out of the box:


Her large hooves give her stability, and she has a nice weight to her.  I also like her smiling face:


I don't like it when model horses have hollow sections on the insides of their legs, but I've seen this many times before:


Wildstar had these hollow areas, too, but there were't as glaringly obvious.

It looks like there were equivalent areas on the lower parts of the legs, too, but those were covered up with plastic panels:

Slightly better, but still.
Leaf has a massive amount of curly purple mane on her right side:


It's a bit of a tight fit to get Ava into the saddle, but then she stays in place pretty securely:


For some reason these two don't go together as well as Sophia and Wildstar.  Maybe because I expect a draft unicorn to be much larger?


Anyway, in for a penny, in for a pound, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the last fashion doll: Isabel.


This doll didn't appeal to me at all in promotional photos, mostly because I don't like the skunk-like stripe of blue in her hair.  And maybe a bit because I'm not sure why there's a doll for her and not for Layla.  

But she does have pretty green eyes:


And, actually, because Isabel's hair has the straightest texture of all three dolls, it's easy to manage and looks great:


And her jacket is actually separate from the underlaying shirt, which I appreciate:


So, even though I bought Isabel late in the game, she might be my favorite of the three dolls.  She's certainly the easiest to photograph, since her hair tends to look good.

She also has yet another body type that is in between Sophia and Ava:

From left: Unicorn Academy's Sophia, Isabel, and Ava dolls.
Here are all three friends back in their full outfits:


And here are all three unicorns (yes, I stopped myself from buying River, despite the temptation):


This review is already too long, but for anyone who is curious, I cut the mane on the smaller version of Wildstar, and I think she looks better:


I also boil-washed Sophia's hair, and she looks better now, too:


Especially from the back:


As I said with the Mermaid High dolls, I love that it's possible to improve the state of the hair so dramatically, but I wish it wasn't necessary.


Bottom line?  As usual, Spin Master did a lot of things right with their dolls, although there are a few things I wish they'd done differently.

With the smaller Sophia and Wildstar set, my biggest complaint is that Wildstar has too much hair.  Her mane and tail are curly and long and they obscure the graceful shape and opalescent purple color of her body.  Also, it feels cheap to have one side of the unicorn completely undecorated.  A practical concern is that the saddle's girth is hard to use, and it doesn't tighten down enough to actually keep the saddle in place.  Other than those few things, I think the set is great.  Sophia has nicely-painted features, and I love the dynamic shape of her molded hair.  She has an impressive number of joints for a 4.5-inch doll, and can strike a realistic riding pose with Wildstar.  I also like that the smaller sets include almost all of the main characters from the television show, so kids can re-enact a wide variety of storylines.  But Rory's absence is difficult to justify.  I hope he's on the slate for an upcoming release.

I have more to complain about with the larger sets, probably in part because they represent a significantly higher financial investment.  All together, the five unicorns and riders in the small scale cost about $75, while in the larger size, just buying Sophia and Wildstar costs over $50.  Once we're in that kind of territory, I really wish that the unicorns were articulated.  It's so hard to find a basic articulated toy horse these days.  Another thing that's hard to find is a horse that's actually big enough for its intended doll.  In this respect Wildstar does better than some, but still feels too small for Sophia.

I'd love to trade Wildstar's light and sound feature for some good articulation or a majestic size, but I still think the light and sound display is impressive.  I especially like how there's a bonding process that mimics the bonding between unicorn and rider in the books and television show.  The two unicorns who do not have a light and sound feature, River and Leaf, feel underwhelming by comparison.  I don't like the hollow and patched-up areas on their legs, or their out-of-control manes.  The manes and tails feel nice to the touch, though, which is a plus.

The 9-inch dolls have a similar problem to their steeds: their hair looks messy all of the time.  This is especially true for Ava, and less true for Isabel, whose relatively straight hair looks pretty good.  A boil wash can tame the hair in the short term, which makes it look and feel much better.  Aside from their wild hair, these dolls are nicely made and very comparable in articulation and quality to the Mermaid High series.  I particularly like the clear, glossy eye paint on the girls, and I think Sophia's freckles are great.  It's also admirable that each doll has her own face mold, body type, and skin color.  The outfits take a few shortcuts, and I had some problems with Sophia's thumb snagging the jacket, but most items of clothing are easy to use and faithful to the television show.  I'm especially impressed by the rubbery little vinyl riding gloves, which look like they're going to be a huge pain but are actually quite easy to use.

There's going to be some frustration and confusion over why Julie Sykes' beloved characters and storylines were altered so much for the television show, and I can't pretend that I understand the constraints or pressures that Spin Master was under in terms of copyrights, marketing, or whatever.  I prefer the sweet, understated style of the books to the more flamboyant television show episodes, but I've enjoyed getting to know both Unicorn Academy worlds.  Few things make me happier than getting to play around with riding-based toys, so I enjoyed my time with all of the unicorns and riders, too.  That said, it's the small sets that captivated me the most this week.  They're wonderful little play toys and, whether you prefer the books or the show, they're a great way to act out all of your favorite Unicorn Academy adventures.

13 comments:

  1. It's unfair enough that boy dolls are always the minority in girl's lines, but for the characters to not be merchandised at all is always the biggest insult and I think it reinforces the market bias that motivated the imbalance in the first place.

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    1. its like a self fulfilling prophecy because the boy dolls always sell worse, so they don't get as much budget or creativity in their designs, which leads to them looking worse than the girls which leads to them selling worse! i think the lol omg boys look pretty great and i like g3 deuce, but most of the time it feels like companies don't even try.

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  2. How cute! I would have absolutely eaten this line up as a child! I was never a "horse girl", but I did really enjoy the movie "Spirit, Stallion of the Cinnamaron" and My Little Pony! I really appreciate the diverse body types too! Ava and Leaf are totally my favorites!

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  3. Wow, surprised by how detailed the little doll is. Molded clothes get a lot of hate from adult collectors, but I enjoyed toys who had them as a kid because they were fun to play with outdoors and in water. Cute line. Cool to see what Spin Master is up to these days.

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  4. I gasped when you pulled your lovestruck assistant for a size comparison! What was she doing, why is she naked? How is her herd by the way?

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  5. The mini size looks so fun!!!

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  6. They are cute! I would like the concept as a kid (well, I still want a friend unicorn!). Thanks for the review, is always a joy.

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  7. Thank You for Great Review! i was waiting for this esp light up unicorn but oddly horns seems much longer than neceserry?🤦 now we wait for new Barbie Dream Besties doll review plz!😍🙌❤😉🍀💖

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  8. Great review! I wonder if the 9" dolls are a good clothing swap option for the LUV dolls that recently came out. I think those girls all share a body mold though.

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  9. The smaller set is the kind of thing I'd gone nuts for as a kid, I was shocked how to y they are, cheaping out and only doing markings on one side besides, these are beautiful! What an outstanding job!

    The light up and bonding features are things I also really would have enjoyed, as I would the presence of a draft horse, but the cut out areas of the legs and horses being too small were always a peeve.

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  10. What a cute new line! I can picture kids having hours of fun with the small sets and the light-up Wildstar especially. It's nice to see a company put so much effort into their toys when so many other toys on the market right now have seemingly little to no play value (e.g. blind box trinkets that don't really offer anything beyond the unboxing). I've also seen some adult collectors show interest in the fashion dolls. The articulation is great and the face molds are sweet. I think Isabel has my favorite face. For some reason, she looks a bit like a Disney doll to me.

    The show is not for me, but it's funny to see how one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Winx Club, obviously had some influence on it. The boarding school shtick feels ancient by now, but Pastel Hogwarts really looks like Alfea 2.0 to me! On the flipside, the latest season (reboot) of Winx Club, slated for 2025, and Rainbow SpA's newest show 'Mermaid Magic' (both also Netflix) look a lot like Unicorn Academy. It's cool to see this back-and-forth between older and newer franchises - even if I vastly prefer old-school 2D animation for Winx.

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  11. I don’t understand why they don’t have Rory and storm, he’s such a cool dude. My daughter wants them all!

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  12. New to the blog, great content!

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