Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Madame Alexander Travel Friends Dolls Germany and Ireland

Yes, everyone and their aunt have been reviewing these dolls lately, or so it seems. However, I haven't seen a review yet of Germany! And Germany surprised me by having quite a bit to talk about that was different from the reviews that I've seen. Yes, I went with my own heritage and picked the Germany and Ireland dolls, although Ireland's red hair was a bonus. Let's get a little info about these dolls first. They are 7" tall, and made of vinyl. They are part of Madame Alexander's Play line. A visit to MA's website showed me that they are currently dividing their dolls up into three categories: Baby, Play, and Collector. They have quite a variety of baby dolls. Play dolls are mostly represented by their 18" lines. And the Collector line includes their Wendy and Cissette dolls, among others.

This is going to be a very picture heavy review. Actually, since I haven't seen MA's Germany Travel Friend doll reviewed, this post is the first one I'm going to treat like a "real" review and not just an overview. Before the break, I'll show you pictures of the dolls in their boxes. Let me give my standard disclaimer here: the in-the-box pics are poorly lit because I often don't get the mail from the group mail box down the street until later in the day. Thus, the natural lighting is poor, and I'm eager to break the girls free, therefore poorly lit pics.



The Germany doll has been named Gretel. The Ireland doll is now Nora. Here are some even more dimly lit head shots of Gretel and Nora, still in their boxes.



You can see a twist tie around the girls' necks. You can also make out in Nora's pictures a piece of plastic between her hair and her neck. There is a similar piece of plastic, with a twist tie and rubber bands, around the girls' feet. The piece of plastic is held on to the back of the box on either end with clear tape. Thus, the plastic piece was easy to free, but the plastic twist ties and rubber bands, not so much. For all four plastic pieces, I ended up sliding an X-acto knife in and cutting through the plastic and rubber bands, as the twist tie was very difficult for me to untwist. It's unnerving having anything that sharp near my dollies. Fortunately, nothing bad happened.

Here is the back of Nora's box.

Fortunately the doll's legs are not that abnormally long, nor her skirt that short. She's definitely not doing Irish dance in this picture. Her legs are doing something like a ballet arabesque, but her arms are not in a correct position. I love watching Irish dance.


The back of Gretel's box is very problematic. First of all, there are two errors in English. But the rest of this is a mess too. First of all, our character apparently comes from Bavaria. Only one Bavarian city is named on this map. Unfortunately, the name of the city is spelled wrong (slaps forehead.) The correct name is AuGsburg. Okay, so she lives in Augsburg. Too bad Augsburg is about a couple hours drive or so from Neuschwanstein Castle (guessing from when I visited Munich and what the driving time would have been from there.) So the castle is hardly in her hometown. Next, the wording on the package makes it sound like the castle is in a place called Neuschwanstein. Nope. That's the name of the castle. It's located by a village named Hohenschwangau.

Moving on, our girl likes to visit Bavaria's gardens. Um, okay. Bavaria is actually kind of comparable to one of our states. It used to be its own country. Does she like to visit famous gardens in all of Bavaria? How many famous gardens are there in Bavaria?

There's an actual error in the greeting at the very beginning of this packaging blurb. The t in Tag should be capitalized; it should read, Guten Tag. This is like, first week of German 1 stuff. ALL nouns in German are capitalized, and Tag translates in English to day. Day is a noun. Did anybody whose first language was English OR German proofread this?

About this eleven cities called the eleven stars of Germany? I'd never heard of that, so I looked it up online. The first few links went to travel planning sites pushing travel in Germany, and the very first link claimed Germany has ten star cities. Maybe this is a real thing, maybe not.

I don't get why Ireland gets six cities listed on the map, and Germany, which is larger, only gets three. I'm guessing the building with the two towers on the left is the Kölner Dom, the Cologne Cathedral, but they don't bother listing Cologne, or Köln, as a city. Here's a picture I took when I visited the Kölner Dom, and a postcard I bought at the same time.


Lastly, I totally don't get the bear pictured over the German flag, both on the back of the box, and the front. It's not totally incongruent to have a shamrock with an Irish flag on either side, but a bear does not appear on the German flag. When I was in Germany, I learned that the bear is associated with the city Berlin (the word for bear in German is Bär, pronounced much like our English bear.) So why have the bear here?

We've gotten this far and haven't even gotten to the actual dolls out of their boxes! But the back of Gretel's box just has so many errors on the back of a small box, that it needed to be discussed. Let's get to the dolls, starting at the top!



For some reason, I didn't get a closeup picture of Nora by herself. You'll see, though, her face is about the same as Gretel's, with different coloring. As others have pointed out, this face feels like a Madame Alexander sculpt; I like that. I took a (slightly blurry) picture of Sophie's face without bangs, and also a picture of the back of her head to show the rooting.



Nora's hair has flyaways in front, because some of the longer strands have escaped from underneath the side strands of her hair that have been pulled back into a ponytail. I tried to pull those bits back underneath the ponytail with tweezers, but when I started to mess up the perfect twist of the strands, I stopped. The hair does feel soft, as do Gretel's braids.


Do you think Gretel's bangs are fairly proportional to her face? Well, Nora's are not so much. I took a picture of the two girls face to face so you could see. It looks like MA just rooted an extra row or so of bangs on Nora, and I have no idea why.


The heads were a little stiff at first, but developed more movement as I worked with them. Neither can look up and down. Nora's head turns side to side easier than Gretel's. Gretel's head can lean left or right easier.

Do I look quizzical?
One odd thing that Nora and Gretel have in common is a sort of blemish on their chests. If it was one doll, I would say it was just a manufacturing error. Having chest marks on both dolls is strange. Gretel's does look worse.



As you can also see, there is a small rectangle that sort of stands out just above the elbows. Those marks are also above the girls' knees, front and back. I can only think they have something to do with the way the joint was put in so the arms and legs bend. Ah yes, we finally get the articulation of the arms and legs. I'm not even sure how to describe how they work. The legs are fairly straightforward. They bend backward fairly far, and allow the girls to sit nicely. The bottom half of the legs and arms can also rotate, so they can do things like cross their ankles as they sit, or turn a foot to one side as they stand.


It's the bending of the arms where it really gets strange. The joint is very stiff at first, to the point where some reviewers weren't sure the arms even bent, or were afraid they'd break the arm if they tried to bend it. Not only is it stiff, but the rotational bottom half of the arm means that you have to get the arm in just the right position to bend. It doesn't bend as obviously as the knee does. At the elbow joint, the arm has to be turned just right in order to bend. Here's Nora bending her arms. Hopefully you can see what I'm trying to get at.


You can also see that the join in the hips is unusually sculpted, in that it leaves a lot of room between her torso and her legs. This allows her to move her legs forward and back (though not as far going back), as well as side to side for splits. Here's a picture of Gretel in a sitting position with a knee bent, so you can see what the knee joint looks like.


There's a dark mark on the top of Nora's painted-on underwear.


A couple of similar but smaller marks are on the back, also at the top of the underwear.

Other people have noticed cracking and flaws in the plastic at the joints. I found only one flaw, on Gretel's left shoulder. It's merely a piece of flash, something that should have been cut off in the process of making the joint, but wasn't.


Moving on to the clothes, I like Nora's dress very much. It's one piece, with a knit top and a woven skirt, with a ribbon accent at the waist, and lace trim on the skirt. The bright color of the ribbon does look a little strange, but I associate that bright kelly green as Ireland's color, so it gets to be present in the outfit while still leaving the dress not too shockingly bright. It just works for me. The ribbon is nicely sewn on my dress. The ribbon has frayed along the stitching just a little bit in places. The sleeve hems and necklines are only finished with a line of serging, but that doesn't bother me in a doll this small, and also since her dress is a modern style.


You can see Nora's dress in full in a couple of other places during this review. As for poor Gretel, her outfit is like the back of her box, full of problems. As you saw up above, Gretel wears a white blouse with red and black dots. She also wears shorts with suspenders that are designed to look like lederhosen (the leder in lederhosen means leather.) These are made of a kind of felt. Let's ignore the fact that traditionally only males wear lederhosen. The real problem is that Gretel's blouse is just a little too short to tuck properly into the shorts. Not only does that leave an unsightly gap at Gretel's waist, but the row of stitching around the bottom of the blouse is falling apart, making the whole thing even worse.


Now I know first hand how hard it is to sew a top this size. A blouse with a collar is even more difficult; I've done that. Why MA even attempted it instead of going an easier route, I don't know. But if you do it, you'd better do it right. There are so many things wrong with this outfit. First, the suspenders are made to lie nicely on the doll's shoulders while she is standing up. When she sits down, the shorts don't ride up enough, and so the suspenders become too tight and slide off from the strain.

I had to tug hard to get her left suspender back on her shoulder.
Next, there is a definite wrinkle on the right side of the blouse. The bodice got caught a little funny when it was sewn to the sleeve, and this wrinkle is the result. Again, mistakes are understandable when sewing something this tiny, but a wrinkle this big does stand out. Also, the shirt is just the littlest bit too small, and so the shirt is usually straining on the Velcro.


The back doesn't really fit well either, and has a mistake on the left shoulder, where stitching is visible.



The worst is that the seams aren't finished on the inside. With Nora's knit top, it doesn't matter, but on Gretel's woven blouse, it certainly does. I also don't understand why MA felt the need to have *two* giant tags inside the clothing of dolls this small.


 

Personally, I think they would have been better off making a knit dress for Gretel that was similar to Nora's. Maybe with the embroidered heart, that is on the side of the shorts, on the bodice instead. They could have made something to resemble a dirndl, which is much more traditional for a German female to wear.


Gretel's socks aren't finished at all at the top. I think they're too heavy of a knit to make good socks for a doll this size. And they don't work well with the shoes, as the shoes fall off way too easily. At least the socks did keep Gretel's ankles from getting rubber band marks on the legs, as Nora's did.


Lastly, the shoes. I find it strange that Gretel got green shoes, when nothing in her outfit is green. Also, I thought Gretel and Nora had the same size shoes, and Gretel's shoes were falling off because they were too small to fit over the socks properly. This turned out to be wrong. Gretel and Nora may have shoes that look identical, but Gretel's shoes are significantly larger.

Nora's shoes:


Gretel's shoes:


This would explain why Gretel's shoes have the number 1 on the heel of the shoe, and Nora's don't. They're a different mold. This makes the fact that Gretel got green shoes even stranger.


I took Gretel out of the outfit she came in, and put mini-AG Caroline's outfit on her instead. Not only does she look great in it, but there's green in the ribbon around the waist, so that the green shoes now go with her outfit.



Did you enjoy my first real review? What do you think of these dolls? For all of their faults, I still really like them, and I'd buy more, at a good price. My opinion might be different if my dolls had cracking issues around the joints, I'll admit. If you saw any pictures from Madame Alexander's booth at Toy Fair, you noticed that MA had several plans to expand the line of dolls this size. Unfortunately, if you look on MA's website, a lot of those dolls aren't on it. I wonder if the few new dolls there will even be produced. It seems a shame that a new line with potential should be shut down so quickly.

10 comments:

  1. I enjoyed getting to see these two in detail (I'd actually considered picking up the German doll in addition to the Indian one when I first bought mine). Thanks for giving us the in depth look!

    The more I think about this line, the more I like them... on paper. In reality though, the issues with the joints and the generalized national stereotypes are keeping me from picking up more than the one I have. They're cute and I really like the size of them, and the concept behind them is sound - I just wish the execution had been better.

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    1. Glad you liked the review. You're the first person that's considered buying the German doll, that I know of.

      International dolls are a common theme in doll lines; it's too bad MA had to mess this one up so much. If I was going to buy another doll from this line, I'd consider getting one from the Fairy Tale group, that may or may not be produced. Also, knowing that mini-AG doll clothes fit is a help. I have a pattern for dolls that size, so I may be able to make my own clothes for them. But I definitely agree the overall execution is poor. And MA may be giving up instead of trying to make improvements.

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    2. How funny about the lack of popularity of the German doll - I wonder which of them is the most popular?

      I'm ridiculously fond of lederhosen for girls and women, you see it so rarely, but the time or two I've seen a woman rocking them in real life, I've thought it was a great look (I'm still kicking myself for not buying myself some when I found a small selection of them in women's sizes when I was in Munich for Oktoberfest a couple of years ago). Heh, writing about it, I think I still might pick the doll up so that I can dress vicariously through her! ;)

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    3. That's part of why I have dolls, so I can dress them in things that I wish I could wear. :) If you can get some lederhosen for yourself, go for it!

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  2. Hello from Spain: I had not seen before these dolls Madame Alexandrer collection. Great review. Lovely-We kept in touch

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    1. Thank you for stopping by, Marta! I'm glad that you liked the review.

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  3. These dolls are really cute, but they do seem to all have their flaws, don't they? They seem to be much more cheaply done than any other Madame Alexander's I've seen. But I agree with you. They are so cute that if I got them for the lower price, (Since the price on these dolls seems to be all over the place.) I would buy more of them, for myself, or kids.

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    1. I think MA was trying to break into the inexpensive mini-doll market, like they did for 18" dolls with the My Life As series and similar. I mean, Wendy 8" dolls are cute; they also retail anywhere from $40 on discount to about $100. Now that you bring it up, I wonder what the Wendy doll's articulation is like. I'm sure the vinyl is higher quality.

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  4. I've seen headlines - post titles about these dolls, but I didn't follow up reading those posts because I'm not a Madame Alexander doll fan. I think, 8" sleep-eyed dolls with cupid mouths. Not Barbie-scale ;-)

    Your post drew me in because you spoke with authority about the German language and the different sizes of the countries. Dolls are my main interest, but I enjoy earning about other countries and/or cultures, too.

    So thanks for the doll and the context info ;-)

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    1. Awww, thank you, Dana! I'm glad that you found the review interesting.

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