Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Disney Store Doll Review: Kristoff from "Frozen"

I recently attended the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. Given that I've been a lifelong Disney lover, it seems strange that this should my first time attending a Disney convention. I don't normally like to go to conventions because large crowds make me anxious. But my agent really wanted me to go, so I went. And it was awesome.
In the center of the show floor was an impressive screened-off Disney Store. I would say "booth", but it was more like a real store that just happened to have flimsy walls and no roof. They had some great pre-release and exclusive stuff inside, all tantalizingly displayed behind a velvet rope sealed with a large, ornate padlock.

Don't you wish you could come in?
I'm wishing... to come in!
The line to get into the Disney Store at D23 was about three hours long. Whether it was worth the wait depends on how much you love Disney and how much you care about dolls. I thought it was worth the wait. There was an "Art of Ariel" section, as well as previews of the Fairytale Designer and It's a Small World dolls, which I will talk about in later posts. 
And of course, there was the Frozen merchandise.
 My younger self would've clawed her way through fire to get her hands on those dresses
(especially the sparkly Snow Queen one.)
But what I wanted more than anything was a set of pre-release Frozen dolls. I didn't want them because they were new or hard to get, or even because I'm that hyped for the movie. I wanted them because I believe they may be - and I realize that this is a bold statement - the best playline dolls the Disney Store has ever produced.
Surely they can't look this good in real life!
(They do.)
I mean, just look at their faces! I haven't seen such a spot-on translation of a character face to a doll since... well, Merida. Merida's face was outstanding. But her dress wasn't as cool! These dolls' faces are so expressive, their costumes so nicely detailed, I first thought they might be collectors' dolls. But no, these little beauties will be at the Disney Store alongside all the other princesses later on this year.
 My dolls are in there somewhere.
  When my turn came to enter the store, I hurried in like the greedy five-year-old I had become and made a beeline to the Frozen display. Anna and Elsa were not there, but I had been assured by a staff member that they would be waiting for me at checkout. So I put aside my unease and examined the Frozen merchandise. I decided on a journal with art of Anna and Elsa on either side, and some guy dolls to go with my promised snow princesses.

There were two boy dolls to choose from: a dashing ginger named Hans who looks like a cross between Mr. Darcy and Eddie Redmayne (this guy's going to have some fans) and an affable-looking Sherpa guy named Kristoff.
Strange bagfellows

Hans, the dashing ginger, went straight into my bag. I hemmed and hawed over Kristoff the Sherpa Man before deciding that it would be fun to have both. Poor Flynn Rider has been the only male doll on display in my studio for far too long. So it was into the bag with Hans and Kristoff. The coveted Anna and Elsa were still nowhere to be seen.

"Maybe we'll be waiting for you at checkout!"

At any rate, I got the guys. I decided to open Kristoff first. 
Both Kristoff and Hans come packaged in a slim Disney Store box.
Very slim
The box is made up of a clear plastic shell attached to a backing of glossy cardboard. There's a nice amount of design work on the plastic to make it look special, without being overly fussy. It's a lot of fun to take pictures of the doll through the pretty designs.

It's like he's framed by a cathedral window.
The bottom portion of the box features some more filigree, a strip of blue-green birchbark pattern, and the revelation that this doll represents, "Kristoff from the movie Disney Frozen."

Maybe it's a nitpick, but wouldn't it read more naturally as "Disney's Frozen"? At what point did Disney drop the possessive? Seriously, when did this happen? I remember Disney's Aladdin and Disney's Lilo and Stitch, but I don't remember Disney The Little Mermaid or Disney Mulan. "Disney Frozen" just sounds odd to me. It sounds as if Disney, the company, is frozen. I would say it's a comment on the state of the studio, but I think Disney's doing really well right now. They're trying new things, like the glorious Paperman, and re-establishing themselves as a competitive force in today's CGI-driven entertainment market. Granted, Frozen looks an awful lot like Tangled with snow, but I liked Tangled, and I like snow!
But I digress.
Back to Kristoff.
There's a picture of the CG character on the bottom right of the box. Normally I would say it isn't a great idea to put a picture of the real character so near the doll face, as the doll is likely to look lackluster in comparison. But in this case...

 It's pretty good. Actually, it's really good. Actually, it's pretty near perfect. Well done, Disney! It's not exactly the same as the picture, but that's because the expression on the doll is slightly more neutral. In general, neutral faces work well for dolls because they allow you to project a range of emotions onto them. I like that he's not stuck in permanent grinning mode, but there's still a lot of personality there. In Kristoff's case, I get the sense that he's serious, but not unkind, not brilliant, but not a dullard either, and a little wary of his surroundings. Given the strange girl pointing the camera at him, can you really blame him?

"I'm not sure how to feel about her. She keeps squeaking."

Beyond the excellent face sculpt, I was most excited about Kristoff's fleece-lined gloves and his sweet mountain man boots. If I had thought about it at this point, I would have also been excited about his removable fleecy hat. 

Here's the back of the box. It's very simple, which I like. At this point, I'm enjoying just getting to know Kristoff through the doll, itself. I don't need any backstory yet.

It is a little funny, though, that Kristoff didn't make it onto the back of his own box. Instead, it's just  Anna and Elsa in tastefully decorated oval frames. The text on the back of the box is pretty much the same as the text on the front, with the additional information that this doll is from the "Classic Doll Collection," or the much fancier-sounding "Collection Poupee Classique."

 I wonder whether this is an international box, since it was an early release for D23. Will we be seeing a more elaborate box-back when the dolls debut in the Disney Store later this year? I kind of hope not. By the way, I think the pricing on these dolls is very reasonable.

About the price of a nicely-dressed Barbie.

Enough talk! It's time to get Kristoff out of the box.
There are several clear plastic tabs you have to undo or snip to get at the doll. It feels like about a dozen, though it's probably not really that many.
Tab snipification complete!

Here's Kristoff, partially free from his packaging.

Without the glare of the plastic, it's easier to appreciate the little touches that make this doll special.
Like the shiny hair, nicely shaded face, and freckles.
The leatherette gloves with fleece lining, tied with sturdy cord.
The shiny ribbon sash and fluffy fur trim.
And the manliest pair of elf boots you'll ever see.
"Yes, that's all very nice, but can I please come out of the box now?"
I pried apart the double-layered cardboard backing to get at the ties securing Kristoff. Inside, it's the standard twist-tie-and-tape affair. It's not a terrible way to secure a doll, but it's a bit archaic. I've gotten spoiled by the new trend in friendly little rubber bands, so easily snipped. While Monster High packaging seems to be getting more and more user-friendly, Disney's seems a bit, well, outmoded.
"Old School Barbie" packaging

As I tore into the packaging, I realized that I wasn't being very gentle. I turned the box back around to make sure I hadn't scuffed Kristoff or anything, and was met with this disturbing image. 

Disney was kind enough to include a doll noose, for all kinds of creative play!
I guess the neck loop thing is better than a tab in the back of the head, as it is easily removed, but boy is it unnerving!
With the doll removed, you can the pretty Alpine scene printed onto the cardboard backing. I'm hoping to reuse it in a diorama window because it's so nicely painted.

Here's Kristoff out of the box. Thanks to those mountain man boots, Kristoff can stand on his own.
Like a boss.

Propped up against a support, he can strike some fun poses.

Bigfoot sighting!
Karate chop!

Ready for adventure!

His best attempt at a Superman stance

As you can see in the picture above, Kristoff is dressed for some pretty serious mountaineering. His costume appears to be made up of three layers of warm, thick fabric: fleecy pants tucked into boots, and a matching fleecy undershirt topped with a thick fur-lined tunic.

The textures here are just great. The tunic is made of a velvety microsuede fabric and the fleece reminds me of some very cozy pajamas. The magenta detailing and the fur add interest, both visually and tactilely. I spent a long time just touching the outfit.
On closer inspection, I discovered that what seemed to be multiple undershirt/tunic layers are actually sewn together as one piece.

Looks like it might let some drafts in

 Not as cozy...

...as previously supposed.

I guess the faux-layering shouldn't surprise me, as this is a $17 doll. But the thing is, these dolls make such a great first impression I have to keep reminding myself that they're not intended for collectors. These are playline dolls, meant to resemble the characters from the movie as closely as possible while still being affordable as children's toys. And for that, they do a great job.

Here's the tunic on its own. I really wish you could reach into the screen and touch it. Maybe just go pet a kitten, a Troll doll, and a lamb at the same time, and that would be a close approximation.

Wouldn't it have been awesome if that tunic was a separate piece from the undershirt, though? I could just see Abbey commandeering it as a mini dress.

Inside the tunic there's some padding that goes a long way towards making Kristoff look like a beefy manly man. This is some pretty impressive trickery on Disney's part. Hans and Kristoff share the exact same body. In fact, it's the same body as the svelte Flynn Rider from 2010's Tangled. Yet Kristoff looks significantly heavier than either of them.
We all have our secrets.

While I would love some variety in princely body sculpts, I think that padding the clothing on some and keeping it slim on others is a very effective way of creating a broad cast of characters on a playline budget. At least, for most characters. For the record, I think that Disney Store Beast and Gaston need much broader chests and thicker arms to look anything like their movie counterparts. Right now they look a little silly. Gaston looks nowhere near the size of a barge, and Beast looks downright laughable with his ridiculously tiny head.
(As you've probably noticed, I'm a huge fan of 90's era Disney, and also prone to go on little tangents here and there. But only because I love this stuff SO MUCH. I hope you do, too. If not, um, I also love Monster High. So stick around. There will be monsters.)

Meanwhile, back at the review, I discovered that Kristoff's pants are made of the same dusky blue fleece that lines the tunic. They open with a simple square of Velcro at the back.

Revealing painted blue underpants.
The accessories included with the doll are pretty awesome, and fit the mountain man persona perfectly.
Good for kickin' glaciers
Look at the fleecy palms on the gloves!

All the accessories are very well made. The hat and gloves have me particularly excited because I can see using them with my Monster High dolls for adventure-type outfits. The hat fits Monster High heads. I checked.
Without his clothes, Kristoff looks significantly skinnier. His head looks slightly oversized, too.
"I'm feeling suddenly less beefy and rugged."
His articulation is pretty basic, with a swivel joint at the neck, ball joints at the shoulders, hinge joints at the elbows and hips, and double-click knee joints. There's no rotational movement at the elbows, which limits his posing quite a bit.

"Touchdown!" Or, if you're in a darker mood, Platoon.

 Looks like that dark shirt left a little staining.

He can do this.

And this, though it looks awfully uncomfortable.

 He can tell fishing stories

 And elaborate on them.

 He's a natural at semaphore.

 Ready to signal some ships.

He can raise a hand in greeting.

But due to a very loose joint on one side, the greeting may take a downward turn.

He can do splits

And sit

 And do front splits.
(This looks like it hurts.)

Here are those click-joint knees I was talking about. They go two clicks back and one click forward from a neutral position. It's nowhere near as expressive or versatile as Monster High guy articulation, but it allows him to strike basic walking, standing, and sitting poses.

Kristoff's legs are thick and rubbery, which makes dressing him a real pain. The pants stick like crazy. As with the Barbie-esque packaging, this doll's rubber legs and limited articulation seems like a relic from an earlier era, when dolls sat stiffly at tea parties rather than participating in elaborate stop-motion productions.
Here's one last set of poses from Kristoff.

 Power walking

Steve Holt!...aaaaand, that's all I can do.

Disney has really upped their game when it comes to articulation on the ladies (with mixed results.) The Disney gals now have pivoting wrist and ankle joints, as well as all the usual hip, shoulder, etc. Even the Disney Fairies dolls have been made over to be more highly articulated
Articulation on the Disney guys, however, seems to be a low priority. That makes sense. They are, essentially, props to the girl dolls. They're more interesting than Barbie's Ken, but they fill basically the same role. As long as they can stand, sit, and walk alongside their princess -- and look good while doing it -- little girls are not likely to be disappointed. Maybe I'm wrong, but there doesn't seem to be a huge demand for better articulation in Disney guy dolls. I would like it, and I'm sure other fans would as well, but the target demographic seems happy as is.
I put Kristoff back in his mountaineering costume for one last set of photos. And actually, what I'd like to talk about here might surprise you: his hair. Kristoff has some fabulous hair. I don't normally get excited about hair on boy dolls, but just look at this:
Holy wow, is that some nice guy doll hair! Sculpted hair usually ranges from incredibly boring to slightly ridiculous. Kristoff's hair, however, is something to write home about. It seems appropriately manly, yet lustrous and full of movement. A multi-tone pearlescent paint job gives the hair some dimension, while carefully sculpted locks give it shape.
Kind of a square shape, but that's okay
Top view
Compare this to Flynn Rider's helmet-like hair sculpt, and you'll see that we've come a long way.
"There's someone behind me, isn't there?"
 "A Best Hair competition? Oh, um, okay."
"I think I beat you, bro."
"Yes, but I still have... The Smolder."
 Overall, there were a few little disappointments with Kristoff. His left elbow joint is seriously loose. His rubber legs make him difficult to redress and I wish there was better articulation overall. I also would have loved it if the undershirt and the tunic were separate pieces. None of these quibbles, however, hold a candle to the immense sense of satisfaction I get from this doll. Someone - a team of someones, probably - really cared about making this doll good. And I appreciate that. Fantastic hair, a fantastic face sculpt, an outfit rich with textures and detail: any one of these would be plenty to be excited over, and Kristoff has them all.
When I finally got my chance to venture into the Disney Store at D23, I almost didn't buy Kristoff. His co-star Hans appealed to me right off the bat, with his pretty boy good looks, friendly demeanor, and Regency Era clothing. I'm glad I got Kristoff, though. He's endeared himself to me as a good-natured, self-sufficient guy who knows his way around a mountain. He'll surely add some nice variety to my doll collection. In fact, he's already started chaperoning the girls of Ever After High on mountaintop excursions, forming connections with certain Abominable snow monsters, but that's another story... 
(Photo story soon to come)
By the way, it seems Abbey did get to try on Kristoff's outfit after all.
"Is not quite mini-dress."
"But is good for keeping warm."
"And hat looks fabulous on Abbey, no?"

And on an unrelated note, it seems that Kristoff is a real family man at heart.
 A baby and a puppy? This guy's marriage material for sure!
And there you have Kristoff, my first review of the Disney Store Frozen dolls.
But as the old saying goes, for every Sherpa there is a Prince. Pretty sure I just made that up. Regardless, in my next post I'll take a look at the devastatingly handsome Hans. Will he steal the spotlight away from rugged demi-god of the mountains, Kristoff? Will Anna and Elsa ever show up to the party? You know what I'd do if I were Disney...

I'd make you wait.