Tonner's My Imagination Deluxe Basic Doll, a Review

A few years ago, on the agplaythings message board, someone asked us to describe our perfect 18" vinyl play doll. I described pretty much the My Imagination Deluxe dolls: face sculpt by Tonner, all-vinyl body able to fit AG clothes and shoes, high-quality wigged hair, and extra joints, at least at the knees. I was excited when My Imagination was announced at the February, 2015 Toy Fair in NY (see this great post at DollDiaries about the launch)! There was some production delay (said to be because of issues with the knee joints), and then the Deluxe doll and a few other products disappeared from the Tonner website when the Starter dolls started to ship, so I was worried that they had been canceled. I was pleasantly surprised last month when I received a newsletter from Tonner saying the dolls would finally be arriving in the second week of September and that they had lowered the price to $109.99 (from $124.99), not to mention that they were offering free shipping that week. My fingers flew, my credit card smoked, and my Deluxe Basic doll arrived last Monday, September 12.

The My Imagination dolls are not given names since the brand is all about imagination, so I named her Maya. In anticipation of Maya's arrival, I had already ordered three of the outfits from Cherished Friends, one of my favorite doll sellers, who always have great sales.

In this blog post I'm going to give a bit of background and then do a review of the Deluxe doll. I will do a separate post about the My Imagination clothing.

Tonner and the 18" Vinyl Play Doll Market

Those who have been collecting 18" dolls for a while will remember that Robert Tonner was the sculptor and clothing designer for the Magic Attic Club (MAC) line of dolls that were popular in the 1990s. Robert's sculpt for the MAC body set the standard for the slim 18" dolls, the measurements of which were used later by the Just Pretend dolls, and others, and is still in use today by the Carpatina Fantasy Adventures dolls. Personally, I prefer an all-vinyl to a cloth body because it looks more natural and the dolls often have more details like collar bones and belly buttons. (As an adult collector, huggability is less of a thing for me.) The difference in the clothing size limits the market of the brands that choose the slim version of the all-vinyl body, however. (The A Life of Faith dolls, which Tonner wasn't involved with, are the only others I know of with a all-vinyl body but AG dimensions.) The MAC dolls' face sculpts, particularly African American Keisha's, are some of my absolute favorites, and I've passed up many 18" vinyl play doll lines because the faces aren't as appealing to me as Tonners'.

My Imagination and Magic Attic Club faces.
Can you see the family resemblance?

The MAC dolls didn't survive as a mass-market play doll (and they were not produced by Tonner Dolls), but there were other forays by the company into that space. In 1999, Tonner created the Penney and Friends dolls for JC Penney, and then used that slightly larger body sculpt for his own 18" Ann Estelle dolls for the Mary Engelbreit Collection. The body for the Ann Estelle dolls was a little stiffer than the MAC body and priced for a collector market (and not a big seller evidently -- when I brought my doll to Robert to sign at a Tonner Convention and told him I had almost all of them, he quipped, "So you were the one who bought them.") When Tonner bought Effanbee Dolls, they made 18" all-vinyl America's Children dolls based on a vintage Dewees Cochran sculpt, also appealing more to a collector market. This line later switched to a 21" body style (which Tonner reused for the FAO Schwarz exclusive Design Studio dolls) and the clothing styles became more modern, but it was never marketed as a play doll. The 18" play doll market is dominated by American Girl on the high end and has dozens of competitors on the low end, so many of us thought Tonner had given up on that space and was going to concentrate on his fashion dolls and the smaller, collectible child dolls.

Jointed 18" Play Dolls

The other unique thing about the My Imagination line is the jointed knees. I think it is smart that the My Imagination brand includes less expensive dolls without the joints but I am glad I held off until the doll with the 18" Play body with bend knees (as Tonner calls the body) was available. I own several jointed 18" vinyl play dolls such as Kidz 'n Cats and Götz Happy Kidz, not to mention jointed dolls in similar sizes such as Ginger Brook Hollow and A Girl for All Time, but none of them are compatible with my extensive American Girl size clothing and shoe collection. And, more importantly to me, none of them display that well with my AG, soft-body Götz, and similar dolls. My dolls hang out in friend groups, so any new doll I bring in has to fit in nicely, not to mention displaces a doll who I love less since I've run out of space, so I am very selective about the new dolls I buy.

I love extra joints, and I even have a few genuine BJDs in my collection, but the joints have to be done well. For me, the knees are more important than the elbows (though jointed elbows are nice for playing musical instruments and eating). The joints have to be stiff enough that they will hold a pose but not so stiff that you can't get them to stay bent. I also prefer joints that are engineered to only take natural positions and not feel and look like a floppy marionette (which was one problem I had with AG's smaller Hopscotch Hill School dolls, though their smirky smiles and skinny bodies were also an issue). When I saw the prototype pictures of the My Imagination Deluxe dolls, I had high hopes.

Unboxing Maya

I have opened dozens of Tonner Dolls over the years, so Maya's packaging was everything I expected, with the pleasant surprise of the vinyl window on the box. (The dolls are triple boxed in a larger brown cardboard shipping box, with a white shipping box around the actual doll box as shown below.)

If these dolls are to be sold in high end toy stores to increase their reach, as I hope they will be, the doll box is perfect to show what you're buying -- much better than the usual solid-cardboard Tonner boxes. The use of ribbons to tie the doll in, the hairnet, and the use of foam rubber and plastic over the parts that might get rubbed in transit are what I'd expect from a high end play doll.

And here she is, after she was easily freed from her box.

I didn't bother to put her shoes on because I knew I'd be redressing her immediately and the plain white flats are nice but nothing to write home about. The little one-piece undergarment uses good quality materials and it closes in the back with Velcro. I'm glad they kept the starter outfit simple to keep costs down, but I do have to object to the Velcro. Given the issues this doll would have as a play doll for a very young child (more about that in a minute), I think the target age can handle snaps. (Kudos here to Carpatina Dolls for their continued avoidance of hair- and fabric-snagging Velcro.) The white underwear is cute but I do wish it was more form fitting so I could leave it on under other outfits, or that she had panties under it so as not to have to go commando. But, being a standard size, I'll have no trouble finding a pair for her in my stash.

Jointed Dolls Have More Fun

Naturally, I immediately tested her knee jointing. The good news is that the ball joint is a great firmness and allows the bent leg to stay in a bent position and has a very natural range of motion. Not only can her knee bend backwards, the lower leg can rotate somewhat so her toes can point in different directions. The bad news is that the right knee on Maya was sticking in the locked position, and when I applied gentle pressure (thinking it was caught up on something) the lower leg snapped right off in my hand. That was quite a shock! The shoulder and hip joints are strung with elastic (similar to an American Girl dolls' joints), but the knees have a plastic post attaching the lower leg to the ball of the ball joint. In the picture below, you can see how it sheared right off.

Now that I understand the engineering of the knee joint, my theory is that the ball was rotated such that the foot probably could have gone out to the side rather than bending back and that I might have been able to rotate it to get the knee to bend the right way. (The toes were facing forward though, so I'm not sure of that.) Naturally, I immediately called Tonner Direct's customer service line and they took care of it right away, sending out a brand new doll that arrived a few days later. Michelle, the customer service representative, was very concerned and I sent her this picture to help them understand the issue. As she said, "We want these to be loved by children and we certainly don't want that to happen to a child." I do not want to discourage anyone from buying this doll but I do want to warn you, if the knee doesn't move freely, don't force it. That post in the knee mechanism is a weak point so I plan to be very careful handling her, to not let her do yoga, and to keep her in a doll stand if she's left anywhere that my cat could knock her to the ground as my cat loves to do. Knees with elastic stringing (like a BJD) would probably have been too difficult to keep from being floppy, so I'll take this trade-off for the sake of a firm joint with a natural range of motion.

Here is the new doll, who I named Imogene, showing off her healthy knee joints.

I think the joints look fine and aren't too distracting, but collectors who aren't used to jointed dolls may take a while to get used to it. (Choosing clothing styles that cover the knees is the obvious solution.)

(At the end of the review, you can see more pictures that show off her range of motion.)

Wig and Face

Next, I decided to change her wig. I was wondering how well that would work with a doll that was meant to be played with, and it turns out the solution Tonner came up with was Velcro dots on the scalp and inside of the wig. I had thought perhaps there would be a wig cap, a stretchy silicone scalp cover that keeps the wig from slipping around, like most BJDs use. I prefer the Velcro because it is more secure but it is necessary to be very careful and flip the wig inside out when changing it and to be cautious not to let the Velcro snag the hair fibers.

The Deluxe Basic doll comes with both a brunette wig with bangs and a blonde wig, both with no part. The quality of the wigs is quite high. I had been worried that I would be disappointed with the wig quality based on some reviews of the regular starter dolls (whose wigs are glued on), but the hair is silky and nicely realistic. My only complaint is with the blonde wig which is a little thin on top. I love that the Deluxe doll comes with two wigs and that they are fairly easily changed but secure enough for play. The original plan was to sell more wigs as part of the line, but Tonner seems to have canceled those products. I would have liked the black wig (with the Velcro dots already attached), but My Imagination has the same 10" wig size as AG dolls so wigs will be easy to find. Here are Maya and Imogene (do you see what I did there to make their names easy to remember?) for wig comparison.

The appeal of face sculpts is a very personal thing. I do like dolls with closed mouths so I'm very happy with that. My only problem with her face is her expression which looks worried to me. I do wish she looked a bit more serene and had more of a smile -- not a big toothy grin smile like too many 18" dolls, but just an I'm-thinking-happy-thoughts kind of smile like the Magic Attic dolls had. Her face painting is soft and natural.

All of the starter dolls have the same face mold, but Tonner did display an adorable "doll of color" at Toy Fair this year with a short, dark, curly wig and fuller lips. I will definitely succumb if that doll is released, even without the bendy knees!

Her eyes are excellent quality -- they are fixed, inset acrylic eyes with applied lashes. The eyebrows are painted simply and she has a few extra eyelashes painted on as well. Personally, I like that she has fixed eyes since sleep eyes are usually too round in shape while these eyes are very realistic.

The Body and Clothing Sharing

Here is the My Imagination body, front and back.

I love her torso sculpt which is adorably detailed! (That is "© 2014 TONNER DOLL CO., INC." incised into her lower back.)

And here are comparisons with American Girl, 18" Ann Estelle, and A Life of Faith, respectively.

The body style is the most similar to A Life of Faith, as you can see, without the weirdly bent arms. The dimensions, including the feet, are the most similar to the American Girl doll, which is good news for clothing compatibility.

Here is Imogene in Girl of the Year Lea's Rainforest Hike Outfit to show well she fits into 18" AG clothing.

Everything fits her perfectly, including the boots.

Clothing compatibility the other way is excellent also. In my next blog post I'll review the My Imagination outfits I purchased, including showing those on an American Girl doll.

In summary, I am very pleased with Maya and Imogene, in spite of Maya's accident and resulting handicap. They are very nice quality dolls and they are worth the price. I'm very happy that Tonner has decided to take a chance on the 18" play doll market again and I hope the line continues and expands.

Finally, here are some pictures of Imogene showing off her flexibility.

On the left, this is how far Imogene can sit forward and still keep her knees reasonably close together. Because of the hip jointing, sitting up straight causes her knees to move apart (as in the picture further up in this post).

On the right, this is now close Imogene can come to "criss cross apple sauce".

Below, you can see other poses that are possible, and finally, at the end, you can see the extent to which Imogene can stand with her toes together and toes apart.


Sylvia Fournier

Uh-oh. I'm off to see the a Tonner site.


Thank you for an excellent review of this doll. I haven't quite made up my mind, but your review really helped. I have never been that crazy about AG but love their stuff.


Is the torso of this doll hard or soft plastic. Do you think it is hollow on the inside? I am searching for a doll with a soft plastic torso that is hollow on the inside.

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