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How to Buy the Best Character Figure

Updated on May 20, 2015
An antique Charlie Chaplin celebrity doll being held by the man himself.
An antique Charlie Chaplin celebrity doll being held by the man himself. | Source

Celebrity and character dolls are my favorite types of dolls to collect. There are lots of great characters to choose from. I love all the beautiful, inspiring, humorous, and odd characters I've acquired over the years. But there are so many out there, how could I choose?

There are more Dorothy dolls on this planet than I'm prepared to understand.
There are more Dorothy dolls on this planet than I'm prepared to understand. | Source

How Many Dorothy Dolls Do You Even Need?

I'm using Dorothy as an example because of all the dolls I know of, Dorothy is the most heavily saturated character. If you take Barbie as the gold standard of licensing, here's a fun idea. Try to count the number of times Barbie has done Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. There are at least 6 as I am writing this. I'm basing that number on the number of Dorothy dolls in the Barbie Wizard of Oz collection on the official Barbie collector website. That's not the number of Wizard of Oz dolls they've done. There are four pages of those. That's just Dorothy by herself. Then there are all the Dorothy dolls that have been done by Madame Alexander (5 that are available as I'm writing this on Madame Alexander's website). And all of the Dorothy dolls done by Tonner (at least 5, according to Tonner Direct). And those are just some of the better companies that have done Oz dolls, there are tons more, some of the rivaling these three companies for quality and beauty.

I wouldn't dare speculate on how many Dorothy Gale dolls have been made, let alone how many Wizard of Oz dolls there are. The Wizard of Oz isn't the only heavily saturated property like this, either. There's also properties like Gone With the Wind and the Lord of the Rings. That necessitates choice, because unless you own a Wizard of Oz museum with unlimited space, there's no way you'd want to even try to buy all of these. You're going to have to pick which dolls you want. Here's how I go about it.

May the Best Likeness Win!

The most important quality a character figure can have is a good likeness. A character figure with a poor likeness is a sad state of affairs indeed.

Keep in mind, a good likeness can be a matter of opinion. That opinion is influenced by things like sculpt and paint application.

Let's compare two likenesses, the Barbie Collector On Stranger Tides Jack Sparrow doll and the Medicom On Stranger Tides Jack Sparrow. As you can see on their Amazon pages, the likenesses are extremely different. The Barbie one has a rather plain, expressionless sculpt and some very plain paint apps. He originally retailed for somewhere in the neighborhood of $40. The Medicom figure has a much better sculpt. The paint applications are more detailed. Because of those things, he has a much better likeness to Johnny Depp. The medicom figure probably retailed for over $100. The Medicom figure now costs over $200 on Amazon. In a strange turn of events, the scarcity of the Barbie collector figure has driven its Amazon price up to around $175. If I were to choose based on likeness alone, I would buy the Medicom figure.

Price Will Always be a Factor.

Let's just face it, none of us are made of money. If we were, we wouldn't have to worry about choosing. We'd all like to own dolls that cost thousands of dollars, but sometimes it's better to go with a less costly option. For comparison, let's look at the difference in price between Volk's Sword Art Online Asuna figure and the Asuna figure you can get from Azone. As you can see, the Azone figure is much more affordable than the Dollfie Dream. The Azone isn't as large as the Dollfie. It doesn't look as compelling. But I know I sure don't have Dollfie Dream money lying around.

What's your favorite material for celebrity dolls?

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Resin, Vinyl, or Porcelain?

While there are lots of different types of dolls, the material of the doll is one easy way for collectors to describe what they like to buy. The three most readily available modern doll materials are resin, vinyl, and porcelain.

The most expensive of these three materials is resin. I usually only see resin as a material in asian ball jointed dolls, such as Minimee, which can cost a ton of money. Ashton Drake sells some dolls made of resin.

Dorothy dolls are more commonly available in vinyl, such as Robert Tonner's versions.

It's my opinion that the majority of porcelain dolls are absolute junk, but there are certainly some gems among them, especially if articulation doesn't matter much to you. Franklin Mint is an example of a company that might sell a porcelain version of Dorothy.

How Well Articulated is the Figure?

It's hard to say exactly how many joints a human being has, because it's hard to define exactly what you mean by joint, but it's fair to say people have a lot of them. When it comes to figures, the more articulation they have, the more lifelike their posing is.

Quantity counts for a lot when it comes to joints. Two joints in the knee rather than just one can mean the difference when it comes to whether the figure can kneel or not. Quantity isn't everything, though, sometimes positioning can push the look of a pose over the top.

As you're looking at your options, compare articulation. It might be the tipping point on which figure you want to buy.

Consider the Scale of the Figure

Scale can be a defining part of any collection. With dolls and character figures, scale is vitally important, particularly if you want to display multiple dolls together. A Barbie Legolas might look a bit odd next to Robert Tonner's Strider, because Barbie's Legolas is in 1/6 scale, which makes him around 12 inches tall, and Tonner's Strider is closer to quarter scale at 17 inches tall. It might be better to go with two Tonner dolls or two Barbie dolls for display instead. Mattel made a great Aragorn doll that was sold in a two pack with Arwen. Alternately, Tonner made a very nice Legolas Greenleaf character figure.

If you've already made a choice about one of multiple figures in a series, and you'd like to include more figures from the same franchise in your collection, it may be best to stick to the same company as you add additional pieces.

There certainly isn't any rule that one should not collect both Barbie and Tonner scale figures, so don't let that hold you back if you want to build a truly complete LOTR collection. There are also large scale Toy Biz and Sideshow figures to consider. I just feel that they display best separately. I have a nice glass case I keep Aragorn and Arwen Tonner dolls in, separate from my 1/6 scale figures.

A Large Collection of Tonner Harry Potter Dolls

Medicom Mad Hatter

Robert Tonner Mad Hatter

Barbie Collector Mad Hatter

Watch Some Youtube Product Reviews

If two or more companies have attempted the doll or character figure you want to add to your collection, you can do a more detailed evaluation of the dolls by comparing product reviews on youtube. Obviously, these reviews are going to include opinions you may not share, but these reviewers might notice something you haven't thought to look into.

On the right, I've found three reviews by different youtubers of three different versions of the Mad Hatter as portrayed by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. One of these figures is a Robert Tonner character figure, one is a Medicom figure, and one is a Barbie doll. By viewing these three videos, you can get a very good idea of the true dimensions of these three dolls and the differences in the overall appearances of the figures.

Each of these three versions has its merits. Two of these figures have rooted hair, and one has sculpted hair. It can be argued that the sculpted hair give the doll a more polished look, but the rooted hair can be fun. Two of them are in 1/6 scale, making them around 12 inches tall, and one of them is 17 inches tall. Seventeen inch dolls can be more impressive than 12 inch dolls, but they're also hard to store. I personally own the Barbie Collector Mad Hatter doll, because I like the rooted hair and the twelve inch size. I also considered the price of the doll as well as the paint apps and attention to detail.

The youtubers will give you an idea of how satisfied they are with the product they've purchased, and how they compare it to dolls of other brands that they've purchased.


Maybe what you really want out of a doll is a quality costume, in which case you might choose Mattel's version of a classic Elvis outfit over Hasbro's. High quality costumes tend to incorporate a lot of detail and include better quality fabric.

Buy Rare Characters

Some of the best dolls I've ever owned were dolls that haven't been manufactured to death. Believe it or not, one of my favorite dolls I've ever owned was an Effanbee Liberace. He was absolutely gorgeous, and I've never seen another one. Uncommon characters and celebrities can be the jewels of a collection. Some characters can only be obtained by buying custom made dolls, others vintage dolls long out of production.

Buy the One that Makes You Happy

In the end, no matter how poseable the competition is, no matter how expensive it is, no matter how poor the sculpt, sometimes you just like something, and that should be reason enough to pick exactly the doll you want. Maybe it's heavily stylized to the point it nolonger resembles the actor its meant to portray, maybe it's funny looking, maybe it's just cute, but regardless of why, you might take a shine to something unusual. The important thing is, if it doesn't make you smile to look at it, the doll is not worth the space.


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