The second half of 2019 was a mixture of history and science-fiction, with a heavy emphasis on space exploration. Yes, the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moon walk and other space pioneers really dominated the Doll Chronicles from July to December. It was a hefty array of real-life astronauts, fantasy galactic heroes and heroines, and characters who appear otherworldly. So buckle up your spaceship seatbelt and hang on for our blastoff into the final 2019 farewell. It’s a rollicking review of how dolls journeyed to the stars and beyond.
July 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of America’s mission to the moon, and it also marked the golden anniversary of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” masterpiece. On July 8, I blogged about how these two seemingly different events have an awful lot in common. NASA hosted a full-scale salute to the Bowie pop song’s connection to space exploration. Doll artists, always inspired by the singer’s charisma, created figures that capture Bowie’s chameleon looks, too. From little-girl versions to paper dolls, portrait sculptures to cloth effigies, the Doll Chronicles paged Major Tom, articulated the Apollo 11 mission, and danced in some serious moonlight!
The July 23 blog gazed upward once more. In this edition of the Doll Chronicles, I pondered the relationship between the playground and the employment office! If we are what we play with (toys as a predictor of future careers), then the doll industry is hoping for a cartel of female space travelers. Astronauts and aliens, navigators and explorers, all these intergalactic gals are available in doll form. From American Girl‘s first female on Mars to Mattel‘s Barbie as a brave space pilot, there are many girl playthings designed to encourage STEM sensibilities. Whether a career at NASA will follow suit, I can’t make predict. However, every little girl now has a chance to toy with spacesuits, flight patterns, real-life rocket scientists, and sci-fi creations.
Steampunk ranks among one of my favorite subgenres of science-fiction and fantasy. I love the melding of Victorian attitudes and apparatus with futuristic developments and designs. Imagine a hansom cab powered by a team of horses that also can take flight and morph into an armored tank. It’s like Transformers meets steam train travel. On August 26, I mused about the dolls linked to “Mortal Engines.” A heartless cyborg that has his heart broken? A scarred heroine whose real wound lurks beneath her skin? A hero who studies the past but is oblivious to his own future? These are three of the subplots of “Mortal Engines,” a big, clunking sci-fi epic that streamed on HBO in August. In Peter Jackson’s big-budget box-office bomb there are plenty of good moments that outweigh the bad. Doll Chronicles traveled to the cyborg’s workshop, where lifelike dolls reside, and the collectors’ dolls that key into the film’s steampunk sensibilities. It’s all aboard for a “Mortal Engines” invasion.
The Doll Chronicles soared into September with its feet planted on the ground, but its mindset orbiting Earth. On September 9, I introduced readers to Mattel’s newest doll in their Inspiring Women series. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. Throughout her life, Ride was known for her scientific analysis, levelheadedness, and good sense of humor. She encouraged girls to go into math, engineering, and technology. After retiring from NASA, she spearheaded an educational publishing company and STEM advocacy group. Since her death in 2012, Ride’s life partner is carrying on her mentoring mantle. With that week’s blog, I observed a woman who found her history-making career in a classified ad and then went on to see the stars firsthand. “The stars don’t look bigger, but they do look brighter,” Ride famously said. Throughout her life, she burned bright and brilliantly, too.
A week later, we once again checked our control panels and headed to a galaxy, far, far away. In this wondrous universe, a plastic gal waits to unleash her Jedi skills and her impeccable Imperial Forces style. The Mattel salute to “Star Wars” imagined Barbie as three iconic characters: Darth Vader, R2D2, and Princess Leia. Rather than just copying the wardrobe, designer Robert Best did what he does best. He reinterpreted the dolls as haute couture models channeling their fashion force. In the September 16 blog, I examined the ins and outs of this unique sci-fi take. Luke, forget “who’s your daddy” — this is the mother of all fantasy costuming. It’s trilogy worthy!
When the temperatures began to dip, and you can see your breath swirling in the air, you know it’s time to be afraid (very afraid) of dolls. For the Halloween 2019 season, the Doll Chronicles lurked outside the writing studio of Stephen King. King has made his personal demons and fears into the culture’s worries and anxieties. It’s a no-brainer, then (insert zombie brain-eating joke here), that his ghoulish characters have been made into girl and guy dolls. On October 21, I checked out the variety of manufacturers that have rendered King’s creepy nightmares into collectible dolls. It’s good to be King!
If Stephen King is the emperor of evil prose, then Virginie Ropars is the majesty of beautiful and sexy menace. On October 28, I invited readers to immerse themselves in her frightening creations that never stray from glamor and seduction! Ropars is a talented visionary who specializes in women that are fabulous and fierce, scary and sultry, hypnotic and haute couture. Over the years, she has spun a web of figural art that takes one’s breath away. Her dolls do define “dangerous beauty.” They put the “fatal” in “femme fatale.” For the week of Halloween and Day of the Dead, Ropars’ creations were well-dressed treats for the senses. They truly are drop-dead gorgeous.
Impressed by elegant eyewear, mesmerizing makeup, and fabulous finery, I was a sucker for Fox TV’s “The Masked Singer.” On November 18, I confessed my addiction to this guilty pleasure, but I’m obviously not alone. Fox TV’s “The Masked Singer” is a hit, and many pundits are puzzled why. I’m not! I love the glitz, the kitsch, and the outlandish costuming. Somewhat-famous folks, and others who are still unknown to me even when they unmask, have made this show one of my favorite viewing pastimes. This week, I sat down to salute this TV spectacular and the clothing/costuming of April Norton’s Amethyst Series dolls. In purples, mauves, and grays, these dolls are the very essence of theatricality and creativity. It’s like watching an episode of “The Masked Singer.” It’s hard to believe that casts from Dianna Effner molds are hidden beneath the repainting and the opulent costuming. I hoped the blog was binge-worthy, just like the Nick Cannon-hosted game show.
Finally, we cruised into December on Santa’s sleigh, not a souped-up spaceship. Still, I remained fixated on fantasy and the dolls that reflect this supernatural surrealism. On December 1, I gave a nod to one of the powerhouses of the fantasy-franchise world. Wishing you a Merry Muggles Day! If you’re not a Potterhead (fan of the Harry Potter films and books), don’t be confused. Muggle is the term that wizards and witches use to describe all of us mere mortals. Just in time for Christmas (a holiday that even the magical students at Hogwarts Academy look forward to), Star Ace unveiled these hyper-realistic Potter portrait dolls. For their Noel-themed versions, Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Hagrid all come dressed like the little jolly elf himself. And I mean St. Nick, not Dobby the house elf. This week’s Doll Chronicles enrolls at Hogwarts and learns to levitate spirits through excellent collectible likenesses. All I can say is: “Revelio the celebrity lookalikes!”
As we now sit back and observe 2020 as it unfolds, let’s borrow a page from Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The trio survived spells, battles, petty jealousies, and growing up in front of a worldwide audience. They never let criticisms and backstabbing slow them down. In this uncharted new year, let’s all be as brave and optimistic as those teen wizards were. There’s got to be some magic in a year labeled 2020. I hope it’s full of good visions and views for all of us!