Living (make that undead) dolls

Bellas Birthday, the new Bella doll; Distant Devotion, the new Edward.
Bellas Birthday, the new Bella doll; Distant Devotion, the new Edward. (Tony Fitts)

At $129, collectors will be sure not to drive a stake through these "Twilight" toys: "It's almost like having the star in your house."

Posted: June 30, 2010

He doesn't sparkle in the sunlight - he's plastic. He can't hunt for prey - he's immobile. And he's only 17 inches tall - not exactly a towering Byronic presence.

Still, for some fans of Stephenie Meyer's immensely popular Twilight series, the Edward Cullen doll by Tonner is the next best thing to the books' vampiric hero.

The high-end dollmaker, known for its realistic figures based on popular movie characters, saw sales hit a record high with its first Edward doll, released in 2009.

But next month at San Diego's Comic-Con, Tonner is set to introduce another Edward - and a new Bella Swan (Edward's human girlfriend) and an Alice Cullen (Edward's vampire sister). The company also sells a Jacob (Bella's werewolf best friend) and several villains from the first Twilight book.

Cindi Fallon, 53, of Media, owns an Edward and a Jacob and already has all three of the new dolls on order (they'll ship in August). She didn't start reading the books until after she bought her dolls - at first, she said, she was just drawn to their "sculpting and artwork."

"It's not a Barbie doll," she said. "It looks like a human being" - namely, actors Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.

For its first Twilight series, Tonner produced nearly 5,000 mini-Edwards, with gray peacoats and shoes with working laces. Three months later, every doll had sold out.

"We've done that well for our Harry Potter dolls," said Tonner chief executive officer Robert Tonner, "but it took three years."

The company is hoping for the same success in the wake of the third movie, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which opened at midnight.

At $129 to $139 a doll, it's a hefty price to pay for even the most die-hard Twihard. But fans aren't complaining.

"They're so much more realistic that it's almost like having the star in your house, rather than having just a doll. It's almost like an art piece," said Glenn Lash, the manager at Happily Ever After on Pine Street, a toy store that specializes in high-end dolls like the Tonner collection.

Many of the customers who buy the Twilight dolls aren't typical doll collectors, Lash said.

"It's bringing new people into the doll world," he said. "We get a lot of tourists, and they come in and go, 'Oh! Twilight!' "

Lash, for his part, owns Tonner's Edward and Jacob dolls (and proudly swears allegiance to Team Edward).

Even CEO Tonner readily admits he's a fan. He's read all the Twilight books and watched all the movies. On the phone from company headquarters outside New York, he spoke enthusiastically about his ideas for future Twilight dolls.

"I'd love to do every single character in the movies," he said. "Except maybe the people in the crowd."

He even thought it would have been "kind of neat" to sell Cullen dolls dressed in baseball uniforms - inspired by the scene from the first Twilight movie in which the Cullen family plays a few innings in matching uniforms.

But Summit Entertainment, which distributes the films, nixed that idea, he said.

In the meantime, the current doll collection has a distinct crossover appeal, Tonner said.

"I think a teenage girl, somebody who's 16, 17, 18, would never buy a doll, but this is cool," he said. "Maybe some girls who like dolls have come back because it's kind of cool to have an Edward doll."

Tonner isn't the only company to tap into the vampiric fantasies of teen girls - the Twilight franchise has spawned merchandise that goes beyond T-shirts and posters.

There are replicas of Bella's engagement ring, adhesive bandages emblazoned with Edward's brooding visage, and something called "Twilight Edward Cullen Body Shimmer" that, apparently, enables its wearers to sparkle like their favorite fictional vampires.

"Twilight fans are single-handedly keeping the economy afloat. They don't have other stuff they want to spend their money on - they have Twilight," said Birmingham, Ala.-based blogger Cleolinda Jones, who is known on the Internet for posting deliciously snarky recaps of the Twilight books.

(Jones, whose real first name is Lauren, has blogged and published under a pseudonym for several years for safety reasons.)

Twilight fans, she said, tend to "throw their entire enthusiasm" into the series - which might explain why many aren't averse to dropping a cool $139 for a plastic Edward.

But despite her beef with Twilight, Jones, who's also a doll enthusiast, owns a few of the Tonner dolls herself.

She cites the creator's attention to the minutest details - like a Bella doll in her prom dress with canvas Chuck Taylors and a removable leg cast. (During the final battle in Twilight, Bella breaks her leg.)

"She's precious. It's hysterical - the little tiny sneakers and the cast! I had to have it," Jones said.

But despite all the hype, some Twilight fans still aren't sold.

"Not in this economy," said Jennifer Then, 23, of Philadelphia. "I'm not a die-hard fan. I have priorities other than buying $139 worth of plastic."

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