I have a soft spot for toys. Before I started wearing lolita fashion, I spent quite a bit of time and money collecting toys. I didn’t necessarily go after things that were collectible or high-value, just anything I thought was cute. When I went away to university and moved out of my mother’s house, I donated the bulk of my collections due to space restraints. Since I now live in an even smaller place, I hadn’t given those collections-of-the-past even a passing thought.
Then, in mid-June, I attended a meetup where we visited a cute toy store…and spotted Calico Critters! My husband was sweet enough to buy me a family of bunny figures while I stared at the shelves and displays with dreamy-eyed nostalgia. ♥ I didn’t have many Calico Critters when I was a child, only a few, but I loved anything pocket-sized that involved animals. I would make little homes for them in tucked-away spaces, furnished with all sorts of re-used tidbits to form furniture and accessories.
Calico Critters are the US-versions of Sylvanian Families. They’re small animal figures, usually under 3 inches tall, with jointed arms and legs. Their hands lack fingers, but have a separated thumb that allows certain playset accessories to be “held” when they’re eased into place. The figures are hard plastic, but they’re covered in flocking to make the animals fuzzy. The figures are anthropomorphic, so sometimes they don’t look much like actual animals, as the focus is on cute humanoid-types living a quaint life and wearing clothing. They’re marketed as both collectibles for adults and toys for children. (Although there are many small pieces, so they’re not for very young children.)
What has always fascinated me about these toys is the level of detail put into the playsets and accessories. When we spotted Calico Critters at My Favorite Toy Store in Downers Grove, my husband was amazed at how realistic the furniture looked. Most doll furniture that I grew up with was made of thin neon pink plastic with little detail. These accessories use a slightly marbled dense brown plastic for “wood” furniture, with other colours as necessary.
The smaller accessories are carefully sculpted and painted with detail. Perfume bottles in a dress shop have a coloured translucent “bottle” to resemble glass, with gold metallic paint on the “cap.” Small swatches of muted floral fabric are used to upholster couches and chairs. Everything is carefully in scale with the figures, who often have very short legs compared to similar-sized dollhouse dolls. It’s very charming! ♥
A friend of mine bought a set of gray bunnies and a “hook-a-duck” carnival attraction, so a few days later she came over and we had fun setting up little scenes. If I had more space, I’d probably want something ridiculously large, like one of the houses, and try keep it set up as a display. (Particularly because my family of bunnies is the “Chocolate” family, who run the “Courtyard Restaurant” on the patio of their home. It’s a very quaint building!) I also had a chance to find my set of guinea pigs, which were a gift from another friend when she went to Ireland. They don’t bear much of a resemblance to guinea pigs, but they fit right in with the families of brown-eared bunnies and gray bunnies.
Since acquiring my bunnies, I’ve seen Calico Critters in other retail stores! I’ve spotted them in Toys R Us, and there was a very large display in FAO Schwartz when I visited New York in June! I wonder if they’ll catch on with children–they haven’t been updated to be “more modern” or “hip,” but they’re certainly cute. I certainly hope they have some appeal, so that someday I can stare at the large playsets in an actual store and try very hard not to bring home a cottage or manor. …But those manors are very tempting.