What is it that makes an action figure separate from a doll?
There are differences between the two, but the divergence between action figures and dolls largely came about because of gender norms that have since become antiquated. The thinking was that no boys would ever want to play with a doll, which would have been an insurmountable obstacle for the original G.I. Joe line from the '60s. Thankfully, some brilliant mind re-branded the G.I. Joes as 'action figures,' and a subgenre was born!
Traditionally, the dolls have groomable hair and changeable clothes, while action figures had a smaller scale and specific features that enhanced their play value. But in the modern era, the line between doll and action figure is getting increasingly blurry. Hot Toys' insanely detailed superheroes are several cuts above any traditional action figure... and yet they seem more suited as dolls, thanks in part to their expensive prices.
Back in the '80s, the original She-Ra line of toys was meant to bridge the gap between dolls and action figures... though ultimately we're gonna have to say that She-Ra and her friends were action figures, even with all of their cool accessories. More recently, DC Super Hero Girls line has also been a mixture of doll-like features and action figure-inspired accessories, and even some of Disney's Frozen Elsa toys can arguably fall into action figure territory. And at this point, we're not going to argue against Elsa as the rare superhero/princess hybrid!
For more on this great debate, check out the latest episode of SYFY WIRE's Toy Masters!