The difference between doll and action figures is that a doll is a small model of a human being used as a toy for children while action figures are dolls that represent a person or a fictional character known for their powerful actions.
This is a simple and straightforward way to define the difference, but let’s dig a little deeper. When we do, you will see that nothing is as simple as it seems. And the differences seem to fade the more we look at them.
If you follow these definitions … you can generalize that not all dolls are action figures, BUT all actions are dolls. There is also a suspicion that the “dolls” are for girls, while the action figures are primarily aimed at boys.
Some will even say that the dolls include matching outfits, while action figure accessories (but are not limited to) sporting goods, combat items, world-saving items, etc.
But in 2019 … these concepts may seem a little dated. Especially when you consider that there are many exceptions to these generalizations that just don’t fit the bill. So before we look at the differences and exceptions … let’s take a quick look at the history of both dolls as action figures.
Does Articulation Make An Action Figure?
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The only difference that I can see between the original GI Joe doll and an ordinary doll is the joints. So is this enough to make the distinction? Not really.
There have been many (what you would think) classic dolls that have been articulated. Several Barbie dolls have had articulated joints such as Bicyclin ‘Whitney (1996), La prima Barbie (1959) and Stefani Canturi Barbie (2010).
These are just three examples, but there are many, many more to choose from. Therefore, it cannot be said that articulation alone is what distinguishes action figures from their doll counterparts.
Is How The Doll Is Dressed Make It An Action Figure?
So if articulation isn’t what separates action figures from dolls … maybe it’s the accessories? The original GI Joe doll came complete with military uniforms and dog tags. And they are widely accepted as the first commercialized action figures. So can we assume that it was the accessories that made the first GI Joe different?
Not really. There has also been a whole line of military Barbie from Barbie and Stars. And the line shows Barbie and Ken as members of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy. So unless you’re ready to declare Barbie an action figure … accessories aren’t the defining criteria either.
Can A Doll Be An Action Figure?
Why not? These military Barbies could easily pass for action figures. I can easily see any girl or boy pretending to have a picnic OR rebuilding a military company with this. So can any doll become an action figure?
This could be the case. Let’s get away from GI Joe vs Barbie and travel to the land of the Wizard of Oz. If you’ve seen the movie… you know who Glinda is, the good witch of the south. If he doesn’t, it’s the witch who welcomes Dorothy to Oz, sends her “to see the wizard” and organizes her rescue from the deadly poppy field. She wore a pink dress, a sparkling crown and a magic wand. Would it be a real doll?
But add to that he has multiple powers such as immortality, ecokinesis, atmokinesis, hydrokinesis, chlorokinesis, spell denial, animation, and zokinesis4 and it can be said that he can be more powerfully active than any action figure ever created.