Before Kelly and friends came along, indeed even before the Li'l friends of Barbie,
Mattel gave us the Heart Family and their twin toddlers. Long before the Happy Family
came along Mr. and Mrs. Heart had an assortment of sets, teacher and coach sets, playtime,
bathtime, even sets with visits to Disneyland. We got to meet their grandparents with
birthday gifts for the toddlers and we got to meet their new baby sibling in a new arrival
set with a puffy dress in a precursor to the pregnant Midge from the Happy Family lineup.
The Heart Family twins dolls were obvious toddlers, with clutched fists, chubby dimpled knees
and slightly turned-in feet. They opened up all kinds of play adventures for kids' imaginations.
There were numerous playsets and parent/child pairings until finally in 1988 Mattel gave us
cousins and friends for the twins.
Each cousin came with an accessory or piece of furniture to add to the playability. There was
Honey and her Highchair, Kenny and his tricycle, Janet and the potty chair and more.
The next year Mattel brought us the Neighborhood kids like Daria and Darrin and their school
desks, Gillian and her giraffe, Tawny and her trike, Windy and her wagon and Pleasance and
her pony. Their slogan was "One for all and all for fun" as they would come to play with
the Heart Family twins after school.
In 1990 Mattel began to discontinue the Heart Family line here in the U.S. but they
released the Kindergarten friends exclusively for the international market
featuring each toddler separately without accessories. 1992 and 1993 saw the release of
Barbie's Li'l friends on the international market with around five dolls per year. 1993
also saw five Heart Family Playground friends released in India. Four or five more dolls
were released as Barbie's li'l Friends in 1994. The Heart family twins were used in 1995's
set Teacher Barbie with 8 different students available and in 1993 Barbie Loves to Read with
a pair of toddlers.
These early dolls have a charm of their own and have some of the same themes as later Kelly dolls. For many collectors they are as precious as the Li'l friends of Kelly.
In 1994 Kelly was "born" and became the lil darling we have come to love, and sometimes not-love when she shifts to lemonheads, no-necks, amazons, flatfaces, etcetera..
Thankfully these body morphs are short-lived and the lil friends have a tendency to
return to a more reasonable shape after time. For me at least though, there is always
a place in my heart for Kelly's predecessors, the Heart Family twins.