Little Umi the terrifying baby ape

Posted on July 26, 2010

I grew up in the suburbs, a subject which I may yet delve into in greater detail some other time. It suffices to say that the the burbs are everyone’s favourite punching bag, and for good reason, but that there are certain advantages to living there that simply cannot be replicated elsewhere. Notable among these advantages: the sublime quality of the junk mail one receives. You see, we denizens of Chinatown never see the Pennysaver, which is one of my favourite lazy weekend reads of all time (especially weird: the multiple ads placed by some desperate person which take the form of weird prayers and invocations of good luck). And there’s even more, ads for all kinds of crap, and sometimes when you’re eating some cereal and not mentally ready for any heavy lifting, this sort of thing is just the ticket.

I was out at my parents’ place the other day and they received the creepiest flyer I’ve ever seen. An advertisement for Umi the baby monkey*. Check it out:

A terrifying baby ape

Sleep with one eye open

What the hell is this? I’m very sorry that I don’t have the original flyer anymore to share with you, but I’ll try to convey the terror and strangeness of it, if the above picture leaves any terror or strangeness to be desired. So this thing is a doll. Yes, a doll. It’s a baby orangutan named Umi, and apparently you can order it for $150. That’s right, $150. This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen for a price like that. The flyer makes a special point of noting in large type that Umi is “the most realistic baby monkey* ever”.

* I’ll take this opportunity to confirm that no, orangutans are not monkeys. They are apes. This is not as bad as calling a whale a fish**, but still… If you’re flogging a primate you gots to come correct with yo taxonomy, fool.

** J’accuse: if you don’t know that a whale is not a fish then you should never speak of anything ever again. It’s unforgivable.

Now just look at this thing. Take a good look. It does look fairly realistic. Actually, it looks troublingly realistic. So realistic that if you were insane enough to shell out 150 bucks for it you would have the privilege of waking up every single day and thinking: “oh Christ there’s a dead ape on my dresser!”. Every morning you would have to spend a second or two reminding yourself that, no, you have not been the recipient of a Thai smuggling gang’s riff on a Godfather-style warning. It doesn’t move, or coo, or do anything. It just sits there, perfectly, lifelessly still.

It’s very realistic. It’s so realistic that it’s wearing clothes. Why is a baby ape wearing clothes?

Umi comes with a FREE pacifier. Nice deal. Here’s another view:


Just like in the wild

Doesn’t her face look like she is actually an albino coal mining orangutan who just got off of a shift of wearing weird goggles and a face mask? She’s too young for that kind of work. For comparison’s sake let’s look at a real baby orangutan…

No free pacifier? No deal.

Hmm. Very similar. Hmm.

Umi is available in installment payments. Question: is anything (aside from homes and debatably cars) available in easy installments worth buying? Ever?

It’s supposedly handmade, by master doll maker Wendy Dickison. I would consider buying it if it was handmade by apes. The flyer also exhorts us to act quickly, because Umi is only available in short supply and this, in all seriousness, gets me wondering what the market for a thing like this is. Really. How many baby Umis do you think you could possibly sell in one year in North America, for $150? No, really. Do you think you could sell 100? Or 50? I am honestly at a loss to imagine even a dozen people shelling out this much cash for this thing. What did the flyer marketing campaign cost? It was probably national, meaning it cost a bit, let’s say… $2,000 at the cheapest (?). Now what would it cost to make 100 Umis? Let’s guess 20 bucks? This seems reasonable, and let’s add $10 for shipping them from China. This means that you would have to sell 33 Umis just to break even. That doesn’t sound so bad, but then you remember that they cost $150!! You have to convince three dozen people to buy a lifeless ape instead of the many, many other things one can get for $150. To my mind this is an extremely daunting task, and I admire the guts and determination of ape-doll manufacturers immensely. Oh I forgot, “a portion of the proceeds” will be donated to support rainforest preservation. Now you need to sell 34 Umis. Did Wendy get an advance? If so we’re looking at having to move at least 60 Umis; master dollmakers don’t work for free. The details of this boggle the mind.

But the thing is, I bet there is a market for this thing. There very probably, really is. Who would cook up an idea like this out of thin air? No, no, there is clearly a business here, which is what makes this so interesting. It’s not a case of “look at this, who would buy this?” it’s “look at this, who is buying this?”. Someone is. I’m sure of it.

I did some research, and found evidence of one sale on Amazon. Here is a highlight from the sole customer review:

The hair on her head is glued on and should not be touched much, to prevent it from falling out. The hair on her arms and legs is put in through little holes. The doll is very heavy for it’s size. Much like A real baby.

Am I the only one who thinks this is a great, abstract description? I hope not. “Fun” was rated three out of five stars. I think this was maybe a little generous.

In closing, I have no great point to get at, no scathing commentary, no sir. I write this only to share my extreme fascination with this product, its makers, and its buyer(s?). If you know anything about the realistic baby animal doll market please comment or contact me personally. I would be very grateful to avail myself of whatever knowledge and insight you might possess.

Posted in: The Obscure