Yes, you can use real ribbon. It will absorb oil from the bc or fondant though and discolor (darken) from it. Some decorators line the ribbon with wax paper and some just pregrease the ribbon so it'll be darker but at least the same color all over and be even.
My own, hands down! I love using an IMBC but when I'm in a hurry I'll use an ABC and I ALWAYS use real butter, no shortening. I hate shortening bc's, my tongue always has a grease slick on it after eating it, so gross. I'm ridiculously picky these days!
Maybe use the bottom part of a cupcake, I'd use the jumbo ones if possible, on each side of the "head" with a wide fondant band connecting them. You could also sculpt them out of rice krispies too if you don't have the pans. Good luck!
I would think the mini would work fine, I guess it depends on the effect you're going for, lol. When I did mine I was just starting to to cakes and didn't have a round pan or the means to buy one just yet so I just ran out and bought some jumbo chocolate muffins from Costco, lol, they were excellent proportions!
I agree a smooshed ball of fondant or frosting blob should be fine. If you're really concerned you could use a bit of wax paper under it too. Toys are supposed to adhere to pretty strict leadtesting after that fiasco a few years ago so you probably have nothing to worry about
Yay! My carving turned out A-ok! I ran out of time to finish all the do-dads I planned, but the structure of the cake was great, no cracks, bulges or any other issues. Thanks so much again for the refresher course you guys gave me!!