Mattel’s New “Monster High” Dolls Play On Old-School Stereotypes

Mattel’s Barbie never had her own kids, but the toy company isn’t opposed to procreation. In fact, it has now envisioned girl offspring from well-known supernatural figures–and molded them into doll form.

Deliberately scheduling the official launch of Monster High on Friday, Aug. 13, Mattel has unleashed a next-generation team of progeny from media icons Frankenstein (Frankie Stein), Dracula (Draculaura), The Werewolf (Clawdeen Wolf), The Mummy (Cleo de Nile) and a Zombie (Ghoulia Yelps). They’re all daughters, from a patrilineal line, with the exception of the sole boy character, Deuce Gorgon, son of Medusa. Of course, there were never as many woman monsters available to reproduce (Bride of Frankenstein?).

With the tagline “freaky just got fabulous,” the Monster High characters seem a mashup of Addams Family quirkiness and the new zeal for vampires and werewolves (think Twilight). As an advertising reporter pointed out, marketers seek to bridge the generational divide between adult fans of these characters and their kids.

Poised to inundate the teen and tween set with what has been called the biggest brand launch in Mattel’s history, there will be no escaping the gaggle of monstrous pals. There is already a YouTube channel in motion, a clothing line at the chain store Justice, Halloween costumes lined up through PartyCity, a series of books authored by YA superstar Lisi Harrison to be released Sept. 1, and a movie in the works with Universal Pictures. Mattel has called on well-known music video directors, choreographers and producers, as well as American Idol Allison Iraheta, who is slated to create music for an animated special debuting this fall.

Tim Kiplin, general manager for Mattel, said, “There’s a universal truth behind Monster High. Who doesn’t feel like a freak in high school?”

It’s clear that the new brand is eager to tap into girls’ desire for escape from ordinary boundaries. It’s a good premise, and certainly one with potential to deliver a subtext about “normalizing” difference and accepting a wider range of identities.

But, unfortunately, the Monster High line of dolls does exactly the opposite. The five main girl characters debut with high-heeled platform shoes, nipped waists and hyperfeminine long hair. This is what the next generation looks like, even for monster spawn?”

While Clawdeen Wolf admits her “freaky flaw” is hair that is “worthy of a shampoo commercial, and that’s just what grows on my legs,” she follows this up with, “Plucking and shaving is definitely a fulltime job, but that’s a small price to pay for being scarily fabulous.” Her favorite activity? “Shopping and flirting with the boys!”

Cleo de Nile exudes a sense of royal entitlement, not only due to her Egyptian ancestry but also because she is “captain of the fearleading squad.” Although her mean-girl streak is often curbed, sure enough the hot (and only) guy, Deuce Gorgon, is her boyfriend.

Nerd girl Ghoulia Yelps comes complete with horn-rimmed “nerd glasses,” and her pet is an owl (“Sir Hoots A Lot”).

In the YouTube webisode “Cyrano de Ghoulia,” the clique fits her with an earpiece and coaches her from afar as she meets up with her crush, seeking to “improve” her Zombie speech and manners–although her own unique speech and habits win over the guy in the end. In “Clawditions” the girls foil one another through auditions as they compete for a role in the school play. When Frankie Stein realizes she’s sprouted a pimple in “Bad Zituation” (from eating the sugar eyeballs dispensed by the vending machine), Cleo de Nile quickly whips out her cell phone and in a classic act of social aggression emails a snap to everyone. Frankie runs from the hallway into the girls’ bathroom, where her friends offer a paper bag for her head. She thanks them for standing by her, but the video ends with Cleo’s face covered in spots and Frankie innocently asking if she’s tried the new eyeballs.

Deliberately spawned for a current generation of girls, the repackaged stereotypes of Monster High offers nothing new. The series has the potential to use its supernatural characters to comment on the pressures of fitting in. But recycling themes about popularity, fashion, competition within cliques, appealing to the opposite sex and stylized femininity/sexiness is a disappointment. Telling girls that these values remain constant for women–even those of supernatural species–not only misses a creative opportunity but, more confusingly, reinforces the stranglehold of expectations that this series supposedly wants to subvert.

Above: Photo of Monster High characters. Used with permission from Mattel.

Comments

  1. The 7 year old twins I babysit are currently playing with these horrid dolls. I can hear them say “I’m going I scratch you with my claws”"yeah well I have teeth I’ll bite you”. Isn’t that precious?Yes, they’re dolls but it’s not up to the parents to say no. Say No to what? The personal thoughts of the child growing up looking in the mirror thinking “I don’t look how I want”. Despite the fact they’re only dolls, the image of these dolls is what is popular and perfect in their heads. This show centres on all the wrong things. Barbie is much much better. All of you girls posting that you love these dolls, what are your goals in life? Do you want to be a multi hair coloured tattooed hooker looking music teacher like the one in the show? I’m an engineer and as much as I credit my parents for raising me properly the slogan “be anything you want to be” was a large influence. Barbie was CLASSY! I don’t know if it’s different in the states, but the only dolls I see are, yes not well representative of a female body, but they were clothed in lovely dresses and never had as much make up as these monster dolls. Barbie inspried ballet, science, beauty, and friendship. Where as this show actually scares one of the girls I babysit!
    I think these things are twisted and skanky. I can’t believe they even released them.

  2. I’m 11 I love monster high , but they are very very underweight but they’re great fun , I think that they are making monsters so it’s not all fairies and princesses, But it might still have some fashion in it just so just can make it a bit more girly

  3. Lillian says:

    these dolls dressed in mini skirts will inspire a generation of kids for whom miniskirts are a normal things to wear. sexualizing kids at an age they dont even know what sexualizing is is unhealthy

  4. Lillian says:

    if you want to teach kids about not fitting in, let them read the X-men (the comics are far more woman friendly than the movies)

  5. izabel pilot says:

    See I used to like monster high but then I just stopped cause they just kept getting to like showy and what I mean by that is they dressed in really short clothes and to be honest I think monster high is for ages 12 and up

  6. Personally, I love Monster High. I’m only in middle school, but I have currently 250 Monster High dolls. I have been collecting since 2011, and what some people think of Monster High is wrong. Also, if you don’t like the clothes that Mattel makes, then make your own. It’s quite easy if you bought the kit i did that has the ghoul’s body shape. There is only one thing I don’t like. The way their arch is, it is absolutely horrible with their arch being like that. I’m a dancer and it isn’t good to have a arch like that, although I do wish they would produce some dolls with flats on, I think their shoes are really cute.

  7. I think that monster high is not for younger children. The people who know that the dolls are not what ‘every girl should be’ and know that the dolls are not the normality are fine to play with them. I enjoy mh but I think they could ‘corrupt’ younger children. As long as you know that these fashions and body types are not normal, I think they are fine for kids to play with

  8. Sigh…. this seems like a tough situation.Like another User says its okay to like the line if you know this isn’t normal. All the main characters seem to only like boys clothes etc. But have you ever wondered how you have time for that and school. I think the only dolls ill ever like are ellisabat and sienna von boo because I don’t like MH that much.. and also in the webisode above Cleo seemed like a bully towards frankie. So are they friends?? Probably not. All I want to say .. this is just too sterotypical tor me.

  9. Sadie kane says:

    yay! I agree! I feel rhe same way :3

  10. *like*

    Well said.

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