Reviews: Monster High
Surprisingly high-quality, and a standout in girl-targeted media and toys.
Honest confession: I am male. I had never shown any interest in girls' things, due to the oversaturation of pink and other feminine stereotypes and cliches which I found tiresome and uninteresting. When I first heard of Monster High, I thought it was another ugly Bratz follower, and quickly dismissed it. A few years later, though, I found out more about it and quickly fell in love, due to my own love of monsters. The show/movies are written well enough, but their greatest strength is in making every character likable (if they're supposed to be). Despite the horror lens, all of the conflicts in the stories come from real problems people face, with the fantastical elements being interchangeable with real-life substitutes. The message of the brand is admirable and important, too. It uses the variety of monsters to promote equality and diversity, as well as self-acceptance. The character designs and concepts are very detailed and well thought-out, and the dolls themselves are pretty high quality for their price. They also get pretty weird, which I love. Two characters have multiple pairs of arms, there's a cyclops doll, and one of the dolls is conjoined twins with the bonus of being daughters of the Hydra! Overall, MH is an accessible and fun love letter to classic monsters, and the most interesting and inventive girl-targeted brand on the market.
As one who objects to the increasing sexualisation of dolls over the last couple of decades, I thought I would hate Monster High. A cursory look led me to expect Bratz with a gentle dusting of horror tropes. To my surprise, I liked it a lot. S1 consists of 27 1:30 episodes with no continuity. The writers manage to cram a surprising amount into a short time - each episode tells a complete (albeit simple) story, complete with multiple jokes and even occasional character moments. The restricted time limit forces the writers to cut out anything remotely extraneous, yet they still manage to make something fun. In fact, the pacing is so good that the 30-minute TV special, "New Ghoul @ School", fells very slow and melodramatic. "NGAS" is not in continuity with S1, but it does lead into S2. "NGAS" serves as a proper introduction to the characters and the situation forms the plot of S2, a series of 26 2-minute episodes forming an ongoing storyline complete with subplots that wax and wane in prominence. The pacing is fantastic, a with a good balance of humour, drama, plot, and characterisation all crammed into bite-sized chunks. The only flaw here is that the Gill's parental issues form a major subplot in the first half, but is completely resolved offscreen, with a two-line handwave in the next special, "Fright On!" Despite being 45 minutes long, "Fright On!", flows far better than "NGAS". It has a standard anti-prejudice moral, but despite being aimed at young children, it isn't too preachy. This leads into S3, which is in continuity with "NGAS" onwards, but reverts to S1's one-off episodes. This leads to some problems towards the end - for example, S2 had a multi-episode subplot about Abbey being the new ghoul and struggling to make friends, while in S3, Venus, Scarah, Rochelle, and Robecca all appear out of nowhere for an episode and are never seen again. Then there are some CGI movies, but you can skip them as they're not very good. The characters are surprisingly likeable. While the dolls are a bit Bratzy, the cartoon gives them actual personalities, and there is nary a mention of fashion beyond the occasional joke about Draculaura having a silly amount of shoes. Overall, this is actually a surprisingly fun and positive cartoon, and if I had a daughter, I wouldn't mind her watching it.
A Little Problematic, but Charming
The show is cutely (if inexpensively) animated, and very girl-positive, all of which I like. The focus of Monster High itself is to embrace diversity and celebrate differences. Again, which I like. The differences of personalities, I like. The differences of voice acting and accents. I love how Clawdeen's family seems to be coming from New York City. But it is tough to like with the problematic elements. I thought I'd love Jackson Jeckyll/Holt Hyde, but they used the bullied nerd/awesome music cool kid dichotomy, and are enforcing the whole nerd thing even though Jackson has frosted tips and a piercing. He still wears the stereotypical nerd "uniform". What discomfits me most, though, is that Holt speaks like Elvis — I know he's the King and all, but there's a lot about him that has come to light lately that is less than emulatable. Then there's the sexism of how the girls are often the powerful ones and save the boys. I think it'll charm me, eventually.