As a dad as well as an uncle, I have watched a lot of things today's younger kids find fun, with a lot of mixed results; some pretty good, some not so much. When I was a kid growing up, it was the same way, growing up with sisters in the house made sure things stayed semi-normal. And because I had sisters to grow up with obviously meant being introduced to the latest toys that they liked, like Barbie, which is not even the first or the last of the list. Other toys, including dolls like Strawberry Shortcake, Smurfs, My Little Pony, Star Wars, Legos(Yes! There were Legos way before the new generation were ever born!) Masters of the Universe(I don't even want to go there!), ThunderCats(Ok, so I was a fan of that one! So sue me!), Transformers(This is me not commenting on that one!), GI Joe(Still not commenting!), and an entire generation of toys parading their own brigade through the house almost at the same time we saw the first commercials for them on tv. So, yes, I was well-versed with the vastly different brands of toys and games that were in Toys R Us, and other places. And maybe I was broken in well enough to be a dad to my own daughter, when she came along.
Let's fast forward to when my daughter was in her teens now. When I was introduced to Mattel's Monster High dolls by way of my daughter Emily, I thought it was pretty cute, but I didn't see it as a big deal, so it was easy to overlook at the time. I did not know, however, exactly how big they were. Call me out-dated, I guess. lol! When I picked up Em for a weekend at my house one day, she showed me this dvd movie for Monster High called "Ghouls Rule", and I was reminded of the dolls. "We gotta watch this! You've gotta watch this!" she said, so excited I almost had to remind her to buckle her seat-belt. "Hey, isn't that the same thing as----?" "Totes, Dad!" and I knew from there, I had about thirty seconds to get into everything that had anything to do with Monster High, whether it made any sense or not. Not only that, but I also needed some idea what exactly "totes" meant. Having been exposed to the drug sub-culture in the early 80's, I knew what "toke" meant, but this was something else entirely. (At that moment, I was just hoping I was right, that my daughter wasn't introduced to the culture I stayed away from with so much extreme prejudice.) She was so excited, I knew it had to be a hit with me, no matter what I might have thought about it. So it was like, okay....
No sooner than we got to my place than the movie was put in, and within the first five minutes I honestly found myself thinking, "Hey, this actually is pretty cool!" and I didn't have to fake any compliments for Em's sake, to help reassure her that it wasn't a bust. And from there I quickly became a fan, opening myself to watching whatever Monster High movies that she brought over to watch. And I know what a lot of you are probably thinking, "How is this any different from that old, rehashed Barbie trash?" There are actually a lot of differences between the two. For one thing, I would not be caught dead watching a new Barbie movie now, especially since when I was a babysitter, I had to watch all the stupid Barbie movies my sister owned to help entertain her two younger kids. And I mean, watch them over and over again, among others. I have such a list of movies I will never watch again, it's not even funny anymore. Yeah, ok, the things we do for the ones we love and all that, but hey! Give a babysitter a break once in a while, will ya???
There are certain similarities between Barbie and Monster High that can't be ignored. For one, the writing for both when it comes to movies is completely harmless. I cannot honestly see anyone being so deranged or stupid enough to go on a shooting just because somebody in a Barbie movie told them to do it! A person would have to be on seriously strong drugs to be that stupid! The same can be said for Monster High. These are both positively written forms of entertainment, that while aimed at the kids and the 'tweens(God I hate that word! Who came up with that one???) Both are empires created out of toys that were meant originally as fluff for the kids--specifically young girls--and became something different altogether. Because Barbie first came out in 1959 the marketing campaign that could be used was little at the time. There were commercials on radio and on tv, but because television was so new, not a lot of people thought about advertising for toys on tv at the time. It was like, who would want to pay for air time to advertise for toys? After all, she was just a fashion toy, so who wanted to pay for something like that, right? Oh, man, how the times have changed!! Now that the toy industry has become a trillion dollar business("billion dollar industry" was so last century, ya know!) there is literally no limit to what toy companies will spend to sell--I mean, support--their toys on tv. You should watch some of these newer commercials, a lot of them seem like movie trailers, and they really do! And they aren't only made in what could be considered now as almost "stick figure" advertising, the commercials are now made in cgi, 3d, you name it! There's no end to the ideas for a marketing campaign now, which is such a vast contrast to the world we knew fifty years ago. But the truth is they're just commercials to show what the new toy "can do" in the hands of the right person, or where the kid is concerned, the right imagination.
Monster High came out as a fashion-doll line as well, but also they were something that was needed to fill the market void left behind by the all-but-now-defunct Bratz line, which stopped selling so well, largely because kids weren't into their movies. I admit I watched one to see what the disappointment was about, and I couldn't believe it. The background of every scene in a Bratz movie was completely photo-shopped! And this was supposed to be animation!? You cannot animate photo-shopped atmospheres. This is largely where a good deal of the popularity of M.H. comes in. For one thing, the Mattel people had a marketing plan that was far more organized and researched than Bratz. Using the facts that kids love anything that has to do with the internet, they decided to corner the idea of using animated internet episodes--now referred to as "webisodes"--to help gain more exposure for the dolls. And unlike Barbie, which basically had little character other than the fluff in her head, these dolls had a lot of character, and carefully thought-out personalities. It was as if someone had figured out how to make the Addams Family and the Munsters accessible to kids, only in a new age and a completely new format. Not that Barbie wasn't original in the beginning, but she was more of a Mata Hari-type person(Come on, people you should read the history behind Barbie sometime. She's not as sweet as you think!) So, in using everything that they knew about the internet and using an extensive research and development team, Mattel as well as Universal Studios were able to devise and build an empire for today's kids that love dolls with imagination, if not a sense of the abstract. But I don't say that in a negative sense, I say it with a clear optimism, because let's face it, today's kids are demanding much more original and imaginative statements from their toys, and everything else they can have in the entertainment industry. And that's no joke! :) And what's even better is that Monster High comes without any of the dreaded "Barbie Controversies" or past lawsuits from over the decades.
Monster High has a lot more appeal than Barbie ever did, and now I'll help you understand why. Where Barbie presently lacks in any form of creative originality, M.H. makes up for it in spades and a whole lot more. The premise of it all is that these kids--who are offspring of famous monsters(And yes! that includes classic Universal Studios monsters!)--all attend a high school built and intended for monsters to attend, known naturally as Monster High. So, as they spend time there, learning about their Scaritage(heritage) and vast different subjects, they learn to appreciate their own and others' freaky flaws(differences), and build and enjoy their time together. The normal main character is a "ghoul"(girl) named Frankie Stein, who is in fact the daughter of the Frankenstein Monster and the Bride of Frankenstein. And adventures typically build around her and her ghoul-friends (oh, come on, you must get the idea by now.) One of the funny, creative things about M.H. is that it has a kind of inspired "Addams Family" atmosphere, both in originality and sense of humor. Just when you think you have everything figured out about a Monster High movie, be prepared to be surprised, which is part of what makes watching them fun. I have rarely seen a franchise succeed in being able to keep each movie different and original.
Too often, in a franchise, after a while you get stuck with rehashed ideas and nothing original to enjoy. Case in point, "The Fast and the Furious" movies and "Jurassic World", which sucked so bad, along with the other Jurassic Park sequels. I'm pretty sure Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been spinning in his grave for decades over those lackluster losers. The same with those idiot "Jaws" and oh-so-tired "Halloween" sequels and remakes! But anyway....
The Monster High franchise started some years ago by Mattel Toys, which was immediately a huge success with kids, particularly young girls. And yep, my daughter has a number of them, this I know for myself. As part of a marketing strategy, Mattel wanted to try a series of internet cartoons to help build exposure for the dolls, which they couldn't have imagined the overwhelming success of the "webisodes", that they couldn't help but have a quick meeting to discuss making feature movies based on Monster High. Unfortunately, at the time, the economy still wasn't very solid--it was 2010, after all!--so instead of being able to make live-action movies, Mattel made a deal with various studios over the years to make their movies for them, enlisting whoever they needed to provide the stories and big-bucks productions that were needed to appeal to the younger audience. Their most recent and longest lasting deal has been with Universal Studios, and it's worked out great for both. And in only five years, they've already made a staggering amount of cartoons and animated movies, which is impressive even for a successful franchise. The dolls, toys, cartoons, movies, an unlimited line of merchandise ranging from video games, notebooks and diaries to cell phone skins, laptop skins, ear buds, calendars and God knows what else, there is no way for Mattel and Universal to go but up when it comes to Monster High! It's even been confirmed that a live-action version of Monster High is in production for release next year in theatres. I wouldn't mind seeing that myself, but at the moment, I can't predict my schedule as a tutor. I'm not even sure what month it's supposed to come out, and when it comes to the school year, that's important info for me. But for those who aren't familiar with the main cast of Monster High, let me give you a guided tour. Or you can ask your kids, if you have any, to tell you about them.
Frankie Stein is the main character, it seems, mostly because she's the youngest at Monster High. As she points out in one episode, she was "born" only last week, being the daughter of the Frankenstein Monster and the Bride of Frankenstein. So, because of this point of view, she has a lot of things explained to her, but she's not dumb by any means. This also gives the perfect vantage point for newcomers to the series, like me, who don't understand things at first, and need time to be filled in on the different antics and people of Monster High. (It's ok, dads, there's nothing wrong with getting in touch with your Inner Dad, we all have it. Just smile, and try it, and let yourself enjoy the show, if you're willing to be open and optimistic enough. Come on, you know you want to...) She brings on the upbeat optimism that's become a trademark with the series, and her ghouls all feel it eventually, whether they want to or not. She's also quite the fashion plate in the group, which is not unusual with her friends, and I don't believe I just pointed that out. (Okey dokey, then.)
Frankie is basically a radical of sorts, and at times finds herself faced with dreaded ideas like "tradition", and she's vocally opposed to anything that stifles anyone's idea of identity or originality. When it comes to this, you might say she likes to rock the boat. Or in her case, sink the boat! But she doesn't do this to be bad, she does it to help inspire change in things that maybe need to change, and not just for herself, but for others around her, so they can enjoy these things better.
Draculaura is the daughter of Count Dracula, and is the shopaholic of the group, who seems to be in some minor competition with her ghouls Cleo and Clawdeen Wolf when it comes to shopping. She's a cute, unassuming vampire who's also undeniably polite to others, to a fault that almost makes you wish she would get a little attitude when she should. Only recently has she been the center of two movies of her own, "Why Do Ghouls Fall in Love?" and "Frights, Camera, Action", in which she has to seek out the Vampire Queen to save herself from an evil plot. It's said she have another movie of her own in the future, but nothing has been confirmed on the official site as yet. An interesting character trait for Draculaura is the fact that she is the first vegetarian vampire. Even the sight of blood makes her faint. This helps put her in some funny scenes.
Clawdeen Wolf is a real howl, which is appropriate since she's a werewolf. She's also Clawd Wolf's younger sister, who happens to be Draculaura's boyfriend. Unfortunately, because she's a werewolf, she often gets stuck with smelling some of the most god-awful stenches around. "Welcome to the wonderful world of werewolf noses," as she said sarcastically in one movie. Clawdeen is a fashion nut who's gotta be able to have the latest in all things fashion, starting with personal accessories. But it's not like she's stuck up or anything, she just has her little vices, like everybody else. She's as loyal as any of the other ghouls when it comes to her friends and those she cares about. She's currently single by choice, probably because she's not comfortable with the idea of dating. Yep, I know how that feels. lol Wait, did I really just point that out, too? Aww, man!
Ghoulia Yelps is the group's resident computer genius/science whiz-geek, who's a zombie who speaks her own language. I mean, seriously, she doesn't speak English, so you have to wait until one of the others say something to know what she said. But she's funny when she rescues the other ghouls from major dangers by coming up with the best ideas. She's kind of like a zombie version of Abby Sciuto of "NCIS", but with a permanent case of the mumbles. And she's also the only ghoul in the group who has her own science lab to channel her inner mad scientist in. hahaha!
Cleo de Nile is the group's rich girl, who lives to shop and shops to live. She loves to be waited on, largely due to her family heritage and royal status as a powerful mummy's daughter. But if anyone were to tell her that underneath it all, she has a good heart, they would probably risk being boiled alive in oil! Her best friend is Ghoulia, who she treats like a servant but would never let anyone else mistreat her. As superficial as she can be, Cleo is as loyal to her ghouls and her boyfriend Deuce Gorgon as they are to her.
Lagoona Blue is an Australian monster, and seems to be the daughter of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Her boyfriend, Gill Fin, is not the bravest guy she knows, but he's wrapped for her, and happy to follow her wherever she goes. She's also the only blonde in the group.
Abbey Bominable is the Slavic monster in the group, and the daughter of the Abominable Snowman. She has some extremely Old-World ideas that are written in some pretty funny situations, and makes her funny to watch. She's also working on mastering the western vocabulary, both in human and monster terms. Some of the mistakes she makes, however innocently, are hilarious. Although she doesn't have a boyfriend specifically, she admitted in one episode that she likes local hothead Heath Burns.
But the thing with this group is that they're portrayed and written as faithful, loyal friends who face each day as individuals as well as friends, and with whatever life comes at them with, they're ready for it. And with so many things that kids already have to face in the uncertain future, seeing as how we live in a time of constant change, it would be nice if they could have something that is capable of staying the same for a little while. Even if it is just for a little while. But this is looked at with an optimistic hope. :)