by Arch Anderson | 22 Nov 2022
Industry Commentary, Op-Ed
It is 2022 and the Monster High ghouls are set to sashay away from the grave and back out onto store shelves. Will Frankie and friends once again catch lightning in a bottle?
I wasn’t much of a doll kid growing up in the 90s. I was too busy saving up my Tooth Fairy gifts for little plastic creatures and coveting my friends’ Jurassic Park dinosaurs.
Barbie’s permanently pointed feet, general lack of articulation, and inability to stand on her own frustrated me. As a teen, the doll began to draw my ire for its unrealistic body type. Surely this was the cause of my discomfort in my own skin! When MGA Entertainment unleashed Bratz onto the scene with their smoochy noseless faces and hip-hugging midriff-baring fashion, I started taking up two seats on the bus because I was beside myself.
Fast forward to 2011. I’m in my twenties. The big thing in dolls is now Mattel’s runaway runway hit Monster High, featuring characters that are somehow much skinnier and more impossible than Barbie. Their vespid torsos are curved in a painful-looking but oddly flattering way. It’s the catwalk ideal cast in plastic. They tower on legs that stretch out from their short skirts into next month, standing permanently en pointe on chunky, outlandish high heels.
But there’s more: They’re articulated for posing. Their co-ords are straight out of a fashion designer’s sketchbook, taking inspiration from 1980s gothic and punk fashion. Some have fur, some have fins, many have fangs painted onto their bright pouty lips. They have animal ears and big glossy-looking eyes that remind me of the anime characters I’ve come to love. The toy line urges its fans to “Be unique. Be yourself. Be a monster.”
I am smitten. These ghouls slay.
Life has been better since I realized that I can just enjoy things, even if they aren’t morally flawless. I got into the thrill of the chase, checking my local Walmart, Target, and Toys’R’Us (RIP) for restocks of the dolls I was specifically interested in. I kept an eye on collector message boards for new release and availability info. I bought and sold dolls with people from all over the country with my newfound grown-up income. I put my little collection up on a shelf where I could admire it and my cat couldn’t reach it. (Her favorite snack, it turned out, was Dead Tired Clawdeen’s kanekalon curls.)
By 2017 the Monster High line had lost its shelf real estate in the toy aisle. I put my collection into storage. The maker of Bratz took the opportunity to march into the fashion doll aisle for a comprehensive rebound with new doll lines.
This past October we got to see the main Monster High crew reimagined as new dolls. This comes on the heels of an abandoned redesign effort in 2018. Their looks are a little less fierce and a little more friend-shaped. The fashion has changed to keep pace with a new generation of 7-14 year-olds. There are quiet echoes of the kind of visuals driving LOL Surprise OMG and Rainbow High.
Draculaura, the pastel pink daughter of the vampire, now has a petite frame with wider hips than her peers. Interestingly, the aquatic Lagoona Blue is now pink in hue. Clawdeen Wolf sports tufts of fur molded onto her arms and legs. She wears a pair of purple leopard print overall shorts that would make Teen Skipper jealous. Pinks, teals, and purples continue to feature prominently, and the dolls are packaged with pets that stylistically fit somewhere between the original Kenner Littlest Pet Shop characters and today’s Hasbro iteration.
As a brand, Monster High is aware of its capacity for inclusivity and has demonstrated awareness of the social issues that are on teens’ minds today. From bathroom bills to book bans, teenagers are keenly aware of the adults who vilify them. 2019’s Monster High: The Movie reveals that long-time franchise mascot Frankie Stein is non-binary. The brand has also given shoutouts to organizations like Glaad and DoSomething on social media to assert that this fantasy school is for everybody. These gestures are small but they mean a lot to kids who are literally just trying to figure things out.
The 90s are alive and well in 2022. Monster High has taught me that I can have a little more fun with them this time around.
Arch Anderson is a graphic designer and a huge fan of what happens at the intersection of creativity and constraints. See what he’s up to at archxilla.com!
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