Monster High is a franchise owned, developed, and promoted by Mattel. The franchise is a milestone in the company's history, being one of the relative few franchises Mattel owns fully, and the first created to be a multimedia franchise from the get-go.
Preparational development of the franchise began in 2007, based on the ideas of Garrett Sander, and came to an end in the months of May, June and July of 2010, when the world was introduced to Monster High. Monster High immediately garnered the hoped-for interest and has been growing steadily ever since.
Monster High was created and proposed for production in 2007 by Garrett Sander, back then a member of the packaging department. For three years, a team of twenty employees worked on what Monster High had to be, both immediately and in the long-run. The earliest trademarks were filed on 23 October 2007, comprising "Monster High", "Frankie Stein", "Ula D.", "Operetta", and "Howleen Wolf" - suggesting an initial cast setup that was changed drastically over three years.
Monster High was created for two purposes. The first was to acquire a franchise that would appeal to a demographic Mattel historically has had trouble getting hold on: tween girls, roughly defined as girls aged 8 to 12. This demographic is of an age that Barbie loses its appeal, but not of an age that toys are no longer interesting, provided they're in line with the girls' teenage needs. Monster High was created to fill the gap. The second purpose behind Monster High was to challenge the boundaries in setting up a new franchise that Mattel previously believed in. For decennia, but more relevantly since the '80s, Mattel's modus operandi has been to either create toys for other companies, such as DC Comics and Disney, or to create a toyline first and see if it catches on enough to justify expensive promotion.
While other toy companies, such as Hasbro, embraced the relation between a solid fictional universe and the success of a toyline, Mattel played it safe and found itself generating less profit than proven to be possible. Monster High was to be the evidence the company needed to be more determined in its introduction of new franchises. As such, after the cast of Monster High was decided on by the end of 2008, development and production of not only the dolls started, but also a cartoon, two book series, a website, plushies, costumes, lots of merchandise, and a stand at San Diego Comic-Con International. All of this was to be released over just a few months time, starting in May 2010, to garner maximum attention.
As bet on, when the dolls finally hit stores, they were a huge success. Encouraged, Mattel set up a new team of executives only a few months after the May launch, whose sole job is to concoct future franchises to be marketed after the Monster High model. The first of these, Ever After High, was launched on May 30, 2013.
Aimed at tweens, Monster High was an immediate hit, unfortunately leaving many a child and parent standing before empty shelves as the dolls sold faster than Mattel could provide them. Furthermore Monster High found itself in appeal by people outside its target demographic, garnering interest from doll and action figure collectors too for the dolls' clever design, significant complaints about quality control surfacing soon after launch notwithstanding.
Without losing sight of the target demographic, Mattel has readily embraced the older elements in the fanbase. The first book series introduced story elements more suitable for an older audience early on, but it took the cartoon series and doll diaries a little more experience with the fanbase before they were ready to incorporate matters of discrimination, fear, death, and even the 'human' side of mean people.
The release of Monster High had not only praise in its wake. Criticism has always been with the franchise, but for the first year that criticism was mostly hidden. Blogs were made about the then-new franchise and people wrote Mattel about the limited covering the clothes of the dolls provided, particularly the skirts. It wasn't until March 14, 2011, when the Herald Sun took note of the dolls, that an actual controversy was generated. Monster High was to to be released in Australia on April 1, 2011 and in response the Herald Sun spent an article on them, which was largely negative about the dolls. On March 16, 2011, Fox News picked up the story and condemned the dolls even more than the Herald Sun had done. The articles' ire was largely directed at what most modern and popular doll lines are accused of: presentation of impossible bodily shapes, which would lead to girls developing eating disorders, mutilating themselves in order to get a figure more akin to the dolls', and/or feeling dissatisfied with their own bodies for not looking like the dolls'. Moreso, the dolls' skimpy clothing ostensibly would lead girls to want to dress the same way.
What set Monster High apart was the criticism specifically leveled at Clawdeen Wolf. Aside from being dressed the most questionable, eyebrows were raised at the Freaky Flaw portion of her profile, which stated she needed to shave her body often. It was argued that this would encourage girls "to feel ashamed of their bodies, to focus on being sexually appealing and sexually attractive from a pre-pubescent age". The latter article spread fast, even among people and groups not quick to associate with Fox News, such as Jezebel. The controversy ended on its own soon after, but resurfaced starting July 17, 2013, when NPR wrote an article on Monster High that, while acknowledging its success, also made use of the same inaccurate and unfounded bias as before. Of particular note is its reference to Monster High as 'Goth Barbie'. From there on, Jezebel got involved once more with an article based on the NPR piece, that excised the positive elements and expanded on the negativity. Both articles were used as source material by the Huffington Post in a July 18 article, which content thus is a mix of both's.
The above notwithstanding, it is known that between June 2010 and June 2011, Mattel did pick up on complaints and adjusted the dolls and fiction according to them. This is primarily noticeable in the 2011 addition of molded panties to the doll design, so that their non-existent private parts are no longer suggested to be on display if a skirt is on the short side. Also notable is the difference between the outfits of the first wave main line and the ones of the second wave main line for the characters released in both. The later releases wear clothing that covers much better than the former releases. And in general, post-2010 dolls are much more inclined to wear either longer skirts or pants than the 2010 dolls. Note that the dolls are produced several months in advance of their release date, and designed and planned for even sooner, meaning that it was not the Fox News controversy that caused the change, but the negative portion of the customer feedback.
Another, smaller, controversy was started on September 28, 2011 over the announced team-up between Monster High and the Kind Campaign. In light of the appearance controversy, some people spoke out against the team-up on the grounds that Monster High's philosophies hardly aligned with the Kind Campaign's. Another element feeding the controversy was the content of the cartoon, which also was deemed inappropriate to the Kind Campaign's message. However, the people decrying the cartoon had a tendency to try out the series starting with the first webisode and without regards to the series' evolution. The first volume of webisodes relies on the gag-per-day format, featuring both very little character development and short stories that are more often than not off in the morality department. However, by the time of the announcement, Monster High had long moved on into Volume 2, which, while not perfect, fixed most of the problems Volume 1 possessed. Essentially, most of the complaints came forth from the idea that Monster High itself worked by static philosophies and could not change for the better itself. As with the appearance controversy, the complaints did not affect the target, in this case the team-up.
Finally, Monster High was mentioned in a report from Greenpeace on June 8, 2011, about Mattel's partnership with Asia Pulp & Paper. Asia Pulp & Paper provided Mattel with paper made from rainforest trees. Most of this paper was used for Barbie dolls, but MTH and acacia traces have been found in the paper and cardboard coming with 'Basic' Draculaura. Two days after the report's release, Mattel cut ties with Asia Pulp & Paper and has since been exclusively using clean paper and cardboard.
Mattel's expertise and market lies in the toy industry, and to make Monster High a multimedia success, companies with complementing expertise and a foot or two in other interesting markets have been approached for partnerships or supporting functions.
- Walmart, Toys"R"Us, and Target - As three of the biggest retail chains in the USA, Walmart, Toys"R"Us, and Target are some of Mattel's most important customers. For this reason, Mattel has produced several dolls that are released as (USA) exclusives to these stores starting 2011.
- Costco, JCPenney, Kmart, and Kohl's - In 2012, the number of stores selling exclusive dolls grew to seven. Costco, JCPenney, Kmart, and Kohl's received exclusive dolls in 2012. These exclusives are simpler and less expensive than the exclusives of the big three 2011-stores
- Claire's, Justice, Hot Topic, and Party City - These four companies have been contacted to sell merchandise of various kind that wouldn't do in a toy store. Most of what they sell is exclusive to their stores.
- Sakar International - Sakar International has partnered up with Mattel to create a wide range of electronic, Monster High-themed devices.
- ImaginEngine - ImaginEngine is the company that was charged with producing the very first Monster High video game: "Ghoul Spirit".
- THQ - THQ is the company that was charged with distributing the very first Monster High video game: "Ghoul Spirit".
- W!LDBRAIN, Top Drawn Animation & Nerd Corps Entertainment - These three companies all are involved in the production of the cartoon series. Nerd Corps Entertainment creates the CGI TV specials, the other two the Flash-based webisodes and TV specials.
- Pepper Films - Pepper Films produced the animated sequences of the Fright Song music video and the commercials.
- YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter - Mattel readily makes use of the possibilities social media offer. A Monster High account has been put up on four different social sites, each account offering its own experience and information to the enthusiasts.
- Kind Campaign - The Kind Campaign is a project to stop girl-on-girl bullying, founded by Lauren Parsekian and Molly Thompson. They've partnered with Mattel to spread their message and one webisode, "Kind: The Shockumentary", was produced just for that.
- Judy and Jane Aldridge - The owners of the fashion blog Atlantis Home have announced they are working with Mattel on a Monster High-related project. What this project entails is not known.
- Stardoll and Poptropica - Stardoll and Poptropica both are popular game- and community-focused websites, with target demographics that align with the one of Monster High. Mattel had partnered with both of them before to promote other franchises and Monster High naturally joined the line-up once it came into existence.
- Universal Pictures - Universal Pictures is one of the current six major movie studios and owner of many of the classic horror movies that Monster High took inspiration from. It has been announced the studio will produce a live-action theatrical musical and co-produce "Ghouls Rule", though as of yet it's possible the two projects are one and the same.
Mattel has placed its stakes with Monster High on creating an immersive universe to generate immediate and lasting interest in the dolls and merchandise. This course has resulted in several different media through which the universe of Monster High is exposed, and with that an almost equal amount of different continuities that make up the whole of the Monster High universe.
A continuity is a collection of stories that with (near) certainty can be said to be part of the same storyline. For instance, the doll diaries together form one continuity and the Ghoulfriends books too form a continuity. But the diaries and the Ghoulfriends books do not form a continuity together, because the premises differ so that events that take place in either do not or can not happen in the other. And even in one medium multiple continuities can exist. For instance, "New Ghoul @ School" cannot take place in the same continuity as "Fear Squad", because they each have a separate take on one shared event, excluding each other's views. However, the term subcontinuity is more appropriate to describe differing storylines within one medium, since the differences are largely the result of soft reboots instead of differing premises.
Monster High's overall storyline has its foundations in the doll profiles and possesses four main continuities - two book series, cartoon, and doll diaries - and four or more extra continuities - Facebook stories, Tumblr stories, Ghoul Spirit, and commercials. Whether material such as the website games or the Freaky Fab 13 storyline are part of one of the above continuities or constitute their own continuities is debatable.
The collective Monster High story takes place in an alternative universe where mythological lifeforms are real and in a time that roughly coincides with the 'now', with Draculaura's Sweet 1600 confirmed to happen in 2012. The franchise employs a floating timeline as the frame of its story. In the Monster High universe, the mythological lifeforms are referred to as "monsters" or "RADs", and on average they live separate from both the humans, who are derogatively called "normies", and other monsters not belonging to the same species. Some monster species, like the minotaurs and the centaurs, actively discriminate against each other, but most groups simply don't mingle at all.
One of the few institutes that tries to change the status quo of indifferent social separatism and discrimination is the titular Monster High, a high school open not just to all monster species but humans too. Monster High's philosophies are unique in the Monster High universe, and led by the charismatic Headless Headmistress Bloodgood, the school's message is slowly advancing.
The collective story focuses on the diverse and growing student body of Monster High, with a set of six girls as the main characters: the Frankenstein's monster Frankie Stein, the vampire Draculaura, the werewolf Clawdeen Wolf, the sea monster Lagoona Blue, the living mummy Cleo de Nile, and the zombie Ghoulia Yelps. The yeti Abbey Bominable has joined the core cast as the seventh girl. Frankie functions as the narrative-protagonist, being at the center of most stories and storylines. Plenty more individual students have been introduced in the three years since the franchise's launch, adding many complexities to the overall storyline, but all stories incorporate a central role for at least some of the core group.
The one continuity that deviates from the above summary is the Monster High book continuity. In the universe unique to the Monster High books, monsters are a minority and have to hide their existence from the human population in order to live a quality life and even survive. Most monsters succeed in this by hiding their distinct monster features, using fake names, and not drawing attention to themselves. Rather than attending Monster High, the monster children attend Merston High. And instead of Frankie Stein, the role of narrative-protagonist belongs to Melody Carver, a siren and book-only character.
While Monster High is a doll franchise first and foremost, it is also much more than that. The franchise covers a large assortment of products, though not every line has the appeal to last.
- Dolls - The Monster High doll collection features four different body molds (give or take minor character specific extras), ranging in size from 9.5 inches to 11 inches, which are all made from ABS plastic and soft PVC. The ratio female:male is far higher in the dolls than in the supporting fiction, which is partly due to the restrictive traditions in male fashion, making male dolls less suitable for a fashion doll line, and partly due to male characters not selling as well as female characters in a franchise aimed at girls. Most dolls are bought with only an outfit, but some dolls are packaged with multiple outfits, playsets, diaries or other booklets, and/or pets. Similarly, some products only contain clothes or playsets for the dolls to interact with. These products are meant to enhance the play experience with dolls already purchased. Sometimes, these products come with a cardboard cutout showing a new look for a character, but this does not mean a doll with that look is available.
- Create-A-Monster - The Create-A-Monster dolls and products are a subsection of the doll series that invite the purchasers to put their own dolls together. Rather than about character-dolls, Create-A-Monster is about themed doll parts. Many of the theoretical dolls cannot be made with the available parts, in particular due to a lack of torsos, but this is also not the intent of the Create-A-Monster line. Nonetheless, the missing parts place Create-A-Monster in a controversial position among the Monster High enthusiasts.
- Friends plushies - The Monster High plushies, consisting of one line called Friends, are the Monster High dolls' little sidekick intended for children younger than 8 years. The plushies are sold in 2-packs containing a character and that character's pet. Only nine plushies have been released thus far and it is possible the line has been given up on.
- Video games - Two video game have been released on Nintendo Wii, DS and DSi since October 2011, and three apps since July 2011. The first video game is heavily promoted by the Monster High YouTube account, which hosts a playlist of movies containing secret codes to unlock content.
- Costumes - Several costumes based on the Monster High characters have been produced, most of which were sold by Party City. Though the costumes come in adult and child sizes, costumes for boys have not been produced.
- Merchandise - A large collection of auxiliary merchandise, comprising makeup, tablewear, electronics, jewelry and more, has been brought on the market in cooperation with a variety of companies.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 June 3, 2010 - The Wall Street Journal
- ↑ May 31, 2010 - LA Business Journal
- ↑ August 19, 2010 - Seattle Times
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 November 23, 2010 - USA Today
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 December 6, 2010 - AdAge
- ↑ Spotlight on Mattel's Monster High [SDCC 2010]
- ↑ Monster High Parents
- ↑ Group Survey!!!!!! at Monsterhighdolls.com
- ↑ Doll a hairy problem
- ↑ Mattel's Waxing and Shaving Monster High Doll Sparks Outrage
- ↑ Mattel Doll Preaches The Gospel Of Hair Removal
- ↑ FACEPALM OF THE DAY: MATTEL MAKES BODY CONSCIOUS WEREWOLF DOLL FOR GIRLS
- ↑ Goth Barbie Celebrates ‘Freaky Flaws' by Looking Like Regular Barbie
- ↑ 'Goth Barbies' Are The New 'It' Toy, But Are Monster High Dolls A Bad Influence?
- ↑ Kind Campaign and Monster High
- ↑ Doing Good Is Complicated: Kind Campaign's Partnership With Mattel
- ↑ Deciding if a Product is Right for You: Deconstructing Monster High
- ↑ Mattel: The Trade In Rainforest Destruction
- ↑ Pressured by Greenpeace, Mattel cuts off sub-supplier APP
- ↑ Victory: Mattel and Barbie Drop Deforestation!