What other doll brand in recent memory has taken over the world by storm as soon as it hit shelves? One that manages to captivate audiences from children to adults alike? There is still more to be written in Monster High’s story. As we approach spooky season, here’s a look into the history of the distinctive and unprecedented doll franchise: Monster High.
What other doll brand in recent history has taken over the world by storm as soon as they hit the shelves? One that managed to captivate audiences of a wide age demographic from children to adults alike? Here’s a look into the history of Monster High just in time for spooky season.
Development and Conception
Monster High is one of the many doll brands by international toy enterprise Mattel. The company began in 1945 with their focus being children. A 2010 Wall Street Journal article stated that in the years that lead to the production of Monster High, Mattel had an interest in creating a doll brand to appeal to tween girls. Mattel’s research showed that girls generally grew out of Barbie dolls during these ages and wanted to capture their attention with a doll brand that felt a little more mature. The company also wanted to make an original doll brand, as they mainly created toys for other companies, such as Disney and DC. Mattel then approached Garrett Sander and his brother, Darren Sander, who worked previously as package designers for the company, to start the new doll line.
In a YouTube video, “Behind the Design of Monster High,” the duo explained how they went on shopping trips with tween girls to get an idea of what clothes interest them. It was mainly gothic fashions, consisting of lots of black clothing with accessories such as skulls, chains, and spikes. Think Hot Topic; the American retail chain that generally aims toward teens and young adults interested in rock music. This was the same direction Mattel and the Garrett brothers would take with Monster High. They began trademarking the names of characters’ names as early as 2007.
During a panel at Power-Con, an annual toy convention hosted in Columbus, Ohio, the brothers spoke about their love for horror films such as Elvira: The Mistress of the Dark. This is one of the main inspirations for the Monster High dolls. Darren stated at this panel how he helped his brother with the creation of the brand. He was solely responsible for the brand’s early slogan: “(Where) Freaky Just Got Fabulous!”
Garrett also described the conception of the dolls and hiccups with the development. Early prototypes of the main character, Frankie Stein, show that the character originally wasn’t supposed to have green skin. However, during group testing of the prototypes, children were confused why the daughter of Frankenstein had a normal skin color, and thus, the color was changed to a mint green. Garrett and his team dealt with frequent amounts of corporate pushback. The character Spectra Vondergeist, a ghost, was said to have a face that was too creepy because of her prominent cheekbones. In 2015, Mattel also dismissed Garrett’s idea to have the character, Kieran Valentine, come out as gay. Garrett said at Power-Con that the executives felt it was not the right time. Being gay himself, Garrett was extremely disheartened by this response.
When the dolls launched in 2010, Monster High saw instant success. Monster High dolls became the second best selling doll brand, only beaten by the behemoth doll brand, Barbie. The first wave of dolls were sometimes hard to find in stores due to this high demand. It was apparent some children loved toys with a little bit of edge.
The success of the brand did come with controversy. In 2013, an article published on Mommyish came out detailing some parents’ outrage with the brand. Many parents claimed the extreme body proportions could project unrealistic and unachieveable body standards onto their tween girl consumer demographic and result in a rise in eating disorders. They also complained about the dolls’ skirt length. Mattel did take some of this into consideration and employed modest elements to the dolls’ clothing. The brand added molded underwear and longer skirts to the dolls.
Despite these criticisms, the dolls still resonated deeply with children and adults alike. Over the years, several collector dolls were released, specifically aimed at adults. These were often seen at San Diego Comic-Con with yearly releases from 2010 to 2016, taking a brief pause during COVID, and resuming in 2022. World-building, online webisodes, movies, and the dolls themselves paired with diaries helped the brand increase in popularity. It provided consumers with a story in which they could relate to each character. The dolls’ stories echoed anti-bullying messages and the theme of embracing flaws.
Rival companies wanted in on the revenue, leading to the creation of many doll lines similar to Monster High. MGA, creator of Bratz, created a spinoff series called Bratzillaz about the witchy cousins of the Bratz girls. Hasbro created a spinoff series for My Little Pony called Equestria Girls that had the ponies with a more anthropomorphic design and attending high school. Mattel themselves even created a sister series, Ever After High, in 2013 that shared the same universe as Monster High. This was about the children of fairy tale characters such as Apple White, the daughter of Snow White, and Maddeline Hatter, the daughter of the Mad Hatter.
Despite having a very successful first few years, Monster High’s sales declined in 2014. This caused the quality of the dolls to drop a bit. In 2016, Mattel lost the rights to produce Disney dolls, causing the company to lose millions of dollars. Monster High doll-YouTuber, Clawdeena9, speculates in their video about one of the reasons why this occurred. Disney was in development of a new concept called Descendants, featuring the children of famous Disney characters, when Ever After High hit the shelves. These two brands were extremely similar to one another, and Disney already felt that Ever After High, because of the fairy-tale characters, was in direct competition with their Disney Princess doll brand.
In 2016, Mattel rebooted Monster High to be more child friendly to appeal to younger children. The faces of the dolls were changed to be cuter, more childlike, and had less dramatic makeup. The lore was completely changed from the previous generations, and some characters were even cut. These changes, along with other production disagreements since the first wave, ultimately led to Garrett Sander’s decision to leave the brand. He stated at Power-Con that it went against the main premise for the brand’s creation: uniqueness, accepting your flaws, and not changing yourself to please anyone else.
The company did take many shortcuts in the design process after the first few waves, like removing articulation, having molded-on tops, shoes that could not be removed, and cheap hair fibers, such as polypropylene that disintegrate over time. The dolls in generation one did not have these poor features. Ultimately, the new changes and the pre-existent sales decline caused the brand to close its doors in 2018.
After two years of hiatus, Monster High creeped back into production in 2020 with limited collector releases of Skullector dolls which had characters featured from classic horror films. They released a Pennywise doll based off Stephen King’s It and a two-pack (two dolls being sold together in one package) of The Grady Twins from The Shining. In 2021, they released Beetlejuice and Lydia Deetz dolls from the Beetlejuice movie, and Greta Gremlin; a doll inspired by the Gremlins movies. As of October 2023, they have released a Dracula doll, Frankenstein and his bride, an Elvira doll, Chucky and Tiffany, and an Annabelle doll.
In 2022, they also released Haunt Couture which is a collector line of the original Monster High characters: Frankie Stein, Draculaura, Clawdeen Wolf, Cleo de Nile, and Lagoona Blue. These dolls were sold with diaries and a continuation of the generation one storylines. They sold out instantly on the Mattel Creations website. They were also sold by resellers on eBay at twice, even triple, the original price.
Later that same year in October, Monster High rebooted for the third time with what is referred to as Generation Three (g3) by the fanbase. This generation had mixed reception at first by fans because of the different designs, but has mainly received positive feedback from old fans. A live action movie was released in October 2022. Also, Monster High, an animated series on Nickelodeon releases new episodes every couple of weeks.
The g3 dolls reflect a push for diversity with the varying body types, sexualities, gender identities, disabilities, and ethnicities. Frankie uses a prosthetic leg, identifies as nonbinary, and is in a sapphic relationship. Most of the characters are biracial, such as the character Clawdeen Wolf who is Afro-Latina. The design of the dolls is a different aesthetic. They are more neon and colorful, which is vastly different than the previous generations. The quality is better than generation two and some generation one dolls. The g3 dolls appear to have higher quality hair fibers with 2023 releases.
In October, Monster High collaborated with the late Virgil Abloh’s high fashion brand, Off-White, and released a doll on Friday the 13th. This collaboration allowed Monster High to be taken more seriously as a doll brand. However, controversy ensued due to the four dolls being priced at $150 a piece. Many fans felt it appeared the brand was solely focused on a small majority of collectors who belong to a higher tax bracket.
Despite Monster High’s hiccups in sales over the years and recent controversies, it is continuing to see immense success following the most recent reboot and is generally well-liked by the fans. At Power-Con, Garrett talked about his interest in returning to the brand soon. With a promising future ahead, there is still more to be written in Monster High’s story, as a host of dolls have yet to be launched.
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