Friday, August 31, 2012

Deconstructing Monster High Part 1: The Beginning & The Explosion

I doubt Monster High needs much introduction. Since the dolls, created and manufactured by Mattel, were launched in summer 2010 they have only continued to grow in popularity. In the world of playline dolls they are truly a juggernaut; sales are through the roof and demand has never been higher. It's safe to say they are the most popular doll line to emerge in recent years, by far. But let's take a few steps back.

When the line was first announced many were intrigued. The idea of a line of fashion dolls based on classic monsters, marketed towards girls, seemed novel at best, risky at worst. Would they succeed? The dolls hit store shelves and the answer was a resounding "YES!" They immediately found a following among the girls they were directly aimed at. Score, Mattel! Undoubtedly the success was helped by a series of short webisodes that were released through an official Monster High YouTube account and on the official Monster High website. I'll go further into the web series in part 4 of this series. The brand was further augmented by a series of YA novels by Lisi Harrison that continue to be published regularly. Garrett Sander is credited with creating the doll line, and he continues to work as Design Manager for the dolls and brand.

The initial doll line featured five female characters and one male. Four of the females - Clawdeen Wolf, Lagoona Blue, Frankie Stein, and Draculaura - were sold seperately. A combo pack featuring Cleo DeNile and Deuce Gorgon were sold together. Two more characters - Ghoulia Yelps and Holt Hyde - would be released shortly after. The six girls are the "core group" of Monster High, although there have been multiple new character dolls released at regular intervals since, each based on a different monster. Each doll comes with a pet, comb, stand, and diary. The diary's go a long way in establishing the world of Monster High, especially for those who haven't seen the webisodes. A bio on the back of each doll's box sets up the "personality" of the character. There are also multiple versions of each character, released in themed lines. I'll go further into those in a later part.

The dolls initially drew a bit of controversy over their impossibly thin figures. There was also some consternation for having one of the characters (Clawdeen, a werewolf), in her bio, complain about having to shave. But these controversies were fairly minor and have largely been forgotten. Much of that is likely due to the dolls themselves; it seems people can't help but be charmed by them. As word on these unique new dolls spread, others couldn't help but be won over by them. The dolls started growing in popularity among adult collectors, to the point that they are now arguably the most collectible playline dolls on the market. They're not just popular in the US, Monster High has officially gone worldwide. And then the impossible: they started to crossover into action figure collections. That's straight guy territory. Granted, these guys call them "figures" rather than dolls. But seeing a straight guy argue the strengths of a blue-haired zombie girl over a gold-clad werewolf vixen is a sight to behold. It's encouraging, actually, as maybe this will help blur the lines between what even constitutes a "girl toy" and a "boy toy". This crossing over has also given the Monster High brand a legitimacy you simply don't see in playline dolls. It's okay to collect these dolls; they're "cool".

Of course, having everyone in your corner, from the kids to the parents to the collectors to the guys, means demand is truly through the roof. When a new character doll starts hitting store shelves, count on at least a month or two before you'll actually be able to get your hands on it (unless you're incredibly lucky, but it's rare). Compounding the problem are scalpers -- people who devote their time to scouring the stores, snapping up all the dolls on the shelf, then selling them on eBay for up to four times their retail value. Scalpers are a real headache for collectors and parents alike, and unfortunately, because demand is so high there are people willing to pay these inflated prices. Support groups of sorts have been set up among the online MH community to combat scalpers. They give each other a heads up when specific dolls become available in certain territories, they buy multiples of dolls they find in stores to sell to fellow collector's at the fair retail price, and more. It's a great community!

One last thing I'd like to touch on in part 1 is store exclusives. That is, dolls that are only available to buy at certain stores (Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, K Mart, Kohl's, etc). Mattel started this practice last year with a couple of dolls, but in 2012 there are no less than eight different store exclusives for certain dolls and playsets. Given how hard it can be to get the regular wide release products, these exclusives once again compound the problem of scalpers. Many fans are hoping 2013 sees Mattel scale back a little on the amount of exclusives, but it's not looking likely.

Whew! Okay, for part 2 I'm going to be looking at the dolls themselves -- their design influences, their functionality, the art of facial screening, and more. I'm hoping you'll check it out -- it's gonna be fun! Til next time!

All images: Mattel

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