Saturday, September 1, 2012

Deconstructing Monster High Part 2: Nuts (and Bolts) About Dolls

I'm pretty sure my computer hates me. After spending a good portion of the morning taking pictures for this post my computer decided this would be the perfect time to not read my camera. It took about an hour but I was able to get the problem sorted out. The relationship is strained, but my computer and I are still on speaking terms. Onward we go...

In part 1 of this series I looked at the creation of Monster High and it's rise in popularity. It probably doesn't cover much you didn't already know, but you've gotta start somewhere and, to me anyway, the quick ascent in popularity the dolls took is pretty fascinating. Today I'm gonna take a look at the actual dolls themselves --  their functionality and their unique features. The nuts and bolts I guess you could say.

Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!

I should immediately get one thing out of the way: I don't collect male dolls. In fact, I don't think I own any male dolls at all; they're just not my thing. I can't say much on them other than that I know the MH guys are a bit taller than the females. So I will be focusing exclusively on the ladies today.

The female dolls all have the same basic body. They stand about 10" tall and weigh a little less than a pound, give or take. As a doll collector I have to admit I was pretty surprised at just how light the doll was the first time I held one. She felt extremely fragile; I was actually worried I might break her in half if I tried to change her clothes! I needn't have worried - the dolls are lightweight, but also very durable. The materials used to make the dolls are light but sturdy. The torso, arms, and legs are made of a hard plastic. The hands and head are made of a much more pliable vinyl. Every doll has rooted hair, usually made of either a lightweight saran or kanekalon fiber.

Lagoona is infamous for her... problematic hair. But we love her anyway.

The other thing that really struck me when I held that first doll was just how thin her arms and legs were. She was downright gangly, almost awkwardly so. And the last thing that struck me about the body was the severe curve of the back. Without a doubt these dolls have a very unique figure.

But what's interesting is that even though their bodies look a bit odd, when clothed and posed these dolls are extremely expressive, and most of the poses are very lifelike, albeit stylized. I think this is one of the biggest factors in the appeal of the dolls -- they're extremely posable.

"Are you calling me a poser? Oh, you meant it in the good way? Cool."

The shoulders, elbows, wrists and knees work on a joint pivot system. This means you can twist and turn those joints any which way you please. There is a block on the front of the knee, where a little wedge stops the lower leg from swinging into an awkward forward position (except for Robecca, a robot). There's also a small wedge at the elbow for the same purpose. The first dolls used a piece of elastic to string the legs together but recently that has been replaced by a sturdier plastic pivot joint. The plastic joint also allows for a wider range of movement in the legs. In contrast to the dolls limbs, head movement is pretty limited on these dolls. Although the head works on a ball joint the dolls can't look downward when the head faces forward. They can, however, tilt their head from left to right, and they can also look directly to their left and right. When the head is turned in either direction they can look downward.

The dolls do not have a joint at the waist or ankles. Their feet have a severe arch and their big toe sticks out a bit from the others -- that toe works as an anchor to hold their shoes in place. The lower arms and hands of the dolls can be completely removed. They're made this way so that you can easily change the dolls clothes, but this function gives the dolls a bit of an interactive action toy feel. This further separates MH from other fashion doll lines. When you remove the limbs to change the doll's clothes you feel like you're rebuilding the doll yourself. It's similar to how one pieces together a model airplane or car, but without the glue. These are the basic functions of the female MH body. But MH has upped the ante on these dolls by adding unique, creative body modifications to certain dolls. Most of the mods were simple -- Frankie Stein, daughter of Dr. Frankenstein, has bolts in her neck and stitches painted onto her body. Clawdeen Wolf, a werewolf girl, has wolf ears molded onto the top of her head, rather than human ears on the sides. All the dolls have different skin colors. Frankie is light green, Ghoulia, a zombie, is grey. Draculaura (do I really need to tell you who her father is?) has pink skin, while Lagoona is light blue. In the first wave of dolls, Lagoona had the most modifications. Being a sea monster, she has small translucent fins on her forearms, and larger, removable fins on each of her legs. The leg fins are removable so you can change her clothes, then put them back in. The sockets for the fins are simple, but in my experience they stay in place very well.

As more character dolls have been introduced, more unique body mods have been utilized, to the point that it now seems every new character doll has to have a unique, signifying body feature. Abbey Bominable, based on the Yeti, has gigantic hands and a textured sparkle over her entire body and head, giving her a frosty, cold look. Spectra Vondergeist, a ghost girl, has a pure white body and face, but her lower limbs fade to clear plastic, giving her the appearance of a ghostly apparition.

Ghost legs...

These modifications were successful, and Mattel took it a step further with their next doll, Operetta. Based on the Phantom of the Opera, Operetta has stylized scarring molded into the left side of her face. The scarring cascades down onto her shoulder blade and left arm. Her left arm also has a detailed red and black, cascading musical notes tattoo.

Scars and tats for Operetta

Toralei Stripe, a werecat, has tiger-like stripes running down her left leg and right arm. She also has a long, posable tail, and a dark orange spot on the left side of her face.

C.A. Cupid has a white face and body, but her lower limbs turn to jet black with white lace detailing. Most recently, Mattel debuted Robecca Steam, a steampunk robot whose entire body is molded to look like pieces of copper riveted together. She even has rivets surrounding her face and ears.

One of the most surprising things about the dolls is that, with one exception (Cupid), they all have completely different face molds. I really have to applaud Mattel for this, as it would've been considerably easier, not to mention cheaper, to just use a revolving set of 3 or 4 basic head molds for all the dolls, and just paint them differently for each character. This makes each and every doll feel unique, and like you've truly got something special since she's not like any of the other dolls. Another signifying feature is hand molds. It's a small detail, but the different hands add a lot of personality to the dolls. Lagoona has webbed fingers, Abbey has giant Yeti hands, Spectra's hands are clear. The shape of the hands add a lot as well. I think my favorites are Lagoona's "hang ten" hand mold and the witch CAM's "a-okay" finger mold.

A show of hands.

A discussion of MH bodies isn't complete without going into the Create-A-Monster playsets. These were created to give kids (and collectors) a chance to create their "own" MH doll. The sets include two completely disassembled dolls. You put the doll together yourself, slide her wig on, and voila! New doll! The starter sets were augmented by add-on packs, which add further customization possibilities. All the sets include an outfit (some better than others), and once again, completely new head molds for each CAM doll.

One of the most interesting developments in the MH world has been the introduction of new character dolls who are a different size from the standard dolls. The first was Nefera De Nile, older sister of Cleo. Although her body functions the same as the standard dolls, she is considerably taller, and her faceup has a more mature look.

The sisters De Nile.

Another new body size was introduced with Howleen Wolf, Clawdeen's younger sister. She also has the same basic body, but is shorter and has a younger looking face. Next year Mattel will be releasing a doll of Headless Headmistress Bloodgood, the superintendent of Monster High. Her prototype was unveiled at this year's San Diego Comic Con, and although it's hard to tell from pictures, it looks as though in addition to being taller than the standard dolls, her body will also function a bit differently.

Photo: Mattel

We'll also be getting Skelita Calaveras, a skeleton girl based on Dia de los Muertos, who looks to be a more complete version of the skeleton Create-A-Monster add-on. There's also Jinafire Long, a Chinese dragon girl with scaly limbs and a dragon tail. So it seems the uniqueness of the MH dolls will be continuing for the foreseeable future, and why wouldn't it? The dolls are doing great and the designs continue to inspire. I can't wait to see where MH will go next.

Jinafire and Skelita. Photo: Mattel

I know I said I was going to cover facial screening in this part, but the post was getting too long and I have a lot I want to say about the topic, so expect to see it in a later part.

Moving on, I'm really excited about part 3! I'm going to be looking at the fashion of MH, one of my favorite things about these dolls! Expect some rambling on the shoes alone (they're amazing). Til next time!

Photos by yours truly unless otherwise noted


  1. Your reveiws are very good; concise, well written and funny :)
    Can't wait to see more!

  2. Man I can't wait to have Skelita. Seriously.

    1. Same here. I'm also really looking forward to the next Rochelle. She looks beautiful.