The Monster High Thing
Let's get one thing straight right up front. Mattel is a business. They create and market products in the interest of making money, not pleasing fans. All those little details they inject into the Monster High dolls that make them so unique are there just as much to keep fans hooked as they are to make a top product. Mattel is not a charity organization. They only create the dolls "for" us insomuch as they know who we are as a demographic, not because they can see into our souls and "get" us and therefore feel the need to valiantly fulfill our needs for dolls that are different. We MH fans have been incredibly lucky to get as much from the MH doll line as we have. I'm talking about all the different head molds, the vast array of shoes, the ever-growing number of new and unique characters. Mattel would never continue to go to such lengths if the line wasn't making a lot of money. The fact that MH was built around a "be yourself" ethos is laudable, and a lot of fans say that was what initially hooked them. Mattel pumped a lot of money into the development, manufacture, and marketing of Monster High from the very beginning, but they do that with most of their new lines. There was never any guarantee MH would take off. I'm sure Mattel recognized the intelligence of the idea behind the line, modernizing classic monsters for a new audience, along the way telling us to accept ourselves and others. But I doubt that was the major selling point of the line for the executives. I imagine the dolls themselves, their body molds and functionality, is what got them excited. The monster thing was just window dressing. If you connect strongly to a Monster High doll it's by happenstance. Mattel just scored one because they have another fan who will now buy their product. With Ever After High it seems Mattel is ready to take the MH-style doll body and apply it to something entirely new, something many MH fans may not like...
The Princess Thing
About ten years or so ago when Disney decided to all out brand and market their princesses as an entity unto itself they hit pay dirt. Turns out there's a pretty big market for princesses and fantasy and fairy tales! If I'm not mistaken the Disney Princess line and all it entails (not just dolls but everything from toy shopping carts to party decor), earns upwards of a billion dollars a year. Yowzers! It's no wonder the toys aisles are littered with princess dolls and fairy tale cosplay by any number of different companies. The problem many have with this is, number one, it can come across as indoctrination of young girls and stifling to one's developing imagination. Number two, the products in general (including those of Disney), can seem a bit, well... crappy. If you're going to try to sell me a doll in a sparkly dress and princess tiara can't you at least make it a quality product? Of course, I'm not the target audience so maybe my opinion is void. But if I had a child I would be asking that question just the same, and I would certainly try pointing her or him in the direction of Monster High rather than the princess stuff. But what if a company came along that took fairy tale mythology seriously, really gave it some thought, and delivered a product that offered quality and intelligence? Even if it was only intelligent as perceived by you, wouldn't that be worth investing some of your interest? And despite the fact that a new doll line is just a business decision for Mattel, does that necessarily negate the positivity of it as a unique entity that appeals to collectors like us? Chew on that a bit...
Morality and the Power of Fairy Tales
Fairy tales have existed for thousands of years. First as an oral tradition passed down through generations, then as short stories published in book form. (Give it up for the printing press, y'all!) At their core, fairy tales are simple stories. They deal in hard morality, good versus evil, with no grey area to be found. They are broad tales told with shades of heavy metaphor and loaded with symbolic meaning. In the beginning they were also quite dark, but over time they have been softened by parents who coddle their children and companies that know "dark" doesn't sell. If you read The Sequel you won't be surprised to learn that I love fairy tales. Or at least, I love them in the early published forms we have of them, when the darkness was still there and their symbolic power wasn't neutered by modernized happy endings. We first read or are told fairy tales as very young children. The things we experience in childhood shape us, affect us, influence us, in profound ways. We tend to carry these things into adulthood, either consciously or subconsciously. It's for this reason that fairy tales are so potent. They become a part of us, something we internalize. Ultimately, they inform the way we see the world. It's why many feminists react so negatively to the passive females in so many of these stories. It's why Disney always treads a thin line when retelling a fairy tale in one of their movies. It's why some women have dreams of unrealistic romance, and many men feel a need to "play the hero" in life. It's why people of all stripes have such strong reactions when fairy tales are modernized (for better or for worse). Fairy tales feel like a part of ourselves, and we don't like it when someone messes with them.
Ever After High and Postmodern Retellings
Ever After High more or less follows the postmodern approach to storytelling that Monster High does. Only this time, the characters are daughters and sons of classic fairy tale characters rather than monsters. Mattel is playing fast and loose with the idea of what a fairy tale actually is, inserting storybook characters into a fairy tale world. Our two main characters come from the Snow White tale, but some of the others represent comparatively modern storybooks, such as Alice in Wonderland. I feel this is a fair approach since the more modern stories are still rooted in fantasy, and it gives us a wider array of characters to enjoy. (Plus, I just really love Alice in Wonderland!) The same type of knowing humor that permeates Monster High runs rampant through the first few episodes of Ever After High. Aside from the plot we're watching unfold among the primary characters, there are also many throwaway background gags that touch on so many different classic stories that it's hard to keep up!
Fairy tales have been given a postmodern spin many times already over the last few years (examples are aplenty). But none that were directly aimed at a younger audience, and for the purpose of selling dolls, have the youthful wit and panache that Ever After High does. The approach Mattel seems to be taking is to frame the story as a classic good vs. evil tale, this time presented as "royal or rebel". Fascinatingly, the characters on both sides seem to possess both good and bad traits. (Hello there, shades of grey!) They're also more or less friends. They may have different goals and opposing motivations but they get along well (so far).
The world of Ever After is set in a high school, with the intended purpose of leading our characters into their predetermined fates, aka their destiny. As the children of classic fairy tale characters it's their duty to fulfill the roles of their parents. To not do so would be to cease to exist, as if they have been written out of their story, and therefore their life. At least, that's what seems to be implied. Ever After High deals heavily with identity and questioning one's purpose, albeit in a playful, kid-friendly way. There are hints that certain characters have a particularly vested interest in continuing fairy tale traditions for nefarious purposes. There are some interesting dark undercurrents running throughout the first few EAH episodes. The overall setup of the storyline and many of the thematic elements have a strong duality to them, and I have a feeling this will come through in the characters as the story continues.
Ever After High has been built around four main characters, two of whom are "Royals", and two who are "Rebels". All four are the brethren of a classic storybook or fairy tale character. There are several other characters that can't be considered leads, but seem likely to gain prominence if the line takes off. These include Blondie Lockes (Goldilocks), Ashlynn Ella (Cinderella), Cerise Hood (Little Red Riding Hood), Cedar Wood (Pinocchio), and Daring and Dexter Charming (sons of Prince Charming). There are also several detailed backgrounders who may also become later dolls. They correlate with the Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts, and Little Bo Peep. But let's talk about our main characters...
With her blonde hair and red-hued dress, Apple looks like a Gala brought to life.
As one of two leads, and a devoted royal, Apple is determined to live her destiny. She's energetic, upbeat, a bit pushy, and high-strung. She can come across as entitled, but given the established reality of the world she's in, it's understandable. Speaking in broad terms, I'd say she's the "Cleo" of Ever After High. It's hard to say exactly where the story will go, but based on her interaction with Headmaster Grimm at the end of her episode, I think Apple has the potential to become the most interesting, multifaceted character of the show.
Apple's magic power is that when she sings, boys and animals flock to her rescue. Gotta love the knowing wink Mattel is throwing at us with that one! In her Mirror blog, Apple makes it clear she and Daring are not "an item" at all -- she's her own person and Daring is part of her destiny anyway so why worry about dating now? She's also careful to point out that her beauty is not just skin deep -- and I believe her. Apple is by far my favorite character so far. I hope Mattel follows through on all the promise she holds!
Gothic lace and punk purple inform Raven's look. And check out that feathered collar!
Raven is our other lead, and a rebel in that she's not entirely sure she wants to fulfill her destiny. She's the daughter of the Evil Queen, but Raven's not evil at all. She is thoughtful and somewhat pessimistic, understandable given her situation. Her magic power is casting spells, but since she's destined to be evil she can only cast black magic spells. In her Mirror blog, Raven says she's not a damsel in distress. That may be true -- I certainly don't think she needs or wants to be "saved" -- but I'd say the poor girl is pretty distressed!
At first glance Raven may seem like a multi-dimensional character, but to me she's very much the "straight man", the level-headed, calm person among a sea of craziness. A grounding force is necessary in any good story, and that's what Raven is. I like Raven a lot. She's smart, with the kind of dry wit I'm such a sucker for. She's also relatable. I just feel, as a character, I've seen her story a million times. I feel like I know exactly what her arc will be, while with Apple it's hard to say at all.
Too much pink! Nice shades, though. And her face is gorgeous!
Our other lead royal is the daughter of Sleeping Beauty. It's her destiny to sleep for a hundred years before waking, and she knows it. Therefore, Briar is a bit of a party girl! She knows she's working with limited time and wants to get the most out of life while she can! Briar is fierce, fun, vivacious, and lively.
Briar's magic power is that she can hear for miles, but only when she's asleep. I like this aspect of her a lot. Remember, Sleeping Beauty is seen as perhaps the most passive of all fairy tale princesses. She's asleep through most of her own story! By giving Briar the ability to hear for miles in her sleep, it helps give her a more active role in the story. It's really clever when you think about it. (Ironically enough, Sleeping Beauty is not just my favorite Disney film, but one of my all-time favorite films, period. But I chalk a lot of it up to the stunning artwork of Eyvind Earle and Mary Blair that informs the visual tone of the film. And how can you not love the scene of Aurora singing operatically as she wanders through the calm, relaxing forest, her gorgeous voice echoing through the hills? So soothing. And, of course, Maleficent -- Disney's best ever villain, easily!) Anyway, back on topic, the only thing I don't like about Briar is her color palette -- pink, pink, pink! Hopefully she eventually gets a doll that scales back on the pink. I do love her big, ornate sunglasses, though.
The hair! The gloves! The dress! Consider me a fan!
Now we're talking! Rebellious Maddie is the daughter of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland! That's really all I need to know! I love me some AIW, and I'm all about the zany Mad Hatter. So. Much. Fun. Maddie takes after her father -- she's frantic, happy, distractible, and maybe a bit mad. She wears a teacup-shaped fascinator from which she can pull just about anything, including an entire impromptu teatime setup. (My kinda gal!)
As far as character designs go, Maddie is by far my favorite. She has a beautiful head of curls in streaked teal and purple, a multi-layered skirt tied with a large bow, and turquoise, polka-dotted gloves and matching tights. She's a burst of colorful action in an already colorful, action-filled world! Love her!
Two low quality pics have leaked of Apple White and Raven Queen. Some are questioning their authenticity, but they look awfully detailed to be fakes, especially since whoever would have made them surely would've claimed their excellent work by now. In any case, not much is actually known about the dolls. Based on the website and the episodes, it looks like a four doll launch will take place, and it looks set to happen next month! The packaging looks like a book, with a spine running down the left side. It looks like a charm will be included with each doll, themed to either rebel or royal, depending on the character. One disconcerting thing about these pics is that it looks as though Raven and Apple (and presumably the other dolls, as well), will have the same facemold. Maybe we've been spoiled by MH but using the same facemold is a bit disappointing. Then again, a lot can be done with paint! As for the bodies, they look to me to function just like the MH bodies do. Considering the entire setup of EAH, from the style of the website, to the humor of the webisodes, to the fact that these are the brethren of already iconic characters, is so similar to MH, I'd be shocked if the doll's bodies are different. We shall see.
Some are saying Ever After High will mark the end of Monster High. I don't see that happening. I do see EAH doing well, though. The fairy tale princess thing is hot right now, and by following MH's lead, Mattel seems to be delivering a fresh approach to the genre. Based on the webisodes EAH seems fun yet dramatic, with a serialized story and a fully planned arc. It's still so early it's hard to say exactly what will happen, but I'm liking what I'm seeing so far, and if things continue to excite me about this line they will be covered on Voicething. Am I a Royal or a Rebel? For the time being, I'm a little of both. But Apple sure does intrigue me...
Official site including the webisodes is here.
A wonderful fansite has already taken off on Facebook. Highly recommended!