I am becoming alarmingly obsessed with Mattel’s Monster High series, although unemployment has prohibited me from purchasing them with anything like my usual recklessness. While a tally of the hours I’ve spent studying Monster High photos would be startling, I just today purchased my first ever Monster High doll: Ghoulia Yelps, from the “Skull Shores” series of beach-themed variants.
Since Ghoulia will also be my last Monster High purchase for the foreseeable future, I have decided to get my money’s worth by making Ms. Yelps the subject of a guest review here at Poe Ghostal’s Points of Articulation. Perhaps others will find these strange, misshapen lasses as compelling as I do.
Packaging: The base of the box is a matte black, and consequently Monster High dolls really pop against the backdrop of all that pink in the “girl aisle.” The dark spider webs and green chains and zipper patterns compete with the colorful “MH” logo and a cute, cartoony skull, plus a full “Monster High” logo in stark, red letters in a sort of heavy metal font, the Skull Shores logo and a charming illustration of Ghoulia. The overall result should be impenetrably busy but in fact it is clean and satisfying.
Having said all that, there is a discouraging lack of text on the back of the box—just the tagline “Be Yourself. Be Unique. Be A Monster,” and the intriguing caption “I am exhilarated by the potential for discovery here.”
Sculpt: With the exception of a stray attachment here or an unexpected bit of texture there, all female dolls in the Monster High series share the same sculpt. Characters and their variants are distinguished by their hairstyles, their clothes, and the manner in which they are painted.
Here, then, is a quick study of that ubiquitous sculpt: Long, willowy limbs protrude with an almost Jack Skellington-esque lankiness from a malnourished-looking torso topped with a comically bulbous head—the head’s width is nearly double that of the doll’s waist, while the neck that supports it is only marginally thicker than the bo staff accessory from any given Donatello Ninja Turtle toy.
If nothing else, their essentially nonexistent breasts help differentiate Monster High dolls from my (possibly outdated) conception of a typical girl’s doll, although the anxious feminist in me remains concerned the “Be Yourself” and “Be Unique” are hollow, cynical motivational slogans when all the dolls that reside beneath these stirring phrases are uniformly pretty and far thinner than any other doll available at retail.
Somehow, despite their impossibly waif-like bodies and their skimpy clothes, the Monster High dolls maintain a curious innocence. They are ostensibly edgy, and it is arguable that it was risky for The House That Barbie Built to create a series of monstrous (if paradoxically and traditionally “pretty”) dolls, but more than anything, the wee things strike me as…well, quaint.
Take Ghoulia’s head, for example. Her eyebrows are arched just high enough to convey a hint of contrarian, “Oh really?” attitude, but the effect is playful, not mean-spirited. Also, her glasses and her bangs combine to lend her the flavor of a rockabilly enthusiast. How cute is that? It is the sculpt that intrigued me when I first discovered fan photos of Monster High dolls on Flickr, and I like it more every time I look at it.
Articulation: Where articulation is concerned, Monster High dolls are far superior to the average Barbie. However, they are not perfect. The head utilizes a ball-joint atop the neck, offering a decent but hardly an inspired range of motion. There are also ball-joint elbows, wrists, knees and hips; like the head, the hips have what strikes me as a needlessly limited range of motion. There are no thigh cuts—to which I respond with a hearty “Huzzah!” because I detest thigh cuts—and no ankle articulation, which is disappointing but nowhere near as maddening as the pre-posed feet, molded in a permanent tip toes stance to accommodate what Daria once derisively called “come-and-get-it” pumps.
Ghoulia (and by extension every Monster High doll) can bust a pretty convincing “talk to the hand” pose; she can cover her eyes or express shame with a “facepalm” gesture; she can place her hands on her hips; she can clasp her hands together to mimic the scheming, triumphant “Excellent” pose of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons; she can strike a natural-looking stepping pose and even a very wide stepping pose (but good luck getting her to maintain such a pose unsupported; I managed, but not without difficulty).
Here, alas, are some things that Ghoulia cannot do: rest an ankle on the other leg’s knee; carry much of anything; look any higher than ever-so-slightly upwards; do the splits.
Clothing: Whenever I am tasked with describing women’s or doll’s clothing, I become as inarticulate as Cool, the young child in Ron Howard’s Parenthood, who describes his grandfather’s classic car as, “It’s good. Shiny.” Luckily, there is a glut of Monster High fan sites and reference sites that can describe Ghoulia’s clothing for me – if you’re interested, read the description at Monster High Collector.
A figure in swimwear was not my first choice, but the standard Ghoulia Yelps figure from Wave 1 commands outrageous prices on eBay, as do many other Monster High dolls.
Accessories: Monster High offers some of the most uninspired accessories I have ever seen. I have purchased dollar store toys with cooler gear than this.
The “tropical, brainy drink” is barely recognizable as such, not least because the brains are the same shade of red as the straw. Sadly, the drink is nonetheless the highlight of the accessories, and this despite the fact that she cannot even hold it; one is forced to simply place the cup on Ghoulia’s palm and then endeavor not to make any sudden movements.
There is also an adjustable plastic stand that supports the doll at the waist. The fit is tighter than I would prefer, and this is made worse by the fact that there is very little give to the clasp.
Next is a brush. The side with the bristles is hollow, which adds to the pervasive “cheap” vibe of the entire accessory allotment. The brush and stand are molded in the same green, and while I could not care less about the color of a doll’s brush, this distinctive shade of green on a stand can only be a distracting presence on one’s display shelf.
Finally, there is a card. One side offers a map of the Skull Shores island, though there is no writing on the map at all. The other side features a reproduction of the Ghoulia Yelps illustration that adorns the back of the box. The cardstock is marginally thicker and firmer than one might expect, but not sturdy enough to avoid warping in the package. And really, this is one instance where flimsier material might have been better. After all, one side of this accessory is supposed to be a map—why not print it on paper?
Ghoulia also has a number of accessories that are attached to her when you free her from the box. Her glasses utilize clear elastic bands to stay firmly affixed to her head, and because I like them so much—and because I am still traditionally masculine enough to have no idea how to fix a doll’s hair once it’s mussed—I never bothered to remove them. As for the “hair clip modeled after her favorite snack, Brain Puffs,” I can only say that it is just as softly and unattractively sculpted as the brain drink. The earrings are not removable, which is a shame, as they are cheap enough in appearance to detract from the eyes, lips and hair.
I nearly forgot the “dripping blood bracelet,” which resembles an indistinct blob more than a splash of dripping blood. Interestingly, it also quite closely resembles the loose bit of plastic shirt sleeve Hasbro produced to obscure the joint where the forearm or tentacle attaches to the elbow on last year’s divisive Zombie Viper figure.
Value: The price ranges of these dolls don’t make a lick of goddamn sense. From what I can tell, no Monster High doll includes more accessories than any other, and yet the retail costs for single dolls range from $13 to $24. I settled on Skull Shores Ghoulia Yelps largely because she costs $12.97 at Wal-Mart and I have no job. Other single-pack dolls at Wal-Mart cost nearly double that amount, and while their boxes are larger, they do not appear to include more accessories, and when one considers the quality of Monster High accessories, an increased accessory allotment would hardly justify a higher price. I am hopelessly baffled.
With accessories this cheap and ugly, no Monster High doll is worth $24, let alone the hundreds of dollars some of them sell for on eBay. But at $12.97, in an era when a small Star Wars or G.I. Joe figure costs $10 and a He-Man toy costs $30 or more, Ghoulia Yelps is a swell bargain.
Conclusion: After weeks of scrutinizing them on Flickr and in stores, I am still not certain that I want my eight-year-old daughter playing with Monster High dolls; I worry that they might subtly suggest to her that one is only worthy (or even merely acceptable) if one is pretty.
How to account, then, for my desire to add several more Monster High dolls to my collection? Is it simple hypocrisy? I cannot say for certain. All I know is that Ghoulia Yelps is fun—if also frustrating—to pose, and her design is cute and sweet with just a hint of playful menace, and she is incredibly photogenic.
Are silly goth trappings and monster puns and limp admonishments to “Be Unique” enough to make Monster High dolls more palatable than Bratz? Or even Barbies? On a sociopolitical level, I have my doubts. For my own purposes, I am less cynical; I do not know whether these dolls are suitable for young girls, but I recommend them without reservation to my fellow photographers.
And for all the limits imposed by the beach theme, you could do much worse than to start with Skull Shores Ghoulia Yelps.
Where to Buy: