By: Adrian Duah-Mensah
Remember when we were kids, and we all had that show we loved to watch? Those toys we used to play with? While kids these days can enjoy “LOL Surprise! OMG” dolls and TV Show action figures, I can still remember the days like yesterday when I played those “Ever After High” games on the computer and role-played with Transformers and dinosaur toys. I would play with miscellaneous toys and pretend like they were on Survivor. But, do you know the best nostalgic adventures I had with my toys? The role-playing games I would play with my Bratz and Monster High dolls. It seems like just yesterday I would have Clawdeen and Cloe duke it out about who was the better doll, as they would go on adventures through the city, only to make my PB&J and crackers and watch the Bratz Passion 4 Fashion Diamondz movie two hours later. Heck, I even had the complete Bratz movie collection, along with two Bratz Babies DVDs. On the other hand, I would always tune in to the Monster High TV show, and asked my dad to buy three Monster High movies. Anytime there was a long car ride, I would pop in a Monster High or Bratz movie, and get my fright on or see my girls with the passion for fashion.
Now I was never a huge Barbie person, but at times I would see the Barbie specials playing and tune in. I also watched clips of the series of YouTube, and, as ashamed as I was to admit it, I loved it. I would have stints of binge-watching 5-7 minute miniseries for about an hour. My point in saying all of this is that, like a lot of kids, these three TV shows and toy lines were instrumental to my childhood. And there were multiple times where I thought, “Hm, which of these three dolls are the best?” Well, look no further, as today I’m here to give you monsters a look at which brand was the best!
So, in order for me to fully immerse myself into these three universes, I had to look at the material again. I started with Monster High, as it was the one I remembered the 2nd best. So, what exactly is Monster High? Well, released in July 2010, Monster High is a toy doll company made by Mattel, with the dolls being the teenage descendants of the world’s most famous monsters. The first line of toys were the basic six, with all but Abbey, one of the main characters, in the line. Mattel would then later come out with multiple other lines, like School’s Out and Dawn of the Dance. These dolls would get increasingly more popular, with store-exclusive dolls being released in 2011. The dolls have five different categories: preadolescent, adolescent female, two types of adolescent male, and adult. Today, there are over ninety collections of the dolls, including Gloom Beach, Zombie Shake, and Boo York, Boo York. There are also six fashion packs, and many assortments.
The first webisode was released on May 5th, 2010, with the characters navigating their way through high school and making friends, enemies, and even frenemies along the way. The show and the dolls mostly revolved around the Ghoulfriends: Abbey Bominable, the daughter of the Yeti; Clawdeen Wolf, the daughter of a werewolf; Cleo de Nile, the daughter of a mummy; Draculara, the daughter of Dracula; Frankie Stein, the daughter of Frankenstein’s monster; Ghoulia Yelps, the daughter of a zombie; and Lagoona Blue, the daughter of a sea monster. Other students in the Monster High school included Deuce Gorgon, Catty Noir, Gill Webber, and Hoodude Voodoo. The Ghoulfriends also have little siblings, like Alivia Stein, Ebbie Blue, Kelpie Blue and Fangelica VanBat, Draculara’s adopted younger sister. And, there’s also lore, like the fact that Neighton and Kieran Valentine are part of the LGBTQ+ community (although fans love to speculate Clawdeen is as well).
So, in my research of the ever-growing Monster High universe, I watched from Volume 1 up to Volume 5. This only seemed fair, since as far as I can remember, I started watching Monster High in Volume 5. Starting in the first three episodes, it’s already clear Cleo is like the enemy of the group. The Raquelle of the group, if you will, except the group seems to accept her. I was only about 6 episodes in and Clawdeen, Draculara, and Lagoona were my favorite characters, although Frankie Stein was a close fourth. It was also by the sixth episode where I re-memorized the theme song. At this point, in Volume 1, it didn’t look like Abbey was in the Ghoulfriends group. The show reminded me of how Bratz and Barbies miniseries were set up, although these had a different feel. These felt a little more comical and the friend group felt a little more or less close than the Bratz group. In Volume 1, the episodes were mostly faced on romance, school photos, talent shows, getting called to the principal’s office, and other miscellaneous high school adventures.
In Volume 2, released in 2011, the episodes had gotten about a minute or two longer (1:47 to 3:31) and the theme song had changed. The episodes were more continuous than the previous volumes, yet they still kept their themes of teenage monsters navigating through high school. In this volume, my love for Cleo increased exponentially, but I still loved Clawdeen, Draculara, and Lagoona the most. The episodes mostly revolved around the fearleading arc, among a few other love arcs. I recognized that it was through multiple clips in this volume that fans started to speculate that Clawdeen was in the LGBTQ+ community, and had a crush on Draculaura, due to the fact that she seemed to have a massive problem with her and her brother, Clawd, dating each other. It was also in this volume where more antagonists came out, and the group seemed much more accepting of Cleo. Later in this volume, Abbey was introduced. I think this was my favorite volume of Monster High. My favorite episodes were “Phantom of the Opry” and “The Bermuda Love Triangle”.
Volume 3 came, and the episodes were a minute shorter now, in addition to the continuity being slightly less consistent than last volume. This allowed for about 20 more episodes. Clip shows were also added in this volume, adding continuity. Abbey was featured a lot more in this volume, although some debate whether or not she was truly part of the main cast. It seemed as though everyone had solidified their roles in the gang, Opereta had been in more episodes in this volume. “Playing the Boos” was my favorite episode, with the typical bad boy trope in play, but also showcasing the school’s unique properties. I also enjoyed “Game of DeNile”, giving Abbey some character development, and showing Cleo off.
Finally, we have Volume 4, which debuted in 2014, with varying runtimes for the episodes, although most of them stayed around 2:30. The continuity was about the same as it was in Volume 3, with more one-off episodes, and more characters introduced, like Catty Noir, a monster superstar, and Gigi, a new student. I think one of my favorite arcs was Jane Boolittle. Her interaction with the animals and her introversion made her a favorite in my eyes. My favorite episodes were “Zombie Shake”, “Jungle Boo-gie” and “Creature Creepers Adventures Part 2”. Then I got to Volume 5, with a lot of new characters but not a lot of continuity. I should say, continuity doesn’t make a show, and I certainly think that the one-off episodes are a much better set-up, although it was fun to come back to a new episode that continued the story, and become excited for what was to come. But Volume 5 saw a new cast of wacky characters, and it sure was nice to see. My favorite episodes were “Sayonara Draculara” and “The Agony of D’Feet”. It also did follow the plot of exchange students and exchange programs, which was fun to see.
I actually found this just as enjoyable as I did when I watched it when I was a nine year old. I’m not sure if that says more about me or the content. The show’s attempts at humor got a few laughs out of me, and it brought a lot of nostalgia. It was actually pretty good by preteen to younger kid standards. I remembered most of the episodes I’d seen, and the situations were always diverse and interesting, making for fun episodes. It was dramatic, yet sort of comedic. Some of the jokes and references actually land better as a teenager, and the messages of being yourself and staying close with your friends are pretty great for kids my age when I watched this.
Next, we’re onto Barbie. Now, Barbie has a long, extensive history, from the debate of if she’ll ever reflect an “average look”, to the jobs she worked. But in short, Barbie was created in 1959 by Ruth Handler with Mattel. The doll was created to illustrate the fact that a woman has choices and girls can be anything they want to be. Throughout the years, Barbie has undergone many changes, from 1961 nursing gig, to her astronaut gig four years later, sun-loving 1970s Malibu debut, to the 1985 “Day and Night” Barbie, where after hours in the office, she could have fun and relax at home. In all of these cases, Mattel was mostly fine, but the 90’s saw some controversy, with Teen Talk Barbie, which in an effort to relate to teen girls, fell flat with infamous phrases such as “Math class is tough!” and “I love shopping!”. Shortly after they removed said phrases, Mattel faced even more controversy with the Oreo Fun Barbie, where they released both black and white Barbies, facing outrage for the African-American community. As if that weren’t bad enough, Barbie then befriended “Share-a-Smile Becky”, who faced initial problems with people with accessibility issues. She was later discontinued even after a remodel. Then in the 2000s, she broke up with Ken. Later on in the 2010s, Barbie finally came out with three different body types: petite, curvy, and tall. She also came out with a variety of skin colors, hair styles, and eye colors. They came out with scientist Barbie, game developer Barbie, and president Barbie. In the present day, Barbie still remains one of the most popular dolls in the world.
But how does Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse fare? Well, that’s a whole separate story. Debuting on May 11th, 2012, Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse was created by Mattel and Arc Productions. With two TV specials on Nickelodeon, the show was also available on Netflix, Barbie.com, and YouTube. Now, again, I don’t have many memories of Barbie. I never felt much of a connection with them, so I never paid it any mind unless it was on. So, I watched up to episode sixty because if it isn’t glaringly obvious, I have a lot of free time. At least enough free time to binge watch Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse shortly after watching one hundred and nineteen 2-3 minute episodes of Monster High. But anyways, we start with Season 1, which to my knowledge, has about fourteen episodes and four shorter clips.
The Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse episodes were structured differently than both Bratz and Monster High. They were structured more like a reality TV show, with the iconic talking booth where an individual character discusses their innermost thoughts. It was more like a reality TV show starring Barbie’s friends and family. It was cheesy but fun. Shortly after Raquelle was introduced, she became my favorite character. She was a very good villain, and brought some interesting scenes; overall she was a great foil. Chelsea was also a cute little sister. My favorite episode from this season was “Oh So Campy” because it showed off all of the characters in a situation that’s unusual for them. With Barbie’s calm demeanor to Ken’s athleticism, this set makes for some iconic bits, and of course my favorite parts were Raquelle’s. She seemed very relatable, and it was fun to see scenes like her freaking out over a butterfly.
So season 2 started, and it was about the same continuity as it was last season. Something that I realized was the difference in villains. In Barbie, it didn’t really feel like Raquelle was a villain, unlike Torely and her were-cat gang in Monster High, and the villains in Bratz, but we’ll talk about them later. Season three, season four, and season five’s setups were mostly the same, with the dolls going on zany adventures through Malibu. Some of these episodes included the Super Style Squad two-parter, where the crew deals with fashion crises all over the world. Or the Endless Summer, where a new girl comes into town and shakes up Barbie’s world. I think along with these two episodes, Closet Clothes Out is also a favorite, as it was fun to see Barbie try on an endless amount of clothes. I think what sets this show apart from the other two is the fact that it doesn’t hide its product placement and references to the real Barbie. The clip shows are also fun to watch, and characters like Stacie being added make for an alluring new mix of crazy episodes with America’s favorite doll.
And finally, we have Bratz. Bratz has an interesting history. With the iconic almond-shaped eyes and those thick, glossy lips, Bratz was created in 2001, with four dolls— Yasmin, Cloe, Jade, and Sasha—being released for the buying. Made by MGA Entertainment, the girls with the passion for fashion had faced several controversies at first. In fact, MGA was actually in a legal dispute with Mattel over the rights for the doll. MGA won in 2011, and commemorated their tenth anniversary that year to boot. Four years later, and a new character was added by the name Raya. This line faced a lot of controversy from the Bratz community, but MGA ignored it and as a result, only two lines were produced. In 2018, the “Bratz Collector” collection was made, and sold exclusively to Amazon. But let’s go back a lot further. In 2002, after the success of the original line, a handful of spinoffs were created, such as Lil’ Bratz, a miniature version of the Bratz. Bratz Boyz, Bratz Kidz, the “kid” version of the teenage Bratz, released in 2007, Itsy Bitsy Bratz, Be-Bratz dolls, a customizable version of the Bratz, and Bratz Petz, created in 2004 but discontinued in 2006. Bratz was hit with some more controversy after it was discovered that the people who were making the dolls in China had been working 94.5 hours a week, but making less than a half a dollar per hour. Bratz has seen some attempts at diversity, with the additions of Felicia, Kiana, and Nevra. Technically, Roxxi can be included in this bunch as well, as in a 2020 Pride Month Instagram story, it was confirmed that she and Nevra were dating.
So, Bratz was much longer than the previous two shows we’ve looked through. Four episodes of the show were about as long as the movies. But, I suppose we can start with Bratz: Genie Magic. The plot is that Katie, a genie, lives in the desert with her father, who is cooking up a global warming scheme. After learning of this, Katia runs away and meets the Bratz. I saw the intro and instantly I felt a rush of nostalgia, with my Snackeez in the car while the rest of my family watched Jurassic Park. Looking back at this movie, I should’ve gone with Jurassic Park. This movie is pretty much diet Aladdin, except with themes of girl power and climate change. I had several laughs throughout the movie, both at the admittedly poor animation and the lines like “You have angry skills!” and “Face paint? I won’t allow it!” Despite this, the movie was actually sort of good? I mean, I enjoyed it, and I felt my time was well spent.
Next, we have Bratz: Fashion Pixiez. Essentially, Cloe, Yasmin, Jade and Sasha all follow Cymbeline for an explanation for her strange behavior. Since her 18th birthday, she’s been acting weird. But once they stumble upon a pair of magical glasses, everything changes. They are flown into the world of Pixiez, where a menagerie of magical creatures come to life, as good and evil battle to the death. This is probably the movie that made me go goth when I was ten. The message is pretty obvious: don’t judge a book by its cover, and growing up can be rough, but with great friends by your side, you can be spectacular. Or in this case, you could also become an emo pixie. I think out of all the Bratz movies I’ve watched, this one shows its messages the best, and there’s nothing wrong with a movie made for a younger audience. I suppose this movie shows its themes of friendship and not misjudging people simplistically, yet enjoyably. This is probably one of the best Bratz movies.
Then we have Bratz Babyz, and oh my goodness, Bratz Babyz. Right, so the basic plot is that the Bratz are headed off to a fun day at day-care with Nita and Nora, when Snappy, Nita’s puppy, tags along unbeknownst to anyone. Once Snappy jumps out of the bag, he tears through the mall when Duane, the mall bully, gets his hands on her. He demands fifty dollars as the crew tries to find a way to scrounge up the money, where they use their talents to get back what’s theirs. Now, I instantly had several questions as I watched this movie. Well, the obvious ones. These kids are day-care age! Where are their parents, especially after day-care? How are they allowed to enter a karaoke contest? Are babies’ voices even developed enough to produce a quality vocal entry, at least quality enough to outshine adults or even teenagers? How was a dog able to get into a three or four year olds bag? If that can happen, why aren’t the baby’s parents paying attention? Surely, a three or four year old’s backpack is not large enough to the point where it can comfortably hide a puppy for a ten to fifteen minute car ride? How come Nita can’t have her pet but the Bratz can have theirs just fine? And even ignoring all of that, Duane looks about fifteen to sixteen years old. At that age, you can make at least fifty dollars per week at your minimum wage restaurant job. Why does a teenager need fifty dollars from a bunch of babies? What kick do you get out of a bunch of babies stealing from mall property to pay you? I mean, it’s a Bratz movie, but at the same time, why? Now, there are some positives to this movie. The music is really catchy, and the animation is higher quality than most of the CGI Bratz films. And it was a very entertaining movie to watch, so good job.
Finally, we have Bratz:Passion 4 Forever Diamondz. The Bratz go on a trip across the country for the America Rocks Fashion Show, along the way making new friends, getting new styles, and bonding. To me, this is one of the most interesting Bratz plots. It’s like a reality TV show, but in movie form. And it sure satisfied ten year old me, as next to Fashion Pixiez, this was one of the superior Bratz films. The messages of not trusting everyone you meet, but still trusting your friends and staying true to yourself are pretty clear in this movie. The diverse scenes, the cuts from the TV shots to the road trip, and commentary on reality TV makes this an intriguing movie to watch. While not exactly thought-provoking (let’s be honest, none of these movies are), the value of this movie is mostly in its ability to capture both the powers of friendship and the amusing nature of reality TV.
So, out of these three brands, which one is the best? Well, in terms of the quality, I’d say Monster High is the best. The animation was quality enough, and the music and the episodes were good enough that I actually would show my younger cousins or nephews while letting them play with my Monster High dolls. There’s a rumor going around that all the goth kids watched Monster High when they were younger. And honestly, I believe it. At the same time, all the fun, yet problematic kids loved Bratz. And I’d believe that too, with the girls with the passion for fashion tearing through the town, it was fun to watch the movies that made up most of my childhood, although they were a lower quality than I’d last remembered. And then we have Barbie, which was admittedly better than I’d imagined. The reality TV show set worked well for the Malibu natives, and more Raquelle on my screen was definitely fun. So, in order, I’d rank it from Monster High, to Bratz, to Barbie.
But regardless of quality, I think the messages of these three brands are very clear: girl empowerment, friendship, and staying true to yourself while still having fun. In an age where there is still some progress to be made to gender equality all over the world, having fashionable, relatable, super role-models just like us is important. In a time where fitting in is one of the most important things to some, it’s also important to realize that fitting in is not everything. At the end of the day, if you have a great support system around, and you follow your passions, there’s a lot out there. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve. The possibilities are endless. Whether you are a dancer, a fashion designer, a scientist, or a cyclops, you can try to make the world your own. Whether you’re alone or with people, you can shine. You can be anything.