Universal // 2010 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 9th, 2012
Be Yourself. Be Unique. Be a Monster!
The continued success of Tim Burton films gives hope to all the weird kids out there who don't like the shiny, plastic, perfect world that so many kids shows and toys provide. Corporations are savvy about that kind of stuff, and in recent decades have been offering something like toy counterprogramming. In addition to all the Barbies and G.I. Joes, Mattel and its companion companies have been offering toys that appeal to kids outside the mainstream. When I was a kid, it was the Garbage Pail Kids, while today's youth have to make do with Monster High. It's a relatively clever toy line that, like all toy lines these days, has been expanded into the world of film. One of those films is Monster High: Ghouls Rule, a silly Halloween story that might appeal to the toy's target demographic, but is not going to have wide appeal otherwise.
The basic premise of Monster High is that our famous movie monsters (Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster) all have children in high school (the Monster High of the title) who go through typical high school adventures, except, of course, that they're monsters. In Ghouls Rule, the residents of Monster High learn that on Halloween the "normies" torment monsters. Frankie learns that Halloween was once a time to celebrate the monster/human relationship, so she and her friends concoct a scheme to get everyone to be friends again.
The Monster High franchise has a high "cute" factor going for it. I have no idea how the target demographic of young girls finds the dolls and their associated world, but as an adult I appreciate the time and energy that goes into making a line of dolls that pays tribute to classic monster movies, especially with puns. Draculaura is Dracula's daughter, Deuce is the son of Medusa, and Frankie Stein is the daughter of Frankenstein's monster. It's clever and funny, and I'm not sure how much the young girls that these dolls are aimed at appreciate the details.
However, the cute nicknames and throwback "Monster High" premise are about all most adult viewers will be able to appreciate. The rest of Ghouls Rule is a totally standard holiday themed morality tale. Its basic premise is that we should all get along, and the Halloween setting fits in perfectly with a plot circulating around "normal" people versus "monsters." No doubt this is an important lesson, and the psychological evidence overwhelming shows that many, if not most, people go through a phase in the tween years of feeling a bit "monstrous." However, that doesn't make this any more palatable to adults who've seen this message played out in countless other forms since their own childhood.
This is also one of the first times I've watched contemporary children's animation recently, and I can't say I'm a huge fan. The weird, videogame-inspired sorta-3D effect is strange, and I'm not sure why it appears to be popular. The best thing I can say for it is that it does a good job of representing the disproportionate features of the physical dolls themselves. The exaggerated monster looks are served well by an animation style that doesn't aim for realism.
All that is merely the ramblings of someone who had to watch Ghouls Rule. For kids, I'm sure this short film will appeal to anyone interested in the dolls themselves. For concerned parents, there's nothing going on in this flick that isn't implied by the dolls themselves. There's no gore or any gratuitous craziness, so if the monster/fashion combo doesn't turn you off, then there's nothing to object to in Ghouls Rule. If, however, you're sensitive to the fact that young girls are increasingly being told to be obsessed with fashion, then the entire Monster High world might be worth reconsidering.
The DVD itself is a fine release. The standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer does a fine job with the digital animation. No serious compression artifacts are a problem, and the film's strange colors are well-saturated. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is overkill for children's animation of this type, but dialogue is clear and well balanced with the spooky score. Extras include a trio of short Monster High films that play in a similar vein to the feature.
Monster High: Ghouls Rule is a clever bit of holiday counter-programming from the folks at Mattel. Sure to appeal to owners of the line of dolls, this is a story of friendship and getting along that parents can appreciate as well. Anyone not a parent or doll lover will find little to tempt a viewing.
It doesn't quite rule, but Monster High is Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Shorts