Clawdeen Wolf has never quite fit.
It’s not like she’s terribly repulsive or obnoxious or anything, it’s just that she’s a monster. Or at least, part monster. And that’s the real problem. Clawdeen was born half human and half werewolf. And with her wolf ears, fanged teeth and glowing eyes she has a hard time blending into a human crowd.
But when she gets an acceptance letter to Monster High, a secreted-away academy designed just for the snarling and coffin-dwelling beasties of the world, it feels like her chances of belonging might improve.
In fact, when she walks through the magical portal and into the school’s front door, she’s instantly hit with the full assurance that she’s found her place. There are furry freaks and creepy creatures everywhere, dancing and singing about life and learning together. It’s incredible!
Clawdeen quickly makes friends with her classmates Frankie Stein and Draculaura. And they’re even assigned a room where they can stay together. I mean, Draculaura is pretty picky about the half of the room where her coffin sits, and you might trip over one of Frankie’s accidentally unstitched body parts. But otherwise it’s all kinda chummy and fun.
Monster High life is great!
There is, however, one little problem. Clawdeen is still half human. And her human, non-clawed self can just pop up at the most inconvenient times—such as when her heart starts beating a little fast over that cute Deuce Gorgon guy.
That unexpected transformation is embarrassing enough, but the real problem is that monsters hate humans. And even the school can sense when a human is somewhere nearby. Clawdeen is afraid that her human secret could destroy everything. She has to find a way to fix her situation. And an old story about a weird guy named Mr. Hyde might just be the key to holding on to her new friends.
Clawdeen’s werewolf mom is no longer part of her life. But she does have a very tight bond with her all-human dad. She loves him and pauses to consider his instruction at times. For his part, Dad loves Clawdeen deeply and he would face anything to aid her happiness and wellbeing—even knowingly venturing into a world filled with potentially deadly creatures.
Clawdeen makes some solid friends at Monster High. And even those who seem to be sure foes, such as the mummy queen Cleo DeNile, end up becoming a good friend in time. The wolf-girl also encourages others, such as Frankie Stein, in their ability to make and be a good friend. Someone notes that being able to talk about a problem makes it better.
All of the above said, there is still some spiritual darkness to navigate here. Some characters are horned and devil-like. We see the sharp-nailed hand of a witch who’s peering into a crystal ball. Elsewhere, Clawdeen and her dad find a glowing magical portal in the woods.
One character is into witchcraft, despite of the school’s rules against it. She casts spells that open a lock and put a pimple on someone’s nose. She also gushes about her love for what magic can do to help her. Clawdeen and Frankie help this friend gather ingredients for a potion/spell.
Clawdeen develops a crush on a cute monster boy. When the two talk and lightly flirt, it audibly raises her heartbeat.
It’s noted repeatedly that the adorable Frankie Stein is cobbled together with actual parts and pieces of historical men and women. Because of that, Frankie uses nonbinary they/them pronouns.
We’re told of a half human/half monster named Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde who was expelled from Monster High, then hunted down and killed by an angry mob of humans. Later we meet a descendant of that creature who transforms into an imposing, muscled monster that can drain away other monster’s life force. (It does so, leaving its victims weak and wounded.)
Deuce Gorgon has eyes that can turn people to stone and that his snake-filled hair can poison people with deadly venom. The snakes hiss and snap at people. And several characters are transformed into stone statues. When the school magically senses a human in its midst, it begins to crumble. A large stone gargoyle falls and almost crushes a student. Some undead students shamble about with bits of rotting skin. Teens play a game of football with a real foot and discuss eating it after the game.
When we first meet Draculaura, the vampire-girl is a bit standoffish. She bares her fangs and tells her roommates, “Keep on your side of the room, and I won’t have to suck your blood out.”
In multiple scenes, this pic plays with some comedically violent horror-movie tropes. From a headmistress who can remove her head to a snack machine filled with Jellied Newt Eyes and Full Moon Pie treats, the scary sides of a monster world are rendered colorful and cute.
Other than an “oh my gosh” or two, the only winking bits of language of note are a few comments such as “holy headless horsewoman!” and “thank badness!”
Clawdeen discovers a secret lab belonging to Mr. Hyde. Someone drinks a concoction in the lab and is transformed into a dangerous monster.
Clawdeen walks in on Draculaura preparing a potion in a toilet bowl. We hear a joke about passing gas.
Draculaura creates a “mist of releasing” spell. And Clawdeen chuckles over the fact that it sounds like a laxative. Some students sneak into a school officials office to steal something.
Clawdeen lies to cover up her father’s humanity and she does a few underhanded things. (But later she admits to her lies and wrongdoing.)
On the greenish-blue face of things, Monster High: The Movie is exactly what it appears to be: a live-action version of the monster-doll franchise Mattel started back in 2010. The result? A lightweight story woven into the brightly colored monster mash that deals with friendship and belonging.
Oh, and it’s a musical, too.
Collecting and non-collecting viewers will likely marvel at just how much these live-action characters look like the original dolls that they portray. And parents will nod over how sweet and cute it all feels—especially when they see how some of the characters, uh, paws to ponder how their loving parents might react to the choices they make.
But those same moms and dads ought to sniff the air a bit and realize that there are a few concerning chunks buried just beneath the surface of this lusus naturae tale.
Some characters resemble demons. And one, Draculaura, dabbles in and espouses a deep love for witchcraft. She casts spells and concocts potions in her cauldron. The monster world declares its hatred for this “filthy human habit.” But by the end of the tale, her dad, Dracula, declares it’s OK for Draculaura to continue using magic as long as she becomes the “best witch ever.”
In addition, all those “I’ma just be me” songs and story encouragements can easily be used to instruct young, human, Monster High students to gobble up today’s many stitched-together gender lessons (such as the ones we see with Frankie Stein).
Now, that’s not to suggest that Monster High should have parents howling at the moon. Creative families can likely mine some solid parental lessons out of this cute creep fest. That said, if you’re thinking about sending your kids off for this movie class, you should do so knowing that there are potential problems lurking in a few coffins here, too.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.