It started with the Monster High dolls. I remember seeing them in the toy aisle with their Bratz-style bobble-heads, short skirts, and fishnet stockings. I immediately didn’t like them and steered my daughter away, vaguely mumbling something about inappropriateness when she asked to look at them. She was only four at the time and definitely didn’t need the more grown-up girls’ toys, so I didn’t worry too much about it. I figured we would cross that bridge when we came to it.
Then, I got an email from the designer in charge of the revamped My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop lines, Gayle Middleton, about her newest toy line currently being promoted on Kickstarter. This super successful toy creator was striking out on her own to start a new line of children’s toys called Vamplets.
At the center of the toy line are monster babies, from vampyres to werewolves to zombies, who are adorably creepy. They drink little bottles of red blood. They have skull bibs with matching hair bows. Gayle, or “G-Ra” as she can apparently be called, created a world called Gloomvania where the monsters call home. She has comic books planned to tell the characters’ stories and a mortal teenage nanny to take care of the monster babies. It’s an elaborate and compelling set-up.
But I would absolutely never buy it for my daughter, even though she’s definitely their target market.
I have a hard time putting into words just why I dislike these monster dolls and toys so much. Maybe I’m just a sheep who has been sold on the idea that children should be playing with sweet and cuddly creatures who do good and always have a happy ending. It’s definitely possible. I’ll admit to being a Disney fan.
But at the same time, I feel like there’s a legitimate point to be raised about celebrating toys that are “rotten to the core,” toys that represent bad guys and monsters that most children find scary. It feels like we’re trying to force an adult impulse to “explore the dark side” onto our children.
Vampires and zombies have been popular for a while now. They seem trendy, just the clothes and stylings of all these monster toys. But I’m just not so sure that toys need to be trendy. There’s a reason that some of the most basic and classic toys are still hanging around and incredibly popular with kids. Basic LEGOs and generic babydolls that don’t need some huge sales shtick, but just let kids use their own imagination.
Of course, there is a place in children’s toys for companies to create an entire world for kids to explore. It’s a tendency that I think seems to be growing, and one that Middleton previously succeeded in for My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shops, both of which got television shows and book series to go along with their product relaunches. But are Gloomvania and Monster High the types of imaginary spaces I want my daughter occupying? Not really. They don’t feel so safe or innocent to me.
I’m not trying to say that no one else should buy these toys for their children. Obviously, we all have our own right to choose what our kids would like and what would benefit them. I’m not calling for Monster High to be taken off the shelves. But I do wonder if there are other parents out there like me, hesitant to introduce their children to these spooky yet stylish toy lines. Are you guys all playing vampyre babies without me?