5 Things I Learned Building Mattel’s Giant, Monster High Dollhouse

For a size comparison, my daughter is 3'9"
For a size comparison, my daughter is 3'9"
Photo by Jef Rouner
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My daughter enjoys the distinction of being the last little girl in my extended family, and as such her Christmas can get wonderfully ridiculous. Aunts and grans and uncles rush to bathe her in plastic, capitalistic euphoria. We don’t let it cloud the true meaning of the holidays or anything, but there is no doubt that she often nets one of those hauls you only see in movies starring white people.

This year one of those was the Monster High Deluxe – sorry, DEADluxe – High School Playset. Essentially it’s the Barbie Dreamhouse of the Monster High franchise…which recently rebooted its entire, already nonsensical canon, but that’s another story. The dolls have been a favorite of my daughter’s since she was two, and the series’ overall message, that we should celebrate differences rather than fear them, has never been more appropriate.

Still, it fell to me to put this giant thing together after the mania of Christmas had settled. Here are a few things I learned.

5. The Sound of Doing Something Right and the Sound of Something Irrevocably Breaking Are the Same Thing

I grew up doing LEGO sets. I’m used to building complex things with simplistic instructions. That said, things like this are a whole different kettle of fish. Everything is designed to be shoved into various tabs and slots exactly once and to never ever come out. This, understandably, involves some force. Think of it as a tiny, plastic inverse to giving birth.

The harrowing thing is that the satisfying “click” of Tab A perfectly melding with Slot B is indistinguishable from Tab A snapping off in Slot C and the whole enterprise now being unbuildable because Daddy flunked the spatial relations part of math class in school. The whole thing feels like particularly unforgiving old-school Super Mario level until you get it right. And if you don’t?

4. Toy Companies Are Surprisingly Forgiving and Generous
I found this out when part of a Mouse Trap game broke. Sure, replacing the whole thing from scratch only costs around $20, but I, uh, didn’t exactly have an extra $20 that summer. So I called Hasbro from the number listed on the instruction manual, and they sent me a whole bag of new parts completely free of charge before the week was out.

Mattel will do the same thing with its products, though you should probably save building instructions or the original box if you want to make it easier on yourself to get the replacements. I also found out Mattel has the single most relaxing hold music of any company I have ever called. Some traditional Japanese tune that I’m sure has soothed the frazzled nerves of more than one parent.

3. These Dollhouses Have Stayed Weirdly Consistent in Price
While my daughter was…helping me, she remarked that the enormous structure must have cost a lot of money. Since it was a gift from her aunt and not us, I wasn’t actually sure what the price tag was. Turns out you can get it for anywhere from $90 to $125 depending on where you go. That’s still high enough to qualify it for big-present status, but not all that unreasonable a gift.

I got curious how this compared to previous dollhouses. I found this video celebrating the 1975 Barbie Townhouse, which like Monster High boasts three floors. An ad at the 0.54 mark shows that it retailed for $17.97, which is right at $80 or so according to the inflation calculator. Compare it to video games. I remember my mom buying me Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the NES in 1989. It retailed for $44.95, which would be $87 today, nearly $30 more than a new copy of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End would run you in a GameStop this year. Yet dollhouses have remained more or less stable in price.

2. Dollhouses Are Kind of a Big Investment
If you’re thinking that this sort of toy is within your budget, hang on. Literally the only reason it can even exist in our house is that we moved to a bigger place recently and ditched half our old living room furniture. Dollhouses are gigantic space wasters that multiply like a trash pile. Tables and chairs and clothes and dolls spill out bit by bit until you are basically living in an inside-out version of reality where the dollhouse is eating your own home.

It’s also one of those rare toys that require their own special table if you want to play them properly, and that’s just a little weird when you think about it. Board games you just pop on the kitchen or coffee table, but if you’re going to have a dollhouse the size of a small motorcycle, it needs its own individual stand to keep it at eye level. I mean, theoretically this thing can close up and is portable, but practically it’s stayed in exactly the same spot I finished assembling it in because I can’t move it. A large dollhouse is basically a very weird art installation in your home.

1. Kids Are Weird
The grand upside to having a dollhouse full of dolls based on a beloved series of animated features is that kids play with them using their imaginations instead of having the television pander to them and infect them with tween attitude. The downside is that kids are kind of dark. You haven’t lived until you’ve overheard your kids playing with a make-believe world they entirely control. My daughter loves to be the principal of Monster High, granting special privileges and punishments to people at will. Her favorite is to lock people in the clock tower. Infractions that led to this include…

*Not finishing their tray in the cafeteria
*“Dancing weird”
*Having the wrong outfit
*Pretending to be a dragon
*Saying mean things about Nickelodeon’s Henry Danger
*and “questioning” her “power”

The magic of childhood at Christmas, right?

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