Normally, anything remotely clever, spooky, and horror-genre oriented tends to grab my interest, just enough for me to consider learning more about whatever that item may be. It's not so much that I'll purchase any merchandise related to the product; I just like to familiarize myself with pop culture trends. So, the Monster High fashion doll franchise would at first seem like something right up my alley, but sadly, such is not the case. I am acquainted with the franchise, have seen the dolls on store shelves, am aware of an animated spinoff, and even know of a couple friends who for whatever reason enjoy collecting them. And yet, I don't really care for this toy line in the least. I just don't see the appeal or attraction.
It's a shame really because the concept behind the franchise is pretty intriguing and clever — exactly the sort of thing I should find easily enjoyable. Each character is supposed to be the offspring or distant relative of horror cinema icons, and the animated series (which includes webisodes and several TV specials that have aired on Nickelodeon) follows their exploits as they navigate through the toils and drama of being a teenager in high school. Their design and appearance are admittedly adorable, and each character's name is a witty parody of their origins, such as Frankie Stein, Draculaura, Cleo de Nile and Spectra Vondergeist. If I were to pick a favorite, I suppose it would be Ghoulia Yelps, the grunting zombie that's also the smartest kid or "ghoul" in school.
With all that said, I walked into 'Monster High: 13 Wishes,' the latest direct-to-video release which partners with Universal Studios Home Entertainment, with some serious trepidation. Bracing myself for the worst, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 74-minute CGI feature is not quite the dreary monotony I initially expected. It's not exactly the best way to kill an hour either, but it's tolerable children's entertainment. Of course, these movies are not meant for stodgy, uncool grownups like myself, but for the youngest among us. The plot is incredibly simple and direct, but it offers just enough amusement for parents to watch with their kids and delivers a positive message on the social pressures of school popularity. Or as the movie's tagline puts it: "Be scare-ful what you wish for!"
It's not difficult to imagine pre-schoolers and elementary-aged kids actually digging '13 Wishes' and Howleen Wolf's foolish misadventures making selfish and unselfish wishes after discovering genie Gigi Grant inside a magical lamp. At first, a few kids at the school benefit from Howleen's thoughtful wishes, like making the Lagoona Blue and Gil Webber romance blossom, but when Gigi's sinister shadow sister Whisp starts to inspire Howleen's ego, the school goes through some very drastic changes. It's up to her best friend Twyla and friends to make Howleen aware of the damage she's unintentionally causing and to teach her that there are no easy shortcuts for getting the things you desire.
The plot is understandably focused on Howleen and a legend surrounding Whisp's scheme to rule the monster universe, but that's a pretty straightforward narrative with a happy ending you can see coming just from reading the synopsis. The more entertaining aspects of the story are seeing the effects and consequences of Howleen's selfless wishes for others, better emphasizing the movie's overall theme. At the same time, as simplistic and plain as the CG animation is, the visuals are rather creative with a spooky Halloween charm that captures the imagination. Ultimately, the fashion doll franchise still fails to generate any interest from me, but I can see the appeal and entertainment for younger viewers. And 'Monster High: 13 Wishes' continues the magic that will fascinate kids.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Monster High: 13 Wishes' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. A Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 inside a blue, eco-elite case with a glossy, lightly-embossed slipcover. A couple promo pieces for the franchise can be skipped at startup, and a menu screen with the standard options comes with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Being the product of the most economical, one-dimensional style of computer animation — of the Saturday morning cartoon variety — this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode of '13 Wishes' looks and feels like the result of a cost-effective and inexpensive animated TV special. The illustration and overall design is incredibly simplistic with only a few seemingly intricate arrangements and shapes in the background. This makes for a rather plain and ordinary picture quality that offers little to impress viewers. I also detected hints of mild banding around the shadows of walls, the faces of characters and in a couple scenes looking directly at the sun.
Nonetheless, fine lines around various objects and buildings are sharply rendered, exposing just enough in the artwork to have us appreciate the time and effort that went into creating this spooky world. The outfits of characters appear to be the most elaborate and detailed. The color palette is mostly geared towards primaries which are richly saturated and pronounced, but secondary hues are also quite bold to give the 1.78:1 frame a buoyant and energetic feel. Blacks are inky rich and penetrating while contrast levels are comfortably bright and very well-balanced. Overall, it's an attractive high-def presentation which the kids will surely enjoy, but ultimately doesn't stack up against the best.
Although the teen ghouls make their debut on Blu-ray with the best audio option available, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack finds itself in a similar boat as the video. For the most part, it sounds great and gets the job done, but it still feels every bit like it was made for television where much of the action takes place in the fronts. This is not an entirely bad thing as the soundstage feels wide and welcoming, filled with various off-screen activity that's decently amusing and convincing. With vocals very well-prioritized and intelligible in the center, movement across all three channels is flawless while dynamic range maintains distinct clarity and a surprisingly punchy and responsive bass provides weight.
On a few occasions, the design does make an attempt at employing the surround speakers for some of the more elaborate action sequences. The intermittent effects are discrete and pan around the listening area rather fluidly, nicely enhancing the soundfield and generating a couple satisfyingly immersive moments. In spite of this, the lossless mix feels dry and uninvolving for a majority of the time; however, younger viewers will likely enjoy the presentation for precisely for what it is.
Walking into this latest 'Monster High' adventure with some vague familiarity and trepidation, I was mildly surprised '13 Wishes' was not as dull and monotonous as initially expected. Parents will still find the CG animated feature less than satisfying, but it makes for a tolerable sit-through while the kids are entertained by the monstrous misadventures of teen monsters based on the toy franchise. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent video and lossless audio, but supplements are rather mediocre. With various ways for watching the movie, the overall package makes for a decent watch for fans and the whole family this Halloween season.