Saturday, November 18, 2023

Monster High's Day of the Dead Doll: Howliday Skelita Calaveras

I'm back, as promised, with the second Day of the Dead doll, but first I want to outline my plans for the first Virtual Garage Sale event.  At this point, nothing will happen until after Thanksgiving.  But sometime during the week of November 27th, I'll start posting dolls for sale in the shop.  These will either be dolls that I've already reviewed, dolls that I'm realizing I don't have time to review, or dolls that are kicking around my house for some random reason.  I'll probably create short blog posts with groups of dolls as I list them for sale.

At this point I have no idea which dolls will be for sale, since I've had zero time to organize all of that, but there will be a lot of bundled, loose dolls from old reviews, including Rainbow High's Maria Garcia, who we met last week, and the beauty from this review: Howliday Skelita Calaveras.

Monster High's Howliday Skelita Calaveras, $45.

Mattel has a history of celebrating Dia de los Muertos with doll releases.  Not only was the original 2013 Skelita Calaveras doll modeled after La Calavera Catrina, but there have been yearly Barbie Signature Day of the Dead releases since 2019, too.

Here's the first Barbie Signature doll, who I think is really beautiful!

That dress is amazing.
She's become quite expensive on the secondary market

Here's the 2020 doll:


I don't like her as much as the original; she's too monochromatic.

In 2021, Ken was added to the mix:


The Barbie from 2021 is interesting because her headpiece looks a lot like Howliday Skelita's, with molded marigolds and skulls:

In 2022 there were three different dolls:




And there were three this year, too:


I really like the hot pink Barbie from this year.  Her butterfly hair decoration is great, and her dress has embroidered details and some cool asymmetry.  I don't like the pink-haired doll anywhere near as much.

None of the Day of the Dead Barbies have good articulation, but sign me up whenever one of these designs is on a Made to Move body.

Howliday Skelita was released in early October of this year, and costs $45.  I never know which old-style Monster High dolls are limited these days.  Some of them seem to sell out extremely fast, while others are more readily available.  I purchased Skelita right away, worried that she'd sell out, but she's still available for sale at a lot of places with no price hike (and no sale, unfortunately).

The thing that struck me about Skelita right away is how tiny her box is compared to the hefty Maria Garcia packaging.  The difference isn't so shocking from the front:


But from the side you can see how much thicker the Rainbow High box is.  It's a lot heavier, too:


Here's another comparison:


Despite its relative simplicity, Skelita's box is quite beautiful:


The edges of the plastic window are decorated with orange skulls, butterflies, candles, and marigolds--all things common to Dia de Muertos festivities.

Monarch butterflies are intimately tied to the Day of the Dead.  They are believed to carry the spirits of the deceased, and the migratory pattern of the real animals has them arriving in Mexico in early November--just in time for the festivities.


The sides of the box feature purple skull and butterfly designs:


And the back of the box has a large photograph of Skelita and a bit of text:


In the text, Skelita describes what's happening around her and how she feels as she prepares for the Day of the Dead:


The top of the box opens and the cardboard backdrop slides easily out:


Separating Skelita from the backdrop had the usual plastic tie hassles (there were three of them in her head), but wasn't too onerous.  And the plastic used to secure Skelita was minimal.

The design of the backdrop is really beautiful, too:

Even without LED lights.
Skelita's certificate of authenticity was taped to the backdrop:


And she only comes with one loose accessory: a plastic saddle stand.


The narrow black base of this stand is molded with designs specific to Day of the Dead:


Skelita can't balance on her own, so she really needs that stand!


She looked pretty good right out of the box, but her hair was messy in back:


The hair fiber is saran, like most of Mattel's dolls, and brushes out nicely:


I could already see that Skelita's headdress is hollow in back, which looks a little cheap for a $45 doll:


Skelita's gaze is subtly wonky.  I find it difficult to get her to look directly at the camera.  I think this is because her left eye is looking upwards and outwards a tiny bit:


If I photograph her from above and slightly to the right, I feel like maybe she's looking back at me--or at least her left eye is:


The headdress is made out of orange hard plastic and has molded marigold shapes and intricate little painted skulls:


The piece came rubber-banded and plastic-tied to Skelita's head.  You can see that there are even holes at the edges of the headdress to accommodate plastic ties:

But will it stay in place without them?
Here's the headdress on its own:


With the hollow reverse side:


Maybe Mattel assumed most people would leave Skelita in her box and never see the back of the headband?

In any case, with the headband out of the way, I was able to brush Skelita's dark hair more thoroughly:


The hair is pitch black, but has some teal highlights underneath:


The rooting is excellent, and the painted black scalp is very hard to distinguish from the plugs of hair:

There are five plastic tag remnants in her head, though.
I'm liking saran hair less and less these days, especially in such a dark color.  It's nearly impossible to keep this type of hair looking neat, and with darker colors, the flyaways and frizzy areas are difficult to hide.

So, I tied the hair back to get it out of the way:


Skelita's face mold is interesting.  She has a convex nose, but it has a dark area of shading on the front that's meant to look concave--like a real skull:

A real skull.
Skelita also has plump lips and big eyes...but no ears:

Some cartilage decayed, and some didn't.
So she's a funny hybrid of living and skeletal features, but I think it all works wonderfully well.


Skelita's face paint is even more elaborate than the original, with multi-colored swirls, hearts, and flowers adorning her forehead, cheeks, chin, and even the bridge of her nose:


Her brown eyes are crisp and clear, with no pixelation, and I love the suture-like paint around her bright pink mouth:

I also like that her lip color matches her dress.
Skelita has several pieces of jewelry to accent her colorful dress:


She has three bracelets on each arm, all of which are slightly different:



The hands have to be pulled off in order to remove the bracelets:


There are two different molded designs, and three different colors.  I love the microscopic skulls on the larger beaded bracelets!


Skelita is also wearing a necklace, which comes rubber-banded to her neck:


The necklace has a bright pink chain with a beaded design, and a skull pendant that's covered in teal paint:


Skelita's outfit includes an ankle length dress and a pair of shoes:


The dress is made out of several different kinds of fabric, and is accented with colorful ruffles at the bottom.

There's a velcro seam in the back of the bodice:


Underneath the dress, there was a plastic cone that helped make the skirt look full in the box:


The dress is very colorful, and I like the mix of fabrics.


I especially like the skull and butterfly print, with its lacy web-like designs in the background:


However, the fabric on this dress feels really cheap.  The skull print material is stiff and shiny--like the clothing on a budget Fashionista doll.

I like the ruffles at the bottom of the skirt, but I wish there had been some embroidered detail, or something else to make this dress feel like it belongs to a $45 collectible doll and not a $25 playline doll.

Make up your mind, Mattel.
The construction of the dress is fine, and all of the different components seem well-secured:


Skelita's shoes are bright yellow wedge-heeled sandals with a marigold design:


The sandals have intricate molding on the straps, with skulls, stars, and flowers.  But because everything is painted the same yellow color, some of the detail is lost:


If the little shapes had all been painted with different bright colors, these shoes would be epic.  However, I suspect the designers wanted the shoes to look like marigolds from a distance, with the molded shapes as a fun surprise.  I can definitely respect that, but for $45 there's a part of me that wants to see some color detail.

Another problem with the shoes is that they're not quite tall enough to allow Skelita's feet to touch the base of the stand, so she tips over a lot:


Her feet definitely can't touch the base of the stand without shoes!  She floats above the ground:


The body is the same as it was in 2013, with the funny little scapulae:

And bone butt.
But the feet are amazing.  I still marvel at how even the backs of the feet have molded detail!


My opinion of this body hasn't changed much in ten years, except that maybe I like it even more.  It reminds me of the Re-Ment Pose Skeletons.


I have as much (if not more) fun posing Skelita without her outfit!


I wanted to bring the original Skelita into this review for a quick comparison:

Scaris, City of Frights Skelita Calaveras, 2013.
I don't have her original stand, and her shoes are way too short for the saddle stand!

Not even close.
Skelita has weathered the years fairly well, but she has a glue-filled head, so her hair got really greasy and had to be cleaned.  Her joints are also quite loose--especially her hips.

The differences between the original Skelita and the newer Howliday version are that the original has orange in her hair instead of teal, and she has dramatically different face paint:


The original Skelita has a similar suture pattern at the edges of her mouth, but her eye makeup is much lighter, and she has fewer embellishments on the rest of her face:


This Skelita also has a different style of eye paint, with eyes that feel larger overall:


I really like the scroll decorations on her cheeks.

Here are two GIFs to compare the different versions of the face:



It's fun to see how different these two dolls are.  I prefer the original, maybe a bit because of nostalgia, but also because I like how more of the white vinyl shows on the older doll; she's more skeletal.  I also like the softer colors and more subtle designs on the original, and I think the accentuation of her eyes is very appealing.  She almost looks hand-painted.  The newer doll is a darker, more colorful take on the character.

While she was out of storage, the original Skelita wanted to play for a bit!


Her outfit is hard to manage (that belt will not stay in place), but I love the unique design of her skirt.


I prefer the newer doll's teal hair highlights, mostly because this girl's orange hair gives off a Halloween vibe, and the Day of the Dead is not Halloween.

And don't you forget it!
The orange highlights also clash with Howliday Skelita's dress--especially that headdress:

Scaris Skelita wearing Howliday Skelita's outfit.
Here are the two dolls together:

Howliday Skelita (left) and Scaris Skelita (right).
As a whole, I think Howliday Skelita is a more striking, dramatic doll.  I just wish that her dress was higher-quality.  I would love to see a version of that dress with a similar bodice, but with the entire skirt made of colorful tiers like those on Scaris Skelita's skirt.  Wouldn't that be cool?

The comparison I'm most interested in is between Skelita and Maria Garcia.  Here are those two dolls together:

Monster High Howliday Skelita Calaveras (left) and Rainbow High Maria Garcia.
It's neat to see two different approaches to the Dia de los Muertos theme.  Maria looks like a regular person dressed up for the holiday, which is in keeping with the Rainbow High concept.  Skelita looks more like actual La Catrina: the symbolic Day of the Dead skeleton character.

Maria Garcia's mask-like face paint bothers me even more when I see her next to Skelita like this.  I find Skelita's face more interesting and engaging.  Maria also looks a little blank and stiff next to Skelita, which isn't surprising given how dynamic the older-style Monster High characters are.

I prefer the colors and style of Skelita's outfit to Maria's more clich√© black and red ensemble, but there's absolutely no comparison in quality: the Rainbow High clothing is much, much nicer.  Maria's accessories look better, too, although Skelita's headdress is easier to use.

I like the look of both dolls' hair, although I wish Skelita had fewer flyaways.  Skelita's hair is better-rooted than Maria's, but overall, I prefer the Rainbow High hair because of the silky-smooth nylon fiber.

Skelita's box is much more modest and easy to manage than Maria's box, and it's not an environmental abomination.  But Skelita's box doesn't light up when you open it...and doesn't require batteries.  I still find Skelita's presentation more beautiful.  I'll say it again regarding MGA: sometimes less is more.

I have to keep in mind that Maria is a $125 doll and Skelita is a $45 doll, so Maria should feel higher-quality overall.  However, neither girl is worth her suggested retail price, so I'm not sure how to parse that.  Price point aside, Skelita suits my personal taste more than Maria.  I love her skelton body and beautifully eerie face.  She's a much more unique doll than Maria, and she's also a simpler doll who's easier to play with and enjoy.

Speaking of playing, here are some snapshots I took while I was enjoying Skelita:


Her hair drives me a bit crazy, but she's incredibly photogenic.



I appreciate how so many important Dia de los Muertos symbols, like marigolds, sugar skulls, and butterflies, are incorporated into Skelita's outfit.


And her headband stays on her head really well, which was a nice surprise.

No plastic ties required.
She looks nice without her headdress, too, although that flash of yellow adds a lot to the outfit.


The streaks of color in her hair help to compensate when the headband is removed:


Because Skelita's saran hair can look scraggly, I wish that she'd come with an elegant up-do.  I think she looks great with her hair pulled back, and a $45 doll can afford to have a nice hairstyle.


I had fun adding some drama to Skelita's hair by using the marigold and ribbon from the Rainbow High packaging.  It doesn't match Maria's outfit at all, so Skelita might as well have it!


Bottom line?  It's always fun to look at older-style Monster High dolls like this, and it was especially neat to revisit a character as unique as Skelita.  I don't have too many thoughts to add to my 2013 assessment, at least in terms of the body and articulation, but there are a few things about this new Skelita that are worth pointing out.

First of all, her black saran hair looks scraggly most of the time, and this is frustrating for photographs (although not a big deal for play).  Still, I wish Skelita had come with some kind of slicked-back up-do hairstyle.  I think it would have elevated her appearance significantly for collectors, and anyone who didn't like it could take it down.  Also, Skelita's outfit is a disappointment.  The style of the dress seems appropriate, and I love the mix of colors and the fun print, but the fabrics feel really cheap--especially the skirt.  In addition, the elaborate mold on Skelita's shoes is painted all in orange, so it's hard to appreciate the cute little details.  Oh--and the headdress is hollow and unattractive from the back.  Monster High could certainly learn a lesson or two from Rainbow High in terms of wardrobe.  One last petty complaint is that Skelita can't balance on her own, and the saddle stand that she comes with isn't very sturdy.  Maybe these little things wouldn't bother me as much if Skelita didn't cost $45.  I have a hard time seeing how she's different enough from a regular Monster High doll to be worth nearly twice as much.  For $25-30, she'd be awesome.

Despite those critiques, there are a lot of things that I love about Skelita.  I think her face paint is beautiful, and the dark shading around her eyes brings a new, more mysterious look to this familiar character.  Her eye paint is also crisp and engaging, if a bit wonky.  I enjoy the little details in the jewelry, too, like the microscopic skulls on three of the colorful bracelets, and all of the molded features on the necklace pendant and shoes.  And as cheap as the dress feels, it looks festive and is very easy to use.  I also appreciate how easy the headdress is to put on, especially after wrestling with Maria Garcia's hair ornaments.  And of course I love Skelita's body.  It was such a treat to see this unique mold come out in 2013, and even now, a decade later, there's still nothing in the fashion doll world quite like it.

12 comments:

  1. I really like this Skelita doll, and doing a long deep-dive on her character has not lessened that. However, owning this edition of Skelita inspired me to get the 2016 Dia de Muertos collector Skelita to review and compare...and reviewing both dolls left me with a dour impression of 2023 Skelita's value for money. Frankly, there's nothing about Howliday Skelita that strikes me as being on a higher level than 2016 Skelita, though they are probably about on-par. 2016 Skelita was originally priced, I believe, at $25, which seems like a fair and even mildly generous level for her. 2023 Skelita is closer in official price to the adult-collector Draculaura doll who had a much more elaborate embroidered dress, rooted lashes and a delicate porcelain-esque paint job, a new larger body scale with a torso joint, and even a working parasol. Drac was $50 originally, making Howliday Skelita feel like robbery. She's a gorgeous doll and a captivating presence, but she doesn't feel worth anything over $30 to me.

    All the same, I would love to see Howliday Skelitas being a yearly fixture, with a new makeup, costume, and even color design for her each year. This one already brings something new because her makeup is distinct and we've never seen so much purple from her like this. Imagine Skelitas in green or yellow or red, each with their own paint design! Just don't ask so much from the buyer if they're gonna be this tier of quality.

    Also, the vase on the ofrenda in her background art is her Art Class project from G1!

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  2. Hi, Emily! How you clean the glue from hair of olds Monster Hihgs? I have like 50 vintage dolls, all they with this problem... Thank you.

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    1. Monster High*, I mean.

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    2. Hi Lilium, you can basically boil wash the hair with some OxiClean powder added to the hot water. You have to do it many times, and comb the hair frequently. There are some good tutorials online, like this one: https://www.flickr.com/photos/athousandsplendiddolls/43498312715 :)

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    3. Depending how bad the problem is, you may be able to take care of some of them with just dish soap. Good luck! Thanks for the review Emily!

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  3. I wish you had the previous collector Skelita for the comparison Gif. I sold mine nude in favour of a regular one quite a while ago, though neither was on display because of the glue head that stains everything it touches. If I remember correctly, what bothered me the most was her white makeup that gave me spotted deer or winter fairy vibes, rather than Dia de Muertos.

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  4. Ok But Hear Me Out We Need pic of Skellita in RH Hat headpice & Dress?;)

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    1. All of those pieces would be far too large for Skelita. The Rainbow High body and head are proportionally quite a bit bigger than a Monster High doll, especially one with Skelita's skinnier sculpt.

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  5. A single piece of cheap clothing for 45$ (and no back to the headpiece!)...C'mon Mattel. The current playline dolls have more care than this.

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  6. both dolls are way overpriced, but I will say that skelita sure does photograph well. I actually like her face better than original skelita's, too, for that reason - it's so dramatic, but also sweet and engaging. makes maria look quite wooden and dour.

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  7. She's beautiful, but after reading two reviews, it really feels like they could have done more at that price. On the positive though, the headdress looks great with painted details, and her face paint is top notch!

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  8. Great review! Between Skelita and Maria, it's quite obvious who hit the nail on the head in terms of design and who wins in terms of quality. If only we could mix the two. I think Skelita is a beautiful, eye-catching doll and she shows the love and care that went into designing her, despite the disappointing quality of the final product. Perhaps Mattel's previous experiences with designing Day of the Dead dolls is what gave them an edge here; some of those Barbies also look amazing, and they do a great job honoring the holiday.

    The comparison with the original Skelita was super interesting. The same face mold, skintone and almost the same hair, yet they look like two completely different dolls thanks to the face paint. Like you, I slighly prefer original Skelita. The new one somehow looks a lot sweeter to me, which isn't bad, but I always liked the more monstrous side of Monster High.

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