Judge Dawn Hunt is vaunted on a weekly basis.

Mattel’s pop culture phenom of dolls, social media content and games, Monster High, brings us the latest direct-to-video release, Monster High: Haunted (Blu-ray). It tells the story of who (or what) is haunting Draculaura (Debi Derryberry, Monster High: Frights, Camera, Action!) and the big lesson here is not to spread rumors. Spectra Vondergeist (Erin Fitzgerald, Monster High: Freaky Fusion), ghostly blogger of Monster High’s gossip blog “The Ghostly Gossip”, is suffering from the worst case of ghost writer’s block. Naughty werecat Toralei (America Young, Monster High: Why Do Ghouls Fall in Love?) sees this as an opportunity to humiliate one of her rivals so she tells Spectra that all werewolves at Monster High have were-fleas meaning Clawdeen (Salli Saffioti, Monster High: Scaris: City of Frights) and her siblings. But not only does Clawdeen not have an infection…were-fleas are a completely made up disease. Clawdeen tells Spectra she would have been happy to tell her this was in fact the case had Spectra bothered to check with her before spreading the story all over the school. Now the entire student body thinks the werewolves have a plague and are avoiding them. While Spectra is upset she hurt her friend Clawdeen assures her everything will blow over and more than that she’ll actually help Spectra find a story worth telling.

And it seems as though the ghouls don’t have long to wait as it’s revealed Draculaura is being haunted. Now to everyone else it seems as though this would be the perfect story for Spectra to sink her fangs into however they are shocked when instead she freaks out and runs away. Concerned about their ghoul friend Clawdeen, Draculaura, Twyla (Joni Goode, Monster High: 13 Wishes), Rochelle (Erin Fitzgerald) and Sirena Von Boo (Paula Rhodes, The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy) follow her. They discover she’s gone to the Ghost World, a previously hidden dimension laying parallel with the Monster World. When Spectra discovers them she lets them follow her to Haunted High, her former all-ghost high school, on the condition they keep its existence along with that of the Ghost World a secret.

We learn that is necessary because ghosts are no longer allowed to haunt monsters, thanks to The Red Lady. The notorious ghost’s exploits ended with her capture and sentencing to thousands of years of punishment. This part of the story–traveling to the Ghost World–opens us up to the introduction of new characters, some foes and some friends. The friends department includes River Styxx, (Ashley Peterson) the daughter of a reaper, Porter Geist (Todd Haberkorn, Tenkai Knights), the son of a poltergeist and a graffiti artist who catches Spectra’s eye, and Spectra’s old friend Kiyomi Haunterly (Joy Lerner), a once shy faceless ghost who projects her emotions through lights which can be easily seen in her transparent body. On the foe side we have the principle Miss Revenant and the Hall Moanitors, a trio of enforcers who do Miss Revenant’s dirty work and tattle on the student body. But what is Miss Revenant’s agenda? Why does she sentence students to detention so often? And for such minor infractions, including some that are made up on the spot? While you may see the answer coming a mile away the target audience may actually have to work through some of the clues given in order to arrive at the correct conclusion. And speaking of arriving at conclusions once Spectra understands just how dangerous the spreading of misinformation is (thanks to Miss Revenant convincing all of the ghosts that the solids are plotting a takeover of the school,) she understands what she’s done in the past by spreading gossip and rumors herself.

It’s pretty close to an outright anti-bullying message, watered down just enough for the target audience. This moral marks a bit of a departure for the Monster High movie series, which tends to focus on improving self-esteem. And that choice of message isn’t the only departure as Spectra takes the lead. Monster High: 13 Wishes is the only other film to feature a ghoul outside of our original trio of Draculaura, Frankie and Clawdeen as the lead. Not only that but the new females from the previous Monster High installment, Monster High: Freaky Fusion, join in on this adventure too. Outside of the webisodes we tend to have new characters only take center stage for their introductory movie.

The technical specs are the best of the Monster High discography yet. The video is a 1080p 1.78:1 High Definition transfer and it is the first to really deviate from the abundance of pink hues which these films tend to favor. Instead they opt for a lovely blue which glows quite nicely. A lot of the Ghost World sequences have transparency and their animation is handled well, softening the focus without becoming just blurs. The characters’ mouths are also synced up to the dialogue in the most effective way yet and the too-glossy look of some past films has disappeared to leave much stronger textures. The audio is way more than you ever need, with over a dozen tracks to choose from. The DTS-HD Master Audio will provide you with the heightened audio experience no one in your house is looking for.

In terms of special features we have a couple of Monster High webisodes, as well as DVD and UltraViolet and copies of the film.

THE VERDICT

The choice to begin to target bullying is what earns Monster High: Haunted (Blu-ray) its recommendation. But the added bonus of continuing to expand the Monster High world by reintroducing characters from previous films just helps sells it more. Rumor has it this isn’t guilty.

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