Sunday, June 4, 2023

Life In Plastic: A Barbie Marathon Part 1

I've never believed in destiny. There are things that happen, but the reason they should happen at a specific time to a specific person has always, to me, been the arbitrary conditions of our universe. But sometimes, maybe, I can feel something close.

This tweet. It stirred something within me, something longing to spring forth, a hidden goal that one day, I knew, would be fulfilled. The time has come. It's Barbie Summer, bitches.

There are currently 42 Barbie animated movies. Watching one each day, I will get through them all in 6 weeks. A lesser man would quail at such an idea. I am not that man. This is the first of six such parts, where I will detail my experience with each movie and provide a rating that will have very little to do with objectivity and the standards will vary wildly between entries. I hope you'll stick around. I hope I'll stick around.

Film 1: Barbie In the Nutcracker (2001)

Somehow, before even starting this project, I was a day late. That meant on my first day watching I would have to watch two Barbie movies, while through unfortunate coincidence, dealing with a hangover. That's probably a representative moment in this whole project. Anyway, the movie itself is a strong start to the whole Barbie movie thing. I've never actually watched a Nutcracker adaptation before, so if this were the most accurate retelling or a butchering of the story I wouldn't know. That said, the story is simple and clean. A short framing device in the beginning and end shows Barbie telling the story to her little sister Kelly (Who will later be renamed Chelsea) to motivate her to keep trying at ballet. There's an evil mouse king, there's a guy who got turned into a Nutcracker, there's a journey through a fantasy land where everything gets fixed, and then it's all a dream. (Or is it?) The London Symphony Orchestra performs the classic Nutcracker songs, which surprisingly even I recognized. There's a lot of actual ballet in the film as well, motion captured from professional ballet dancers. The real orchestra and ballet performances elevate what could have easily been a forgettable movie. Kelly Sheridan plays the Barbie role in this movie, which she will continue for almost every single film going forward. The Mouse King is played by Tim Curry(!!!) which assuredly influenced my overall opinion of the film. A very strong start to this franchise, I could see viewing this movie becoming a Christmas tradition for people.


Film 2: Barbie as Rapunzel (2002)

Watching Nutcracker, I thought perhaps I had these movies all wrong, maybe they were just good movies and I was blinded by stereotypes and never gave them a chance. Barbie as Rapunzel disspelled that notion. I know enough about Rapunzel to know that this is pretty far from the source materal. SHE DON'T EVEN LET DOWN HER HAIR! Barbie's like, some sort of maid or something for an evil witch, but also Barbie has a talking rabbit and talking purple dragon as friends. Painting is, for some reason, the big theme of the movie, and Barbie gets a magic paintbrush that lets her escape from the tower. There's motion capture used here as well, but since they use it for action scenes instead of dancing scenes, it comes off as awkward and off-putting. Kinda like Food Fight. Actually, the animation looks like Food Fight too. Did the Barbie people make Food Fight? Perhaps it was the hangover or heightened expectations from Nutcracker, but all this movie did was make me annoyed.


Film 3: Barbie of Swan Lake (2003)

I was expecting a return to form here. The "form" being the standard set by Nutcracker. It's another Tchaikovsky ballet, they got a celebrity to do the villain, so my hopes were high. I wasn't entirely disappointed, it certainly turned out better than Rapunzel, but it lacked the snappiness of Nutcracker. Once again, I am completely unfamiliar with the source material. The weirdest part of this movie was the pacing, ostensibly the stakes are high where the evil wizard man is going to take over the Magical Grove(??) but long stretches of the film go by where it seems like nobody really cares about that. There's talking animals again in this one, but with a twist: They turn into children. Or like, elves, I guess. I'm starting to think talking animals are a real bad omen for these movies. One good thing is they got Kelsey Grammer to voice the bad guy. They got a dang ol' Frasier in there! He's an evil wizard or something, but what I noticed is his evil spoiled daughter with black hair. Perhaps the first appearance of the Raquelle architype? The motion capture dancing is back, which while pleasant to look at with orchestral music in the background, made it difficult to care about what was actually supposed to be going on in the movie.


Film 4: Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper (2004)

Now this is the good shit. The first Barbie musical! And the songs are good! AND THE STORY IS GOOD! Kelly Sheridan voices two Barbies this time, and she makes them distinct enough that you can tell who is who, even when they're disguised. This movie has some bite to it. I didn't think I'd see even the most facile complaints against the class system in a Barbie movie, but by gum they did it. That's not even to mention they got goddamn Martin Short for the villain. They did everything right! It had stakes, tension, good pacing, and I didn't even hate the talking animals! The difference here is that the animals could only talk to one another. And the best part: Two romance plots for the price of one! You got the Feelings Held Back Because of Social Differences and Romantic Feelings That Shine Through Even Though There is a Deception. They even had a fake blooper reel during the credits! There is yet hope!

Rating: Barbie/BARBIE

Film 5: Barbie Fairytopia (2005)

And we go right back into garbage. I haven't exactly been rating these based on their production value so far, but this one is noticably worse. They didn't bother with matte paintings for the sky or background, the character models seem more uncanny than usual (Not helped by the myriad of weird creatures in this) and there's no orchestra playing the background music. It sounds like a synthesized soundtrack, and not a great one at that. The plot is oddly dense with lore, like they made a whole cosmology for this movie when the rest were pretty simple Fairytale Fantasy. This seems like it has Lord of the Rings style aspirations, of which it falls very short. There's no talking animals in this one, just some weird fuzzy flying creature named Bibble that I will hate for the rest of my life. He makes gibbering noises that sometimes sound like words, and he never ever shuts up. There's a big butterfly man who looks horrifying, and some evil goblin minions who all look exactly the same. The plot is weird, there's some evil fairy kidnapping fairy lords to steal their power, but she never leaves the one room of her evil lair, and never directly does anything to our protagonist. Barbie starts the movie as a wingless fairy freak, at which point I knew she would get wings at the end. As a character in this she's really boring, just a nice person who's a little unsure of herself, but does the right thing in every instance anyway. Even though the point of the movie is ostensibly that your differences make you special, Barbie's reward is that she gets to be just like everyone else. After the good scriptwriting of the previous movie, the faults are all the more apparent. This was just a dud in every sense, which is concerning because it's the first of a four movie series within the Barbie canon.


Film 6: Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus (2005)

It's weird how inconsistent these are. Like there's not some point where they all dip in quality, they just go back and forth. Case in point: This movie is actually pretty good. They got an orchestra again, this time the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, they got matte painted backgrounds, Barbie is a sassy teen(!!) and they got a nice romance plot in there again. The villain is way better, he's an absolute dickhead who fucks with Barbie's family for no reason except that he just hates women. There's a clear goal and stakes, Barbie's gotta get three parts of a thing to make a thing before some spell turns her parents to stone forever, and her sister-turned-Pegasus helps her travel all around to do that. Oh, remember how everyone said it was so clever when Frozen had "true love" be the love between the two sisters? Well this movie did it first! A component of the MacGuffin is a ring of true love, and it's with love for their parents that Barbie and her horse sister make it in this. Take that DISNEY! The cute animal polar bear in this had the gibbering sort of noises like Bibble, but much less annoying. The male lead swordfights a gryphon. When Barbie gets the magic MacGuffin one of the first things she does is try to fucking kill the villain with it. It don't work, but I appreciate the attempt. The second film to have a blooper reel at the end!


Film 7: Barbie: Fairytopia: Mermaidia (2006)

I don't know why, but I had the hope that the next Fairytopia would be dramatically better than the first one. It's not. It's better in some aspects, but it almost all of the same issues as the first. The backgrounds are bad, everything that's not a standard humanoid is terrifyingly rendered, and Bibble continues to evoke my hatred. They couldn't even get an orchestra for this one! Are these just the cheap stopgaps between movies that have a budget? The plot is at least a bit better. The evil fairy from the first one is having her minions steal some other MacGuffin from the mermaid place, so they kidnap a merman and it's up to Barbie and some blue mermaid to save him and get the MacGuffin back. About the blue mermaid: She's a bitch with low self esteem and I love her. Barbie is, once again, perfect in a boring way, so having an asshole mermaid to bounce off of her is a refreshing change of pace. There's not really romance, except that Bitchy Mermaid is in love with Merman, and thinks he loves Barbie, but no he loved Blue Bitch the whole time so whatever. There was at least more drive to the plot this time, even if there were some absolutely bizarre moments, like when Bibble eats some sea berry and starts talking like Barry White. That was uncomfortable. I think there's like, two more Fairytopia movies? I'm not looking forward to those.


Week One of six done! I'm honestly surprised how much I enjoyed some of these. I was expecting the trite nonsense of Fairytopia the whole way through, but Nutcracker, Princess and the Pauper, and Magic of the Pegasus were legitimately enjoyable. The ratio of good to bad isn't great though. If there's more musicals (and they aren't terrible) I may actually enjoy myself! Until next time!

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