Saturday, July 22, 2023

Barbie (2023)

You would think, being a guy that watched all 42 direct-to-video/streaming Barbie movies, that it would be easy to figure out what to say about the live action one, the one I did all that work for. Somehow, it's not.

Our hero is Barbie, or to be more specific, Stereotypical Barbie. She lives in Barbie Land with the rest of the Barbies, a bunch of Kens, one Midge, one Skipper, and one Allen. (Ken's friend (all of Ken's clothes fit him)) But one day, things start getting weird. Barbie has thoughts about death, she doesn't gracefully float from her dreamhouse to the car, and worst of all: Her feet turn flat. After consulting with Weird Barbie (the one that happens when you play with your Barbie too hard) she sets out on a quest to the real world, while Ken tags along.

In a way, this is what I expected from a live action Barbie movie, at least after seeing a few trailers. It's got a little bit of the "Barbie is outdated, Barbie has done more harm than good for women, Barbie is bad" stuff I was afraid of but, luckily for all of us, that's not the point. I don't know if I could call this a celebration of Barbie either. It's not so much about the character as it is about the doll. And it's less about the doll than it's about... being a woman.

Okay listen I could watch a million Barbie movies and it wouldn't qualify me to talk about this. It's simply out of my wheelhouse! I liked the feminist angle, but I can't really form any substantive critiques because I am not embodied in the subject matter. I can't be one of those guys that starts explaining feminism to anyone! I'm just a normal man. I'm just an innocent man.

Speaking of which, Ken was great. I relate to Ken, which was funny until it got sad. For me, specifically. He's a big part of the comedy, because he's a giant idiot the whole time. It's a good look for a Ken. All of the Kens are big idiots, and that's great. The preview of the song "Just Ken" made me excited that this could be a musical, but it's not. It's got a couple songs but the only one that's like musical theater is the Ken one. There's one by Billie Eilish that hits hard.

I really didn't need to watch all those movies for this one. I'm glad I did, but they didn't provide much in the way of context or easter eggs. If anything this is closest to Life in the Dreamhouse, what with the Barbie is Everything sort of stuff, but this is far more self-examining than that show was, since that was a funny cartoon for goofs. There's a lot going on in this film, it's surprisingly poignant given how goofy most of it is. One thing the film does is anticipate the reception from the more reactionary parts of the viewing public, and preemptively responds to those ideas. Like, the obvious surface-level critiques are practically a part of the movie. It was more instructive to someone like me, whereas it's more likely supposed to give voice to already-held sentiment for its audience, but the whole reason I watch this Barbie stuff is to get an idea of how the other half lives. (That's definitely the only reason.)

I could get into spoilers but I'll restrain myself. Suffice it to say: It's good. People who aren't me (and are women) will like it a lot more than I do. It's not made for me! In fact, this movie purposefully avoided one of those things I fixated on in the old Barbie movies. (Not Raquelle.) Oh, and there was no Raquelle. It wouldn't have made any sense for her to be there, but there's still a little disappointment. Maybe later they'll make a Raquelle live action movie and I will watch it 100 times.

If you're expecting nothing but a happy fun-time romp, you'll get more than you bargained for. I don't know if this would be the "palate cleanser" the Barbenheimer advocates are reaching for. If you want something with a bunch of funny jokes and some feminism that I'm not qualified to speak on, you'll enjoy this. There's some deeper themes in there, but maybe I can speak on those once it's been out on video and I can watch it a few times. I just have to accept the fact that this won't hit deep in my soul the way a Broly movie would. I still highly recommend it, even if it didn't personally resonate with me the way it would with others. It's got a lot to say about womanhood, society, and the overall human condition. In a way, this embodies the Barbie ethos: Just because it's unabashedly pink and feminine, doesn't mean you shouldn't take it seriously. It means a lot to a lot of people, and you can either accept that or choose to live in ignorance.


Sunday, July 9, 2023

Life In Plastic: A Barbie Marathon Part 6

It's hard, being a pioneer. To be willing to do what nobody else can. I bet people said all kinds of shit to the first guy to climb Mount Everest. They probably said stuff like, "Why?" and "But that's for little girls," and "You're a grown man this is weird." But now I know exactly how he felt, after weeks of grueling work, feeling like it was all pointless and maybe he should have been watching Breaking Bad or something, only to see the summit, the pinnacle, the top of the world. It doesn't matter if nobody believes in you, nor think other people need to believe in you because what you're doing is inconsequential and kind of creepy. Because that summit is only a few steps away.

And I am almost there.

Film 36: Barbie: Dolphin Magic (2017)

So turns out Video Game Hero was the last Barbie movie to come out as a straight-to-DVD, and now they're all going to Netflix. So we have what I think is another iteration of the "Real Life" Barbie and her sisters. Maybe? The designs are pretty close to the Puppy movies, and the puppies are still there, not to mention we still got Erica Lindbeck voicing Barbie. I dunno. It's another mermaid flick, this time some evil marine biologist captures a magic dolphin and its mermaid friend tries to free it and runs into the Roberts sisters, who adopt her like some kind of lost child. Of course the mermaid has a magic shell that gives her legs, though she doesn't know what a sandwich is, which doesn't trigger suspicion for any of the sisters. Oh, we finally have Ken back, after who knows how many movies of absence. (I counted. 16 films.) Ken doesn't really seem like Barbie's boyfriend here, which may point to it being a new continuity. It's pretty boilerplate from there, evil marine biologist wants to sell magic dolphin, mermaid reveals she is mermaid, they all work together and everything works out. It's not great, but it could have been worse. At least the dogs don't talk, and surprisingly Barbie herself doesn't become a mermaid.


Film 37: Barbie: Princess Adventure (2020)

Woah! What!? That's a three year gap! This is unprecedented! So I had to do some research (I hate that) to figure this out, and it turns out there were no Barbie movies while the show Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures was running. I haven't watched that show because I got an episode in and there was no Raquelle so I have no reason to ever see it. So this movie is like a finale to that show, which means we got a new voice actress for Barbie, America Young. She's okay, but gives a very different feel to Barbie than the previous ones, which all had the same sort of voice. She's closer to Chiara Zanni than Kelly Sheridan or Diana Kaarina. The change in VA makes sense because this Barbie is significantly younger than a lot of Barbies we've had, she's still in high school and has parents and everything. She's also a Youtuber. This is too much background for a Barbie movie. At any rate, this is another riff on the Prince and the Pauper, but at least this one didn't insult me. Erica Lindbeck plays a princess who watches Barbie's vlogs and arranges for Barbie and all of her friends to go on a school trip to her kingdom so they can swap. It doesn't work great because we don't see her perspective of the switch the whole time, just Barbie dealing with princess shit. This one is also a musical, but all the songs are average at best. We got two villains, one is a media CEO who wants to exploit Barbie's online clout, and the other is a prince from a neighboring kingdom who tries to keep the princess from the coronation so he can take the kingdom using some technicality. The only time I laughed was when the media CEO took one of Barbie's videos and essentially made a YTP from it. Barbie didn't like it though. There's a sideplot of Ken trying to tell Barbie something but being unable to. He's definitely not her boyfriend in this continuity, so I assume he's trying to confess his feelings. If the whole show was a will-they-won't-they with Barbie and Ken there is no way I would be able to stand it. There's too many other side characters, like some asshole red haired guy who they gave a song for some inexplicable reason. A pale comparison to Princess and the Pauper, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been.


Film 38: Barbie & Chelsea: The Lost Birthday (2021)

Yeah, from now on these all take place after Dreamhouse Adventures. I guess it's nice to have only one continuity for once? I'll get into it later. As you can see from the title, this is a Chelsea oriented movie, which can mean only one thing. This is baby shit. They're all on a cruise because of Barbie's mom and it's gonna be Chelsea's birthday but then they cross the international date line and skip a day and she gets sad and has a Wizard of Oz style adventure where she does a bunch of shit with talking animals that sound like her sisters but oh what it was all a dream who could have guessed. Okay, for a while I didn't catch the dream thing. I don't know the level of magic that exists in this world, maybe there are talking animals, who knows? Barbie is still on about her vlog all the time, but now that leaves Skipper without a thing to do. She's supposed to be the internet one! I guess now she just makes music. It was better before. The closest thing to a villain in this movie is the activities director on the cruise, who for some reason is actively malicious towards the Roberts family. It's not even funny, he's just creepy.


Film 39: Barbie: Big City, Big Dreams (2021)

Barbie's going to New York, baby! This is a weird one. Barbie goes to some performing arts school for the summer, where she's put in a room with another girl who is also named Barbie Roberts. The other Barbie is from Brooklyn, while our Barbie is from Malibu, so they refer to each other as such. Weird that middle names didn't come into this, but I guess nobody wanted the main character of the film to be called Millicent the whole time. The two Barbies become best friends immediately. Like, right after they meet they sing a song (which sounds a bit like a love song) and they're inseparable. They meet one of Brooklyn's old friends who's actually a super famous pop star but wants to learn more shit on the down low, but then her manager dad buys his way into directing the center and wants to make sure his daughter wins the solo at the end of the semester. They have the whole "Barbie is bad at things" montage that we got in Princess Charm School, but in this movie it's weird. This is the actual Barbie we're talking about, not some character she's playing. They're making her a more relatable figure, but to me Barbie should be more aspirational. Think Spider-Man vs. Superman. Spider-Man fucks up all the time, but it makes you feel like you could be him, while Superman is the idealized hero, he does the right thing all the time. On that note, while they're all dancing and being silly, Malibu Barbie knocks Brooklyn Barbie off a stage and she sprains her ankle, and Manager Dad tells the principal that Malibu did it on purpose, so she gets expelled and the two Barbies sing a breakup song. Luckily the pop star finds a video that shows it was an accident so Malibu comes back and both Barbies get the to sing a big song in Times Square. Manager Dad faces no repercussions. Brooklyn's gonna be in the rest of these, and they even got a whole teevee show that I'm not going to watch. (I'M NOT YOU CAN'T MAKE ME) I'm not sure how I feel about her. She's not a one-to-one copy of Malibu Barbie, like she's not hypercompetent in all skills or anything, she's almost entirely music-focused. I dunno, I just like it better when I can use names and don't have to put prefixes before them. There's probably someone out there who's really happy about Brooklyn Barbie and I can't hold that against them.


Film 40: Barbie: Mermaid Power (2022)

This is a sequel to Dolphin Magic, which I guess means that one had Dreamhouse Adventures Barbie all along. You would think that this, being a sequel, would make more sense while having less to introduce, but somehow they fucked that up. Right in the beginning of the movie Barbies and sisters are cleaning trash from the ocean and like a minute later they're all turning into mermaids. As if they all knew they could do that with Barbie's magic necklace already! Don't get me started on Mermaid Town where they have to do a magic ritual like in that Fairytopia movie or Mermaid Tale 2 but in order to do it they have to find the Mermaid Avatar. For some reason every mermaid has an elemental power, even the Barbie crew who just became mermaids like 5 seconds ago, except for one who gets all of them, and then they can do the mermaid ritual and save the ocean. The evil marine biologist is back, this time with a Mr. Crocker-like obsession with proving mermaids are real, and a badass crab sub. This movie has too much going on. It's gotta introduce the entire mermaid society, their magic powers, then there's racist mermaids who hate land dwellers, and to top it all off there's a giant trash heap in the ocean. Once again there's a million characters in this thing, all throwing fire underwater(?) or shooting air or talking to dolphins and I can't care enough to keep track of it all. Anyway there's a little girl mermaid who turns out to be the Avatar and she disintegrates the trash island and evil marine biologist becomes a mermaid and turns into a good guy. This showcases one of the problems with maintaining one continuity with these things, if this were made before the Netflix era, I'm sure it would have been a standalone film with Barbie playing a character. Instead they had to shoehorn the Roberts sisters into this plot and world all at once and it just kept throwing shit at you. One of the things that made the Barbie franchise so versatile was its ability to have unrelated movies, even if they all had the Barbie branding. I hope they move back towards that model with later releases.


Film 41: Barbie: Epic Road Trip (2022)

The only cool thing about Netflix is that once in a while they make a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style thing, like that one Black Mirror special from a few years ago. I mostly like them if there's a way I can just fuck up the story, though a lot of these are on rails pretty hard. Surprise surprise, they made a Barbie one! Malibu Barbie, Brooklyn Barbie, Skipper, Ken, and a bunch of dogs are taking a road trip across the US to test out Skipper's dog adoption app, see the sights, and get to NYC for some backup singer audition. A lot of choices boil down to choosing between Brooklyn or Ken, because Ken still hasn't confessed his feelings to Barbie. Now, I know they didn't intend this, but it feels like choosing Barbie's romantic partner. I, of course, immediately speedran Ken% because I need to get my boy laid. I was the heteronormative devil on Barbie's shoulder, making her go to every little romantic spot Ken set up until they kissed on the Ferris Wheel in Pennsylvania and I cherished the small morsel of vicarious romantic fulfillment in my cold dead heart. Apart from the endings where it asks you to start from the beginning, there's a smattering of choices that set you just a little bit back in the story, like in Roswell they can be abducted by aliens which deposit them back at the beach in the beginning of the movie but with no memory of what happened before that. Or a haunted house in New Orleans that opens and trap door and sends them back a few scenes. My first ending was Brooklyn and Malibu move to New York with musical artist careers, while Boyfriend Ken moves to be with Malibu Barbie and be a malewife. I ran through it a few more times for completion's sake, where Brooklyn and Malibu live alone in London with a record deal, or one where Barbie goes back to Malibu without a job, Ken, or anything to show for the road trip. The multiple nature of this kinda works for Barbie, since she's yet to become her omni-talented self, it makes sense not to lock her down as a singer or whatever. I liked it more than I thought I would, if only because I could act as a spiritual wingman for Ken.


Film 42: Barbie: Skipper and the Big Babysitting Adventure (2023)

I wasn't expecting a lot from this film, especially considering how the Chelsea one went down. The babysitting angle and the fact this began with a 2D animated segment that looked like cheap PBS anime didn't help either. But this film had a crucial component I couldn't even have imagined. THEY BROUGHT BACK RAQUELLE!! Well, kinda. Turns out the show has a character named Tammy who, as far as I can tell, is Raquelle with a different name. She's bitchy, entitled, rich, and a failqueen. Also she's got black hair and calls Skipper Mini-Barbie. I was completely blindsided, I thought they just weren't interested in the Raquelle archetype anymore, but here she was! (Mostly) She may have been reincarnated, but I know whatever lives we live we would find each other again... Ahem. So Skipper fucks up her babysitting job and since everyone else is leaving for the summer (Barbie finally being the Barbie I know and planting trees in the Amazon) Skipper decides to work at the local waterpark. But! Turns out Tammy's dad owns the place and put her in charge. Tammy's dad is great, he's the stereotypical businessman, talking on four phones all the time and rating any possible situation on whether it's good for business or not. The funniest joke in this movie is when he sees a pie chart, imagines it as pie, and leaves in the middle of a business proposal so he can go get some pie. He's a legend. Anyway Skipper and some friends get hired because nobody else wants to work for Tammy, and Skipper gets the idea to set up a daycare for little kids in the park. After Tammy tries to steal the idea and fucks up (As she should) Skipper and her friends have a little odyssey trying to get 6 kids back to the park without anyone catching wise. This was way funnier than any recent film has been, like the part where Skipper talks to dolphins by pointing her eyes in opposite directions and screeching, and the only reaction to this from her friends is, "Wow, she is a good babysitter." I think they're finally hitting their stride with this Barbie, which was a nice endcap to my own odyssey across the Barbie-verse.

Rating: Raquelle/BARBIE

(But really like a 5 out of 6)

I... I did it! I watched every single Barbie movie! There were a lot of surprising moments going through this, I liked a lot more of them a lot more than I thought I would. Sure, there were plenty that fit the Barbie stereotype I had in my head, but the spikes in quality were very appreciated. Given the breadth of content here, I'm not actually sure any of this will give me insight to the live action movie coming up. But if there's one thing I've learned through all of this, it's that you can be whatever you want to be. Apparently what I wanted to be was a man in his thirties who watched the entirety of a franchise made for little girls. Thank you for following me on this journey, and hopefully I'll do something less insane next time. Come back for a little denouement later!

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Life In Plastic: A Barbie Marathon Part 5

History repeats itself, doesn't it? Second week in I was locked in my house because the air outside was killing my lungs, and five weeks in I'm right back there. Things sure do seem bad, right? I hear there's widespread riots in France, but what with twitter down and me coughing my lungs out I don't have a good grasp of the world around me. However, like Nero before me, I am devoting myself to pointless frivolity while all I knew begins to collapse. Let's get back into it.

Film 29: Barbie in Princess Power (2015)

Oh shit! This is the first Barbie movie I had ever seen! I even wrote about it in what would become a short-lived staple of this stupid blog. I was honestly pretty curious if my opinion would change after watching over two dozen Barbie movies before this rewatch. My feelings are complicated. On the one hand, to make a Barbie superhero movie is way out of left field considering the plots they've used so far, which were all fantasy stories that involved mermaids and fairies. I didn't really realize how far out of the ordinary this was when I first saw it, but now I can see they were going places. Not necessarily great places. The character designs are all kinda bad. Background design has gotten way worse than the heights of Secret Door, like the trees and buildings and whatnot all look pretty lazily rendered. The villain is more annoying than anything, especially since this is a rare example of a Villainous Bibble, with his stupid frog that I hate. The actress that voiced Raquelle in previous movies, Britt Irvin, voices Barbie's mean cousin, who eventually becomes another superhero. I am duty bound to inform you that I love Dark Sparkle. I had a really hard time figuring out where I fall on this one, the novelty of a Dragon Ball fight in a Barbie movie was somewhat dampened by the appearance of like 5 superpowered pets.


Film 30: Barbie in Rock 'N Royals (2015)

I was worried I had another Princess and the Popstar on my hands here, but luckily it's not nearly that bad. This is a world where princesses and successful musical artists each have their own summer camp, and by wild coincidence these two summer camps are on either side of the same lake. Why would musicians (some of whom already have successful careers) need a summer camp? Why would princesses? But anyway one princess and one rockstar accidentally go to the other's camp and then the camp owners make a bet about who will win a sing-off and the loser cedes their land to the other camp. So the campgoers find out and work together yadda yadda. I feel a bit insulted here, they got Chiara Zanni to play the musical artist, but they couldn't get her back for Mariposa?? HOW DARE YOU. There's songs in this but it's not really a musical. It could have been worse.


Film 31: Barbie & Her Sisters in The Great Puppy Adventure (2015)

Barbie movies are a series of baits and switches. They lure you in with two good movies about Barbie and her sisters and then just as you think you know what level of quality you should expect you get this bullshit. This doesn't seem like it's from the same continuity as the previous two Barbie & Her Sisters movies. All the character designs have changed, presumably to match up with some Barbie Vlogs that I am not going to watch you can't make me. Everyone looks... younger. Which raises the Parent Question again. Why is Barbie bringing her sisters to see their grandma without their parents? How old is Barbie, exactly? She's old enough to drive, but now it's not clear if she's making a living by herself or what. At any rate they're all going back to their hometown of Willows, Wisconsin, where Grandma Roberts gives them a bunch of puppies, thus ruining this movie forever. Does anyone else remember that time in the 00's where a rash of talking puppies movies came out? Direct-to-DVD stuff like Air Buddies were everywhere, you couldn't escape them. Well someone at Barbie Entertainment looked upon that era with wistfulness and a decade later put that in their goddamn Barbie movie. Sure the sisters are trying to find some treasure, but then we have to follow around some cutesy dogs and their cutesy voices misinterpreting stuff and being annoying. Oh, the town has fallen on hard times? Too bad, look at these dogs fall down. There's a secret cavern under the town full of gold and jewels? Fuck that, this stupid dog needs to learn to believe in itself. Easily the worst talking animal movie yet.


Film 32: Barbie: Spy Squad (2016)

Did someone on the Barbie staff just come out of a 10 year long coma? Why else would they make a Totally Spies ripoff almost 10 years after it ended? This is supposed to be another "Real Life" movie, though with the new designs debuted in Puppy Adventure, and now Barbie has a new friend named Renee. But yeah, it's Totally Spies. The three girls become "spies" for some nebulous agency, use girl-themed gadgets and try to stop some jewel thief. The thief is obnoxious, though not as bad as the tech guy who looks like Scott the Woz and has a crush on Teresa and won't fucking shut up about it. We've changed VA's for Barbie again, now instead of Kelly Sheridan we have Erica Lindbeck. She's a good actress, but I think the direction in this movie hampers her talents where other work of hers showcased them more. A weird thing is that this movie teaches the Visualization therapeutic technique to deal with stressful situations. Like, an actual thing therapists teach. I don't think any other Barbie movies have done something like this. I guess it gets points for that, but loses points on everything else.


Film 33: Barbie: Star Light Adventure (2016)

Barbie Sci-Fi! Because of that it's another one I wrote about before. This is the first time I saw a Barbie movie and went "Oh huh I guess Barbie movies can be good." It's a pretty solid film, the production design is really good here, especially the night skies with stars, nebulae, and planets all around. I guess they would have to be, since this movie is about the stars going out. The Space King thinks he's gonna fix it so he hires a bunch of Radical Teens to help him get to the center of the galaxy, but then he can't and Barbie fixes everything by dancing or something. This almost has a Barbie X-Men team, where all the team members are aliens with different abilities, like gravity manipulation or super speed. Barbie even has telekinesis. I could probably write a long pretentious article about how this movie explores the failure of authoritarian rule to cope with disaster while spontaneous humanity holds the solutions, but that's for another time.


Film 34: Barbie & Her Sisters in A Puppy Chase (2016)

Have you ever been on a really bad vacation as a kid? One where everything seemed to fuck up and you couldn't do any of the stuff you wanted? You might have been angry at your parents and blamed them for the poor time. But as you get older, you think back on it and realize your parents were dealing with a bunch of shit themselves, and the anger evolves into something more complex. The sympathy and sadness you feel now makes the memories harder to deal with. You feel bad about how you acted when your parents were doing their best. Okay stop thinking about that now and look at some dumb goddamn puppies. In the second Puppy movie the sisters go to what I assume is Hawaii, though they only ever call it "The Island" for some reason. Shit goes haywire and they lose the puppies but Chelsea has to get to her dance contest! Barbie is surprisingly incompetent in this movie, like all the things she does lead to more misfortune. There's almost a poignant moment where she reveals she hadn't known what to do any more than her sisters, but she kept up an optimistic facade so they wouldn't give up. But then we have talking puppies and a couple talking horses and the talking poodle and you get my drift. This one has another therapeutic technique to deal with anxiety, where you seriously consider what would happen in the best and worse case scenario of a given situation and how you would deal with each. I just get taken out of anything meaningful when we have Paw Patrol-ass dialogue and surfing puppies. It seems like it's going for a Little Miss Sunshine type of ending, where Chelsea's dance performance, joined by her sisters, the puppies, the horses etc., loses the competition, but she learns that trying your best is the real reward. But no! She breaks the rules with all that other bullshit but still pulls out a win! That's not a lesson! That's just pandering!


Film 35: Barbie: Video Game Hero (2017)

The last Barbie movie I'd already seen before starting this whole project, I think actually forgot most of this one. And, watching it again, it was for good reason. This one is a mess. I'm supposed to believe Barbie (the actual Barbie, not a role she is playing) is some kinda Alpha Gamer and programmer, with the easily distinguishable line between those two roles made blurry in this film. The scene starts with Barbie playing a game with her friends, but then she starts coding the game while they're playing it? And she made that game? Later she gets sucked into a tablet and a cloud tells her she has to win the game to kill some evil emojis. Let's get one thing straight: This game doesn't make a single bit of sense. Level 1 is a race. That's fine, sure. Level 2 is Bejeweled. Huh? The artstyle even changes. Level 3 is Minecraft. Who made this game?? When I beat a race, I would like to do more races, not be shoved into some Roblox looking shit! All the characters are annoying. The only real life game mentioned in this movie is Just Dance, along with the most annoying song I've ever heard, some chihuahua song with barking that I found honestly difficult to get through. Once again our protagonist wins by cheating, though if they're honestly competing in Just Dance I don't think the competition was very rigorous to begin with. This movie ends with a music video for that terrible song and I will hate this movie until I die. (If you have watched the Emoji movie you may notice how they ripped off this one. Fun fact.)


Things are looking pretty dire, folks. A noticeable downgrade from last week, only one movie even cracked five on my incredibly biased rating scale. No matter, Week Five is done! We're in the home stretch! Soon I will be able to watch something that isn't Barbie! I will know all! I WILL BE THE MASTER OF BARBIE NONE SHALL CHALLENGE ME ON MY HOT PINK THRONE! BEAR WITNESS!