Sunday, August 13, 2023

Life In Plastic: A Barbie Marathon Part 7

Seven weeks ago I embarked on a quest, to see every Barbie movie ever made, to prepare for the live action film coming out soon. While in the preceding six articles I detailed my experience with each film, I haven't yet laid out my feelings on the Barbie series as a whole. That's what this is.

I made a tier list. Lists are dumb and I try to avoid them whenever possible, but I am nothing if not accommodating. (Keep in mind my standards are stupid and ever-changing.)

Barbie The Princess and the Pauper (2004)
Raquelle A Fairy Secret (2011)
Skipper and the Big Babysitting Adventure (2023)
BARBIE Barbie (2023)
The Secret Door (2014)
A Christmas Carol (2008)
The Nutcracker (2001)
Princess Charm School (2011)
The Pearl Princess (2014)
BARBI A Perfect Christmas (2011)
A Fashion Fairytale (2010)
Mariposa and Her Butterfly Fairy Friends (2008)
The Magic of Pegasus (2005)
Star Light Adventure (2016)
The Pink Shoes (2013)
Barbie & Her Sisters in A Pony Tale (2013)
The 12 Dancing Princesses (2006)
BARB The Three Musketeers (2009)
Epic Road Trip (2022)
Princess Power (2015)
A Mermaid Tale (2010)
Princess Adventure (2020)
BAR Fairytopia: Mermaidia (2006)
Swan Lake (2003)
Mariposa & The Fairy Princess (2013)
The Island Princess (2007)
Big City, Big Dreams (2021)
Rock 'N Royals (2015)
Dolphin Magic (2017)
BA The Diamond Castle (2008)
Fairytopia: Magic of the Rainbow (2007)
Barbie & Her Sisters in A Puppy Chase (2016)
Spy Squad (2016)
A Mermaid Tale 2 (2012)
Fairytopia (2005)
Chelsea: The Lost Birthday (2021)
Mermaid Power (2022)
B Rapunzel (2002)
Video Game Hero (2017)
Barbie & Her Sisters in The Great Puppy Adventure (2015)
Thumbelina (2009)
The Barbie Diaries (2006)
The Princess & The Popstar (2012)


Voice Actors

There were a lot more VAs for Barbie than I thought there would be! Kelly Sheridan is, of course, the legend. She's the OG, you can't do better. She set the standard, especially in films like Princess and the Pauper, where she managed to make the two Barbies distinct enough to tell apart. Diana Kaarina, though only with four film appearances, certainly made her mark as the second voice for our favorite doll. Even matching up against Sheridan, she gave notable performances, especially in A Perfect Christmas, adroitly conveying the subtleties of Barbie's relationship to her sisters. Next we have Erica Lindbeck. She was on board for five films, though I don't know if she made as much of a mark as I remember. She's kind of sandwiched between Sheridan and the newest VA, and she only had one movie I really liked. She's a great actress in other properties, I loved her in the Broly movie, but Barbie didn't use her to her fullest. Lastly we have the most current Barbie voice actress, America Young. There's no way that's her government name. Like that's what you might name a patriotic Barbie knockoff. Anyway. Her performance is pretty far afield from how Sheridan voiced the character. It's a more obviously young voice, even cracking sometimes. I might dislike that if Barbie was like her previous iterations, but with a complete change of cast and age for Barbie, the voice makes sense. I disliked it at first, coming after getting used to the Sheridan-type voices, but it's grown on me as the Dreamhouse Adventures version of the character did.

There's a couple actors who have been a main character in a Barbie movie without necessarily being a Barbie. What I mean is Chiara Zanni as Mariposa from the movie of the same name and Morwenna Banks from A Christmas Carol. I like both of their performances, Zanni as the unconfident Mariposa and Banks as the stuck-up diva Eden Starling. Both of them are good enough that they could have headlined another Barbie movie, though at least Zanni got cast as a supporting character again.


This one's all over the place. Early Barbie movies had orchestral scores, done by the London Symphony Orchestra or the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. It's hard to go wrong with that, especially in the case of Nutcracker, given the time-tested nature of those tracks. In the middle things get a bit muddier, as the move away from orchestral music necessitated a digital approach, which took a while to find its legs.

As far as sing-songs go, the first musical did it best. Princess and the Pauper has a classic Broadway musical style for its lyrics and performance, which provides it a timelessness some others in this series don't. Diamond Castle started the trend of including a Main Song for each film, a little pop number that could play over the intro and credits. I'm not a huge fan of these as a concept, since the style always seems behind the times when you get to it. There were a few good tunes in there, like Queen of the Waves from A Mermaid Tale, that infuriatingly gets stuck in my head sometimes. Most of them are forgettable at best.


There were a few unexpected plots going through this series, but the majority of these are pretty boilerplate. Fairies, mermaids and princesses. You could count the number of movies without at least one of these elements on one hand. Typically if those aren't involved it's about Barbie herself. Not that any of these plot elements are bad, mind you. I really enjoyed a few that had these in abundance, like Princess and the Pauper or The Secret Door. There's really not that much variety when it comes to themes here, but I suppose that's another requirement of the Barbie ethos. Overwhelmingly the point of one of these movies is that you should be yourself. Sometimes the obstacle to that is a system that is unfriendly to you, other times it's a fact about yourself you reject. If the actual Barbie isn't the main character, that's essentially what you're going to see. They only dipped into more meaty subjects on this line a couple of times, with The Three Musketeers dealing with sexism, and Mariposa and the Fairy Princess clumsily discussing racism. These aren't unworthy subjects to cover, but something about Barbie movies makes them ill-equipped to handle these very well. I don't know if it's because they're aimed at younger kids or if they just had restrictive brand requirements, but neither one of the more progressive messages come across very well, with one minor exception. In Princess and the Pauper and Princess Charm School, there's a little bit about economic class that's unusual for Barbie's oeuvre. It's not a lot, but having a main character grow up poor and then deal with princesses was more effective than other attempts at that sort of thing.

The Barbie & Her Sisters plots tend to have a bit more going on with them, usually foregoing the fantasy elements and ending up a bit more grounded. The family dynamic is the focus, and with the sisters being different ages, they could include arcs relevant to different ages of kids at the same time. A theme I really didn't see coming is a sort of parental anxiety from Barbie when it comes to her sisters. In Perfect Christmas and A Puppy Chase their vacation goes awry and Barbie blames herself for not being able to fix it. It's weird for a kids movie to make the main character an ersatz parent with applicable problems. That's the stuff that really caught me off-guard while watching, even if some of it was interspersed with stupid puppy bullshit.

Wrapping up

There's not a lot of media franchises that can compete with Barbie. The doll line alone has an impressive legacy, and that's not counting the cartoons, animated films, and finally a live action movie. Sure, one could say the same thing about Transformers, but there's something special about Barbie you don't find in other toy-driven series. There's a versatility to the brand that keeps it going, so there's always a chance you'll see something you didn't expect. Any given Transformers property will hew closely to a pre-established story, but a Barbie movie can range from a grounded musical about a princess to a sci-fi story about the fate of the stars. I think that's why it took so long for a live action film to get made; in a comic book story you can adapt one of the long-running stories, but with Barbie there's so much potential, picking something to adapt is almost impossible. G.I. Joe can never have the same cultural cache, each generation remembers their own Barbie.

I started this project as a big joke, and to be fair a lot of it is still that, but the adage holds true: The longer you perform a joke, the more sincere it's going to become. There's a lot of this that simply will never affect me the way it would a young girl, but you can't watch over 42 hours of something without taking a little with you. There's plenty of bad in there, don't get me wrong, but I still listen to the Secret Door or Princess and the Pauper soundtracks from time to time. I've learned a lot, and the most important part is that I will never have to watch another Barbie movie again as long as I live.

Who am I kidding. I'm in too deep to stop now. When's that Stacie movie coming out?

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