Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees looks forward to the inevitable Barbie: The Niebelungen, whose tie-in doll will have a Viking helmet, bronze bustier, and Enchanted Ring of Fire Play Set, batteries not included.
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When I was a little girl, tie-in dolls never stood up to the movie or TV characters themselves. My Princess Leia doll had the trademark Star Puffs hairdo, sure, but the likeness didn't flatter Carrie Fisher. My Wonder Woman doll was an aggressive-looking Amazon with a stern fixed glare, as different as can be imagined from Lynda Carter's twinkly charm. And Barbie as Scarlett O'Hara? Fuhgeddaboutit. That perky visage never inspired Rhett Butler to say he'd seen eyes like that looking at him down the barrel of a gun.
Now the folks at Mattel have solved the problem of disappointing tie-in dolls by creating a straight-to-video Barbie movie so bland, so visually crummy, that the companion dolls can't help but look fabulous in comparison. The Fairytopia doll line is in fact lovely: With their Easter Egg–colored hair and glittery, diaphanous outfits, the dolls are sure to delight the hearts of Barbie lovers—well, maybe all except the troll dolls. But the film itself shows far less attention to detail and visual impact than do the tie-in toys.
To be blunt, this is some lousy computer animation. The characters have that inflatable-doll look of video game characters, with no sense of gravity, and never seem to exist in the same plane with the backdrops—there's no sense of connection to the settings. The characters always move at the same drifting rate of speed, even when they are supposedly about urgent business. The animation is so cheap that all the characters are portrayed with their hair cut short or tied up, so that the animators never have to make their hair move. The backgrounds have some pretty colors but almost never show the kind of lushness promised by the package art. There's no reason for the animation to be so shabby; the G.I. Joe straight-to-video movies, for example, were of much higher quality and even showed some distinctive flair in their animation style. Granted, the target audience for Barbie movies will probably not make this particular comparison, unless today's little girls have much broader tastes than I suspect, but the point is that toy-tie-in entertainment doesn't have to be of such poor quality.
One might be able to forgive this execrable animation if the story were good, but it's dull, dull, dull. Barbie appears as Elina, a flower fairy who lives in a semi-sentient peony flower. She has a cute puffball sidekick called Bibble, who talks in unintelligible noises, and a gal pal named Dandelion. Elina is an unusual fairy since she has no wings, and the pixies taunt her about this handicap. Nevertheless, her deficiency proves to be an advantage when evil Laverna, in a gambit to seize power from her sister the Enchantress, sends out a sickness that afflicts all flying creatures (except, apparently, Bibble—and her own bird minions). Laverna is also kidnapping all the guardian fairies to seize their necklaces of power, as well as making the flowers ill (she's a multi-tasker), so Elina sets out to find the guardian fairy Azura to ask for help. On her journey she also meets the gallant butterfly Hue, the reformed dryad Dahlia, a suave merman, some rhyming trolls (ick), and the warty minions of Laverna.
The plot might have worked if there were any sense of drive or tension, but these are totally lacking. The story just trickles along mildly. For that reason, it may prove restful to parents whose nerves are frayed by the quick-cutting, aggressive, pop-music-blaring kids' fare that is so prevalent; whatever its other shortcomings, Fairytopia is definitely inoffensive. It does send some positive messages about courage, loyalty, persistence, and dealing with peer ridicule, but I can't imagine any but the very, very youngest of children watching this without getting restless and bored.
Audiovisual quality is satisfactory, although the film doesn't really make use of the surround audio mix; like the animation, the music is basic, unimaginative, and unambitious. Disc extras include the inevitable marketing devices: trailers for Barbie's other films, some of which look marginally better than this one, and "Fairy Friends," in which the tie-in toys appear against a backdrop from the film while Barbie introduces them in voiceover. There is a simple game of "Pixie Hide-and-Seek." The most surreal feature—and hence the most enjoyable—is "Boogie with Bibble," in which we discover that this furry critter loves to dance. Barbie invites us to arrange choreography for Bibble in one of three different styles: disco, ballet, or hip-hop. Seeing Bibble do the cabbage patch almost made up for the previous 70 wasted minutes.
I won't declare Barbie: Fairytopia guilty outright, because it's harmless stuff, and tiny kids will probably like the pretty colors and Barbie's gentle voice. Likewise, it won't give parents migraines. But I think most kids will be happier making up their own stories for the dolls than watching this humdrum DVD.
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