Judge Kent Dixon dated a mermaid once, but dumped her for being too shallow and shellfish.
What makes you different can also be your greatest strength.
Barbie has been around the block, from her humble beginnings as a child's toy, to appearances in almost every medium imaginable, from books and puzzles, to video games, dress-up clothes, and animated films. Borrowing just a tad from Disney, Barbie takes the plunge beneath the waves with Barbie in a Mermaid Tale.
Facts of the Case
This will make your brain hurt: the fictional character Barbie stars as the fictional character Merliah in a Hannah Montana-esque tale of a young girl who's a mild-mannered teenage surfer who also happens to be part mermaid. With a little tension and drama thrown in for good measure, Merliah learns that being different may not be such a bad thing after all.
Animation has often been used as a slave to marketing, with companies throwing an animated series together merely as a tool to drive brainwashed children to the stores, with their reluctant parents in tow. The '80s were rife with series like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Snorks, and Strawberry Shortcake that were little more than advertising in sheep's clothing. Fortunately, Mattel has clearly taken the approach of producing quality animated content that just happens to feature their legendary character.
Whether she's a ballerina, a princess, a mermaid, or just a plain-old doll, Barbie has been entertaining children for more than half a century. From her modest beginnings as a fashion doll from Mattel in 1959, she's grown to be an internationally-recognized icon who is as familiar as Ronald McDonald or Santa. Barbie has had her challenges over the years, being accused of being a negative role model for young girls and a sexist stereotype that objectifies women as objects. On the flip side, she's also been a doctor and an astronaut, demonstrating that young women can accomplish anything they set out to achieve.
Maybe she got a new agent who saw her potential as a TV and film star, as Barbie made her TV debut in 1987 in a two-part TV special that focused on the Barbie and the Rockers doll line. For whatever reason, she took an extended hiatus before heading straight to the feature-length, direct-to-DVD market with Barbie in the Nutcracker in 2001. To date, there have been 17 films in the CG-animated series, based largely on adaptations of classic stories or fantasy concepts such as princesses, fairies, mermaids and the like. Barbie in a Mermaid Tale, the latest release in the series, draws on the gold-plated concept of mermaids to tell a story of individuality and self-confidence.
Taking some notes from Disney productions past, present and likely future, Barbie in a Mermaid Tale tells a somewhat familiar story that includes both a suitable villain and a cutesy wildlife companion. There's nothing that new here plot-wise, but that's not always a bad thing, especially with the lack of quality animated releases that seem to be available on the direct-to-DVD market these days. There's less of a feeling of pure marketing here and more of a sense that the producers have genuinely set out to make something that will entertain younger viewers. While not for everyone, and certainly a bit cloying at times for adult viewers, Barbie in a Mermaid Tale is good clean fun that offers some decent life lessons.
Canadian voice actor Kelly Sheridan has not only voiced dozens of anime and video game characters, but she's also hitched her wagon to the Barbie star, providing the character's perky and engaging voice since Barbie in the Nutcracker. Sheridan is the perfect blend of youth and fun without crossing the line into cheesiness, providing a solid core to the feature's talented voice cast. From the above-average voice acting to the soothing score and atmospheric effects of bubbles, waves and surf, Barbie in a Mermaid Tale is a well-balanced audio treat. It seems that with each new film, the production team behind the Barbie films gets better and better at their craft, improving the CG presentation and making it just a bit better. This release is razor sharp and crystal clear, displaying vivid detail and contrast, alongside some of the most beautiful colors the CG palette has to offer. It's also worth noting that this isn't hyper-real, creepy CG, but a pleasing take on character design that is somewhat reminiscent of the PC game The Sims.
Maybe due to the target audience of younger children for this release, the assortment of extra features is relatively thin. A handful of contrived "Bloopers" are included, but maybe someone should have mentioned to Universal that Pixar not only did this first, they also did it better on their releases. Aside from that, do children even get the concept of bloopers in the first place? Next up is the music video for the catchy, pseudo Go-Gos tune "Queen of the Waves" and the short featurette "I Can Be…A Surfer" delivers the scoop on surfing from Australian professional surfer Stephanie Gilmore.
For fans of all things Barbie, Barbie in a Mermaid Tale will definitely meet or exceed their expectations. For parents who fear being trapped on the couch for over an hour, this release will likely entertain you as well. Given the quality of the production and the reasonable purchase prices you're likely to find through online or big box retailers, it's easy to recommend adding this to your child's viewing library.
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