Barbie stars in her first movie!
About a year ago, the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, produced an episode where they adapted the Charles Dickens classic "Great Expectations," placing their own character of Pip into the lead role. The first half of the episode was pretty much spot on as far as the adaptation went, but you could tell that Matt and Trey read about as much of "Great Expectations" as I was forced to in college. The show finished with Mrs. Haversham trying to create a Genesis Device with the tears of heartbroken men and using robot monkeys to protect it.
I get the feeling that the same process was used to create Barbie in The Nutcracker.
Facts of the Case
The wonders of computer animation bring Barbie to life as she takes on the role of Clara in Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," only the plot manages to take on a strange life of its own, deviating heavily from the ballet. Clara visits relatives for Christmas and is presented with a gift of a nutcracker, which her young cousin manages to break. After the family heads off to bed, with Clara taking the sofa for the night, things get out of hand. The Mouse King, voiced by Tim Curry (Clue, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), invades the home and tries to take the Nutcracker into captivity. A fight ensues and Clara is shrunk to mouse size. Once the invading mice are thwarted, Clara learns that only the Sugarplum Princess can revert her to her natural size, and she and Nutcracker set off on a grand adventure to find the fabled princess.
Our heroes venture to the Gingerbread Village where they meet up with Major Mint, a stereotypical British officer, and Captain Candy, a stereotypical Hindu. At this point, we learn that they were servants of Prince Eric until Prince Eric just up and disappeared at some point. (It should be important to note that at this point in the story everyone in the audience, including any two-year-olds, the family cat, and the pet goldfish, will realize that Prince Eric and Nutcracker are the same person.)
Meanwhile, evil is afoot as the Mouse King sends a nasty henchbat and a rock monster to do away with Barbie and Nutcracker. Yes, you read that right. A henchbat.
No more faithful to "The Nutcracker" than South Park was to "Great Expectations," Barbie in The Nutcracker continues on until the trite ending that only people under the age of eight will enjoy. At least they managed to sneak in actual ballet moves and some of Tchaikovsky's music, so it isn't a total loss.
This is one of those cases where I'm not even sure to begin. In part, Barbie in The Nutcracker represents just about everything that's wrong with children's entertainment. By using Barbie as the main character, Mattel is basically getting a great deal of marketing for their highly successful toy line, and it should come as no surprise that this was co-produced by Mattel Entertainment. Everything that appears in this movie is just screaming to have some sort of a doll or action figure made out of it, and I seriously doubt it would break Mattel's bank account should this nefarious plot succeed.
Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love cartoons. It's the best cartoons, however, that demonstrate the ability to entertain both children and adults. Movies like Shrek and The Iron Giant are both excellent examples, but Barbie in The Nutcracker doesn't even come close to being palatable to adults. The story is written for a young child, which is really a shame because I believe children are actually far cleverer than the writers give them credit for. Children won't pick up on all the horrendous clichés, but anyone who's seen at least five movies in their lifetime will cringe that the all-too-convenient coincidences and trite was-it-all-a-dream happy ending.
The computer animation was created by Mainframe Entertainment, the same studio that brought us the ReBoot cartoon, and I can honestly say that they haven't made huge strides in the quality of their animation. The efforts don't even come close to Toy Story, a movie made six years ago. If you're expecting to see something along the quality of Shrek or any of the other current computer animated fare, you should look elsewhere. The animation is probably good enough to entertain children, but there was a horrid stilt to the motion that made all the characters appear plastic. (Ha! Get it?) I won't mention the lack of originality in the design of the rock monster, a creature who last appeared in Galaxy Quest.
And I also won't mention the obvious breast reduction surgery that Barbie underwent before making this film because I'm far too mature for that.
The video transfer of this DVD is impressive. As is the case with other completely digital movies, there would really be no excuse for it not be. The transfer is not entirely perfect, however, but the problems are only seen by an overly critical eye and do not interfere with the enjoyment of the movie. The soundtrack is an underutilized 5.1 stereo mix, which was somewhat disappointing, but I doubt the target audience is really going to notice the lack of ambience.
As far as the Special Features go, Artisan has provided a revealing documentary called "Living a Ballet Dream," which goes into detail about the lives of the dancers. It seems out of place on a DVD meant for children, but it's good and informative and really boring unless you're into ballet. The other Special Feature is for children and entitled "Act With Barbie," which will allow your children to pretend they're a piece of plastic.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A co-worker was going to be entertaining a number of young nieces and nephews over this past Thanksgiving holiday, so I loaned him Barbie in The Nutcracker hoping that he could use this to occupy the kids for a couple of hours. When he returned the DVD on Monday there was a glint of rancor in his eyes. "The kids watched this seven times in three days," he said blankly, adding, "I hate you for this." Take the opinions from a test audience made up of girls and boys of ages eight and under instead of from me. They loved this movie. The girls loved the dancing and Barbie, and the boys were enthralled by all the swordplay and the giant rock monster.
I will also point out that motion capture techniques, similar to those used to create football video games, were used to record the ballet moves to animate the sugar plum faeries. As a result, the faeries managed to score two sacks, recover a fumble, and score the game-winning touchdown while looking impressive though too tiny to really appreciate.
I also managed to receive a good laugh out of the menu options, which are all laced with warnings to "Get your parents' permission" before doing anything, including using the DVD remote. I guess that will prevent children from trying to put ham sandwiches or Snausages into the DVD player.
As long as you're below the age of eight, you'll probably really enjoy Barbie in The Nutcracker and you'll probably make your parents insane by watching this over and over and over and over. If you're an adult I'd highly recommend dipping into the eggnog before watching this movie, unless, of course, you have a thing for the ballet. If you listen closely, you can hear Tchaikovsky turning in his grave in the background.
Simply because this is a piece of entertainment that seems to successfully hold the attention of children, I have to find Barbie in The Nutcracker not guilty. With that said, Barbie in The Nutcracker is guilty of being a marketing ploy deserving of no less scorn and ridicule than Pokémon or whatever the current craze happens to be.
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Scales of Justice
• "Living a Ballet Dream" Documentary
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