Judge Steve Evans and his seven-year-old daughter join forces to critique this bastion of commercial entertainment.
Singing in her first movie musical.
This review was co-written by Darya, my seven-year-old daughter, whose insights into the world of Barbie have proven to be an invaluable resource in evaluating this film's appeal for the target audience (especially seven-year-old girls). Darya's thoughts are quoted verbatim herein. She recommends the movie as suitable entertainment for girls "…and boys, too," she says after a moment's hesitation.
Facts of the Case
Computer-animated Barbie's musical debut features sweet songs tunefully sung, supporting a story about love, honor and individuality. Adapted liberally from Mark Twain's 1882 novel The Prince and the Pauper, Barbie's adventure concerns two virtually identical girls; one from royalty (Princess Annaliese), the other a poor seamstress (Erika). When the princess is taken prisoner as part of a coup d'état, her new friend Erika covers for her in the palace.
"Both of them look the same, but they had different colored hair," my daughter explains. "Barbie plays both parts in the movie. And they both have kitty cats. The princess was kidnapped by bad guys; two of them were stupid. They really were."
Because they could pass for twins, Erika assumes the role of royalty while she searches for the real princess and her captors. Annaliese, meanwhile, begins to understand the life of a normal girl. Her betrothed, King Dominick, believing Erika is the princess, falls in love with the wrong girl. Soon both the princess and the pauper are torn between a desire for freedom and the tug of personal responsibility. Annaliese may be held against her will, but Erika discovers the life of a princess is seldom truly free. That's not a bad subtext for a children's movie.
"The songs were funny. Pretty, too," Darya opines. "You can sing with them during the movie. That was fun."
Indulgent parents may also enjoy the sing-along feature on the DVD, which encourages audience participation. The lyrics are easy to follow and not too cloying for adults. The bonus CD containing seven songs from the film would provide innocuous background music during a little girl's birthday party. "Yep," Darya agrees. Then she asks how many days remain before her next birthday.
There's not much grown-up humor—the subtle witticisms, visual jokes, and clever wordplay that make movies like Shrek and The Incredibles such a joy for young and old. Here, Martin Short is the lone well-known voice talent among the cast, so parents won't have much luck with the "guess the vocalist" game that we sometimes play in our minds during animated films.
Video and audio are suitably crisp, with no noticeable problems. Half of the extras are promotional material, but the sing-along feature is fun. The bonus CD provides happy accompaniment to a child's creative play time with her dolls and Barbie coloring books.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This movie is the fourth installment of annual Barbie pictures, following Barbie in the Nutcracker, Barbie as Rapunzel and Barbie of Swan Lake. Not coincidentally, toy stores each year since 2001 have been stocked with Barbie-Tchaikovsky merchandise and Barbies with hair extensions sufficient to reach from a prison tower to a handsome prince waiting below. It will probably surprise no one that these playthings hit store shelves around the same time as Barbie unveils her latest movie. So if you can get past the vague sense that these films are actually long commercials—and little girls, bless 'em, generally bypass such cynical thoughts—then the Barbie movies offer harmless adventure.
"It's good," Darya says. She endorses a purchase over a rental, having now spun the DVD three times in as many weeks.
Now what kind of hard-hearted judge would condemn a Barbie movie as a mere marketing ploy to sell dolls and accessories? Despite being a hopelessly unrealistic role model for young girls, Barbie's animated films continue to offer wholesome entertainment and gentle innocence suitable for children and their parents. Barbie and her friends are free to go until it's time to review her next cinematic effort, which will probably coincide with the Christmas shopping season.
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Scales of Justice
• Sing-along feature
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