"You're braver then you think."
Barbie stars in another full-length animated film: Barbie of Swan Lake. It's Swan Lake…with a happy ending. If you watch the film closely, you just might catch Tchaikovsky hanging himself from a dark tree in the background of the enchanted forest (just like that guy in the Wizard of Oz).
Facts of the Case
Barbie plays Odette, the beautiful daughter of a village baker. One day, Odette sees a unicorn that she follows to the enchanted forest. Once inside, she meets the fairy queen of the forest and discovers that Rothbart (Kelsey Grammer, Frasier), the evil sorcerer, is trying to take over the forest. Rothbart turns Odette into a swan, leaving her trapped as a creature of the enchanted forest.
The fairy queen tries to help Odette, but her magic is only powerful enough to reverse the spell from sunset to sunrise. In order to save the magic forest, and win back her freedom, Odette teams up with Lila the Unicorn, Erasmus the troll, and a magic stone to battle Rothbart and his daughter Odile (Maggie Wheeler, Friends). Along the way, Odette also manages to win the heart of Prince Daniel and, of course, live happily ever after.
This story bears very little resemblance to the actual story of Swan Lake.
The ballet Swan Lake is traditionally a tragic fairytale: Prince Daniel (actually Siegfried in the ballet) and Odette sacrifice themselves at the end to save the enchanted forest and destroy Rothbart. This is the first of quite a few very large differences. Now, understandably, a fairytale with a tragic ending would be inappropriate for children's entertainment…after all, we don't need our youngsters being scared for life because of things they see in the media. Urrm.
Aside from the obvious plot differences, the film wasn't all that bad. The ballet sequences were very well done. Peter Martins, the Ballet Master in Chief of the New York City Ballet, did an amazing job with the choreography. The transfer to DVD was also excellent, as it should be. The animation in the film however, was horrendous. The characters looked like little plastic dolls and little plush animals. (In fact, if you squint hard enough, you can almost see hands manipulating them as the dance along in the movie.) Any computer-animated film should, by 2003, have no excuse for poor animation. Unless the goal was to make a movie about dancing plastic Barbie dolls (and even then Toy Story did a much better job animating toys), Barbie of Swan Lake really needs to rethink their CGI strategy.
To reinforce Mattel's obvious marketing ploy (making a movie about some dancing dolls), when you open the DVD keep case for Barbie of Swan Lake, a little catalogue falls out. The catalogue gleefully illustrates all the options available for purchasing Barbie and her friends and all of their accessories. Just in case you didn't already know what to get your kids for the holidays, you can buy them this DVD and then feel bad that you didn't manage to purchase all of the other items on their wish list. Even if they were added after seeing the catalogue. Mattel assures us that they had absolutely no intention for this to happen.
One of the saving graces of this film was the soundtrack. It was excellent. The dialogue was clear and easy to understand. The voice acting wasn't always incredible, but it wasn't awful. The London Symphony Orchestra preformed the soundtrack and they did an amazing job—at least Barbie of Swan Lake got something right. In fact, if you walk into another room, you can even forget that Barbie is on TV and just enjoy the music.
The DVD did offer a quite a bit in the way of special features. There were some educational features on some of the more prominent dances that appear in Barbie of Swan Lake and a little game called "Explore the Stars" that you can play on your TV with a DVD player remote. There was also a documentary called "The Music in You," which was obviously meant to encourage children to study music; however, the age group that the movie was targeted at would probably not watch the entire documentary (at least not without a serious sedative before hand). Mattel was also kind enough to include a demo DVD-ROM game. The game is also very obviously another marketing ploy. It's a nice little teaser, but for full enjoyment, you need to go out to your nearest electronics dealer and buy Barbie of Swan Lake on CD-ROM.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My boss has two daughters, ages 6 and 4, so I asked her if they would be interested in watching Barbie of Swan Lake. Well, she passed the news on to them and asked what they thought. Her oldest said: "I don't have to see the movie to know that I already like it." Needless to say, after viewing the film, neither of the girls could come up with a "favorite part" other then the "whole movie."
Barbie of Swan Lake is one of those sickeningly sweet fairy tales that you need to be below the age of 8 to really enjoy. This is not one of those family movies with multiple levels of humor like Shrek or Ice Age that many different age groups could enjoy; this movie is a great way to entertain children while you do something else in another room.
Now don't get me wrong, I think the idea of an animated Swan Lake is excellent, and I would love to see something like this done for adults: remaining true to the music and story. For me, Barbie of Swan Lake just didn't quite cut it.
Because Barbie of Swan Lake will entertain young children for almost an hour and a half, and allow you to get your taxes done, it is free to go.
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Scales of Justice
• Explore the Stars Game
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