Throughout history, there have been stories which have become archetypal and are repeated in literature. Tales like that of Cain and Abel or Shakespearian stories such as "Romeo & Juliet" have been told time and time again in different forms. Apparently, in these modern times, the films of John Hughes have become the new archetype, as every movie or TV show dealing with high school seems to borrow something from the likes of Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. And proving that these stories can permeate all forms of media, we have the newly released animated feature The Barbie Diaries which places Barbie squarely in the world of high school society.
As The Barbie Diaries opens, we are introduced to Barbie (voiced by Kelly Sheridan) and her three best friends, Tia (Venus Terzo), Courtney (Sarah Edmondson), and Kevin. This quartet is about to begin their sophomore year of high school and they all have big plans, including Barbie's desire to anchor the school news telecast and Tia's ambition to be class president. But, as school begins, reality sets in. Barbie loses the job of anchor to popular girl, Raquelle (Chiara Zanni), who used to be Barbie's best friend. Barbie has a huge crush on Todd (Andrew Francis), but he's dating Raquelle. In order get what she wants, Barbie decides to do an expose on the popular kids for the news, as a way of revealing how catty they really are. Instead, she finds that the "populars" are truly alluring. This leaves Tia and Courtney in a bind, as they are in a band with Barbie, and auditions for the school formal are coming up. Will Barbie leave her friends behind?
As if nearly every movie dealing with high school angst doesn't share very similar plot elements, we now have these stories leaking into movies apparently aimed at a younger audience. The Barbie Diaries does very little to separate itself from films of the Mean Girls or Clueless variety and for that alone, the movie feels cheap and unoriginal. And as with its contemporaries My Scene Goes Hollywood and Bratz -- Starrin' & Stylin', one has to wonder at whom The Barbie Diaries is aimed. The story deals with high school students and their problems, and yet I can't imagined anyone older than 13 actually seeking this out to watch it. I can only imagine that the makers of The Barbie Diaries assumed that their younger audience wasn't familiar with the all too hackneyed plot devices used in the movie, such as the nice girl vs. the mean popular snob, and thus thought that the viewers would find it all new and exciting.
However, the problem isn't just the fact that The Barbie Diaries uses clichéd high school stories -- as mentioned above, every high school movie looks similar in one way or another. No, it's the fact that it never goes beyond these clichés that hurts it. Again, young viewers may be surprised by every twist and turn of the story, but I was aghast by how everything fell into place and was incredibly predictable. The only part that I didn't see coming was Barbie's magic diary and this didn't really gel with the rest of the movie.
The Barbie Diaries is weak enough on its own, but when compared to the other recent Barbie direct-to-video features, it really suffers. Productions such as The Princess and the Pauper and Barbie of Swan Lake are very well made. They feature impressive computer generated animation and stories which teach good morals and have strong, positive characters. This isn't true with The Barbie Diaries. For starters, the animation is awful. There is an amazing lack of detail here, and if it weren't for eyes and hair, the characters would just be talking blobs. It looks as if the animators could only focus on one thing in each shot (such as Barbie's hair), and everything else suffered. As for the actions of Barbie's character in this movie, they are questionable at times. Yes, everything works out in the end, but Barbie's pettiness and jealousy certainly isn't pretty. And the movie reaches a new low when Barbie is embarrassed by the fact that she got the highest grade on a science test. (I actually stopped the movie at this point and told my daughters that there's nothing at all wrong with getting the highest score in the class.)
Given the overall appeal of the Barbie license and the track record of the Barbie movies, The Barbie Diaries is nothing to write home about.
The Barbie Diaries scribbles its way to DVD courtesy of Lions Gate. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.77:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Overall, the image looks good, as the picture is sharp and clear. The transfer shows no grain or defects from the source material. The colors are good, although for a Barbie movie, the palette is somewhat muted at times. The image doesn't show the jagged lines which is often associated with animation. However, the digital transfer does draw attention to the utter lack of detail in the animation.
This DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. As with most 5.1 tracks for "family" titles, it is adequate, but not spectacular. The dialogue is always sharp and clear, and there is no hissing or distortion. There are some nicely done stereo effects. However, the surround effects are far too discrete, and I noticed no subwoofer action whatsoever.
The Barbie Diaries contains an odd mix of special features. "Outtakes/Bloopers" (4 minutes) features 10 deleted scenes, none of which are particularly interesting, and none of which are "bloopers" as we are accustomed to seeing with Pixar films. "The Scoop on Skye Sweetnam" (5 minutes) profiles the performer who provides Barbie's singing voice by showing her in the recording studio where she shares her thoughts on Barbie, fashion, and music. We also get the "This is Me" music video from Sweetnam which features a mixture of clips from the movie and shots of Sweetnam in the studio. "Kevin's Paper Clip Movie Featurette" (1 minute) is a stop-motion (faux stop motion?) short which is mentioned in the movie. Finally, we have the "Cootie Catcher Fortune-Teller" set-top game.
The Barbie Diaries has come to DVD in at least two different packaging choices. One can simply purchase the DVD by itself, or one can choose the Gift Set, which comes packaged with a hardback diary which contains approximately 100 pages. I've also seen a variation on the Gift Set at a certain warehouse club store which included the diary and a pen as well.
I often wonder where the ideas for movies come from and for The Barbie Diaries I can just picture some bitter writer saying, "I hate Barbie and her perfect life. I'll bet she didn't have any problems in high school. Well, I'll show her!" Of course, this is all conjecture. The reality is that The Barbie Diaries is a step backwards for the Barbie franchise and parents are probably better off waiting a few years and letting their kids watch Mean Girls.