For youngsters today, the line between marketing, merchandise, and entertainment has become so blurred as to be non-existent. Shows begat toys and toys begat show and it all winds up on DVD, in a never-ending hodge-podge shopping lists run amok. Therefore, it's not surprising to see a toy starring in a direct-to-video film. Barbie of Swan Lake doesn't even attempt to disguise itself as anything but marketing, but at least the makers of the movie has added some artistic integrity to the mix.
As Barbie of Swan Lake opens, we see Barbie (voiced by Kelly Sheridan) at a camp. She's gone to check on the sleeping campers, and find's Kelly (voiced by Chantal Strand) out of bed. Barbie begins to tell Kelly a fairy tale about a young girl named Odette (voiced by Kelly Sheridan), who, in the story, is played by Barbie. Odette lives in a small village and is the daughter of the baker. She rarely leaves home and doesn't crave adventure. But, one day, a unicorn named Lila (voiced by Venus Terzo) runs through the village, barely escaping several men who try to capture it. Intrigued by this creature, Odette follows it and soon finds herself in an enchanted forest. In an attempt to help Lila, who is still entangled in the villager's ropes, Odette removes a crystal from a tree. Upon doing this, the Fairy Queen (voiced by Kathleen Barr) appears and explains to Odette that only a special soul could have removed this crystal and that Odette is now destined to help save the enchanted forest from the evil Rothbart (voiced by Kelsey Grammer).
Rothbart, envious of the fact that the Fairy Queen was chosen to rule the forest, has sworn to take power for himself, and in doing so, has turned many of the forest dwellers into animals. And, to show proof of his power, he turns Odette into a swan, but can't kill her, as she possesses the powerful crystal. So, Rothbart devises another plan. He lures the young Prince Daniel (voiced by Mark Hildreth), who is an excellent marksman, to the forest to kill the beautiful swan.
Opinions about a movie starring a toy aside, the plot of Barbie of Swan Lake stays very true to that of the original ballet, and the film contains much of Tchaikovsky's
original music. The story is very convoluted and involved, and thus, may be difficult for many younger viewers to follow. However, that really can't be considered a knock against the people behind Barbie of Swan Lake. They could have easily made this a long commercial for the toys and left any attempt at redeeming qualities behind. But, the film contains the story from the ballet, the music, and several short ballet performances by the animated characters.
So, there's some art here -- but is it entertaining? For the most part, yes. Barbie of Swan Lake was created by Mainframe Entertainment, a Canadian-based computer generated animation company which was responsible for the first two animated Barbie films, as well as the popular TV show, Reboot. The quality of the animation falls somewhere between a Pixar film and a PlayStation 2 game. Some facets of the film, such as Barbie's face and lip-synching, are highly detailed and look very good, while others, such as Lila's fur, as almost non-existent. The story moves along at an OK pace, although some will be bored by the ballet numbers and the occasional repetitive nature of the story. Of course, young girls will be fascinated by Barbie and the dancing, and the Prince Daniel character should hold some interest for any male viewers of the film. Many parents may balk at the idea of having their children watch a movie which will only result in cries of "Ooh, I want that!", but Barbie of Swan Lake is not without its redeeming qualities.
Barbie of Swan Lake waltzes onto DVD courtesy of Family Home Entertainment and Artisan Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both a full-frame and a widescreen version of the movie. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain, but the picture does become quite soft at times. The digital transfer reveals some flaws in the animation, such as the lack in detail of some characters and objects, and a noticeable blurriness to some scenes. The colors are very good, and image has a great deal of depth. The occasional artifacting flaw can be seen, but this won't be noticed by young viewers.
The Barbie of Swan Lake DVD carries a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and certainly does justice to the Tchaikovsky score. The track contains multiple examples of surround sound use, mostly coming in the form of musical cues and sound effects from the forest. These same sound effects yield some nice subwoofer moments as well. The 5.1 track isn't the greatest that you've ever heard, but it definitely lends character to the movie.
This DVD contains three special features. The first is a 25-minute documentary entitled "The Music in You". This short profiles five teenage girls who have devoted their lives to playing music. (The group includes 2 violinists, 1 cellist, 1 trumpeter, and 1 harp player (harpist?).) The girls discuss the impact which music has had on their lives and we see them attending their special schools for music. One of the girls even performed on the soundtrack for Barbie of Swan Lake! The next extra focuses on the dancing in the film. Four dance scenes can be viewed with commentary by Barbie, in which she describes the dance move and positions, and relates their official names. In the final extra, the viewer is given the task of identifying several different constellations. Say what you will about the questionable marketing ethics behind Barbie of Swan Lake, at least the extras are somewhat educational.
Barbie of Swan Lake is a tough call. Sure, it's just a marketing ploy, but for some children, this may be their first taste of classical music and ballet. The animation is acceptable and the story, while dense, will entertain most youngsters. Just don't watch this before heading off to the toy store.