A step up from the last Barbie™ movie. Mattel© and Universal have released Barbie™: A Fashion Fairytale, another in their long line of successful direct-to-DVD movies/commercials starring Barbie™, the world's best-selling doll. I've reviewed several of those Barbie™ movies over the past few years and, taken in context (they're made for little girls, after all, not grown-up, grumpy movie reviewers), they've mostly fallen on the side of "acceptable" entertainment for all the Barbie™-loving little girls out there. The previous release, however, Barbie™: A Mermaid's Tale, failed to impress with its romance-free, spacey New Agey rigmarole. Barbie™: A Fashion Fairytale keeps it simple and traditional, emphasizing self-reliance, romance, and of course, plenty of sparkly clothes. A few bonus features help a bit.
Barbie (voice talent of Diana Kaarina) is in trouble. On the set of her latest movie, an updated musical remake of the classic fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, Barbie innocently offers her opinion about why a certain scene isn't working...and that's a no-no for officious little twit Todd, the director of the film. Barbie was hired as an actress, not an opinion-giver, and she's fired when she attempts to stick up for her rights. Returning to her dressing room to pack up her things, she receives more bad news when Ken, her boyfriend, calls her on her cell and out of the blue, coldly breaks up with her. Determined to get away from all this unhappiness, Barbie is encouraged by her friends Grace (voice talent of Kandyse McClure) and Theresa (voice talent of Maryke Hendrikse) to take a trip, so Barbie decides to visit her Aunt Millicent (voice talent of Patricia Drake), who runs a fashion house in Paris, France.
Once there in the City of Lights, Barbie can't help but feel lonely when she sees all the young lovers walking on the rain-dampened streets, nor is she heartened when she learns that Aunt Millicent, once the toast of Paris fashion, is now "over" with the public. Her fashion house, a source of wonderful childhood memories for Barbie, has been sold to a "Hotdog-ateria," and there's nothing she can do about it, particularly when Milly's nemesis, Jacqueline (voice talent of Alexa Devine), who operates a rival fashion house across the street, is anxiously awaiting Milly's demise. As luck would have it (or is it magic?), Aunt Milly's assistant, the shy Marie-Alecia (voice talent of Tabitha St. Germain), has been secretly designing a whole new line of clothes that attracts the attention of the wondrous Flairies: Shimmer, Glimmer, and Shiner (voice talents of Ciara Zanni, Kelly Metzger and Andrea Libman). These fashion sprites live in the Gliterizer (I smell a toy tie-in...), a wooden wardrobe located in Milly's attic. The Flairies help anyone whose designs inspire them, so the race is on for Barbie and Alecia to deck out their new line with Flairie-power sparkles...or lose out to Jacqueline, who wants the magic of the Flairies for herself.
I have to admit that during the first few scenes of Barbie™: A Fashion Fairytale, I was hopeful that this particular Barbie™ movie might be several notches above the usual offering from Mattel©, since it seemed to have a sense of humor about itself. I liked that the producers finally made it concrete that Barbie™ is actually an actress in these films (a question my eight-year-old daughter often asked), while I found her "Princess and the Pea" production amusing, particularly when they "update" the story to include singing and dancing zombie peas. Even better was a funny moment when Barbie, after learning that her firing has been leaked to the celebrity blogs and the haters have come out in force, wonders if people really want to see her act...as she glances over at a poster for Barbie™: A Mermaid Tale. Now that deliberate shot of the poster could very well be just another in an endless line of cross-promoting plugs for the franchise, but I'd like to think the director, William Lau, and screenwriter Elise Allen, were having a little fun ribbing that truly goofy Barbie™ movie (some of the lines in these early scenes also seem nicely ironic, including one of Barbie's friends saying Ken is "like a guy with no real emotions.").
Clever lines and moments like that slip away for the most part as the movie goes on, but along with the central message of the film--believe in yourself and "magic" will happen (nothing wrong with little girls hearing that)--another good sign for the film is the return of a love interest for Barbie™, even if it is unfairly motivated. I've noted in other reviews that some of these Barbie™ movies go out of their way to eliminate romance from the Barbie™ equation--a move that they do at their own peril, because as I've argued before, little girls want that fantasy aspect of safe, romantic attraction built into the Barbie™ and Ken™ construct. So Ken™'s comical cross-country-and-Atlantic pursuit of Barbie™ over a misunderstanding he had no part in (a rival for Ken™'s affections tapes him reading lines from an imaginary play, which are then played back to Barbie™'s cell phone), at least provides some swoon-time for the little viewers, even if it doesn't make any sense (the cute couple even get to say, "I love you," at the end). I don't like to get too deep into these movies (because frankly, it can all begin to sound a little silly), but then again...you can find meaning in the most innocuous, insignificant products of pop culture, so I asked myself, "Why does Ken™ have to suffer throughout the whole film to prove he loves Barbie™, when he did nothing to her?" 9-year-old feminist readers out there: I await your responses.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.