We're back to, "Is it Barbie™ here, or isn't it?" Universal has added another Mattel® Barbie™ movie to their roster, just in time for the Christmas buying season: Barbie™: Princess Charm School. I've gone back and forth on these Barbie™ movies, but this one is innocuous enough for its intended audience. A few small extras are included in this perfect-looking transfer.
The land of Gardenia (which looks just like America but with some weird ruling monarchy thing going on). Poor put-upon Blair Willows (voice talent of Diana Kaarina) slaves at the Café Gardenia for pennies so she can eventually move her sick mother and spunky sister Emily (voice talent of Madeleine Peters) out of their urban apartment and into a better neighborhood. Emily, however, has plans to make that happen a lot sooner: she secretly enrolls Blair in Princess Charm School, a high-tech academy at Gardenia's castle that teaches young girls how to be princesses or lady royals. And sure enough, during the annual announcement of the school's new students, Blair is chosen as a lucky lottery winner. But as anyone knows from these kinds of movies, "scholarship kid" Blair faces an uphill battle of snobbery once inside the halls of Princess Charm School, particularly from Delancy (voice talent of Brittney Wilson), a bratty little snot who thinks the world owes here everything. Her mother, the imperious teacher, Dame Devin (voice talent of Nicole Oliver) is worse; she was the sister-in-law of the dead Queen Isabella, and she intends for Delancy to rule Gardenia, once she graduates. And she'll stop at nothing to achieve that goal. However, there's a little matter of a missing heir to the throne, and a crown that glows when it's put on the true Queen of Gardenia, that may spoil her plans....
Cripes. I review these Barbie™ movies not because I enjoy watching them, but because like any parent, I'm forced to do things I don't want to do to make my kids happy. I don't want to have a tea party for three hours. I don't want to have my hair put up in barrettes. And I don't want to play Ken when my little girls want to play Barbie™ because you have to have a boy play Ken. But like any parent, you do these things, and you put a smile on your face, and eventually, you have fun because it's fun to watch them have so much fun. And the same is true for these Barbie™ movies.
Now I've reviewed quite a few these straight-to-DVD Barbie™ movies, and Barbie™: Princess Charm School is an adequate addition to the line. As I wrote in another review, I don't like to go too deep into these as I would with a regular movie...because who the hell is expecting an in-depth analysis of Barbie™: Princess Charm School? As I watched this one with my 9 and 5-year-old daughters, pretty much the same questions came up from previous viewings. My youngest didn't understand that Blair was Barbie™, a reasonable confusion that frankly I never understand with these movies, either. In the two previous outings, Barbie™ was an actress, so it makes sense, her playing the part of another girl. Is she playing a part here, too, or is Blair a new character, or...oh, who cares: Blair, Barbie™, whatever. A couple of times my 9-year-old asked where Gardenia was, and why the movie didn't show the kingdom, or who ruled it, or where all those princesses were coming from, or where they went once they graduated (are their principalities of Gardenia?), and quite frankly, I didn't have an answer for her on any of that (I suppose we could have discussed the story's weird inequalities and how they're strangely resolved...but who wants to discuss gender and socio-economic politics with a five-year-old?). Barbie™: Princess Charm School is a little light on logic when it comes to its paper-thin retelling of the Anastasia story, with a little Cinderella thrown in for familiarity.
Most people get on these Barbie™ movies as nothing more than commercials for Mattel®'s products, but that never bothers me. As a red-blooded American capitalist, I say more power to Mattel® for cross-promoting their product. As long as the movie is entertaining, who cares if it's nothing more than a plug for upcoming Christmas gifts? However...I had a harder time with this one, trying to figure out exactly what those toys were going to be. Obviously the dolls are coming, but is that magical locker one of the playsets? Or the carriage? If Mattel® wants my Christmas dollars, they need to make the commercial a little clearer. As for entertainment value...what do you want me to write? That I had a great time watching this? I didn't...because I'm an adult male. The message, though, however bleary through compromising commercialism, was appropriately generic ("believe in yourself"), and more importantly, my little girls seemed to enjoy it. They laughed when they were supposed to, and they smiled when Blair/ Barbie™ danced with the prince, and they asked for the toys when it was over.
Mission accomplished, Mattel®.
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.