“True friends rock in perfect harmony!”
When I first picked up Barbie: The Princess and The Popstar I thought, “Huh…That sounds a lot like Barbie as The Princess and The Pauper,” and I laughed. 76 minutes later and I was no longer laughing.
Since 2001’s release of Barbie in the Nutcracker, the fine folks of Mattel have been churning out one or two Direct-to-DVD feature films a year starring everyone’s favorite unrealistically-proportioned doll. Now there’s a case to be made that originality has abandoned Hollywood for greener pastures, but how dry does the creative well at a studio need to be before it starts remaking its own properties?
That’s the question I was asking as I watched Barbie: The Princess and The Popstar, a rehash of 2004’s Barbie as The Princess and The Pauper with Princess Victoria “Tori” (Kelly Sheridan, Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2) as the Princess, and Keira (Ashleigh Ball, My Little Pony: The Friendship Express) as the Pauper, er Popstar.
Princess Tori longs to be able to spend her life singing and dancing around the castle a la Risky Business, but darn it she has too many chores to do! Actually she just has a speech to write, but you know how it goes. Enter popstar Keira, who just wants to relax and not worry about writing songs for her new album. What adults will realize straight off is neither girl is so plagued by her life that she truly suffers. Indeed each girl (they’re about 17) does whatever she wants all the time, even before she meets her doppelganger.
But when these two crazy kids meet, they realize that — through their magical objects — they can switch places.
Yes, their magical objects. Princess Tori owns a magical hairbrush which allows her to change any hair it’s waved over. And Keira owns a magical microphone which allows her to change anyone’s outfit. So like quick change artists of the past, the girls become each other.
For a while, it works. But in the film’s only teaching moment, we discover all good things must come to an end, because the girls don’t change back when they should. The fun and games are halted, when Keira’s greedy manager steals the kingdom’s magical diamond gardenia bush, the source of the local economy (don’t ask), Now Tori and Keira must team up to save the kingdom.
Is Tori and Keria’s fast friendship tight enough to pull them out of this quandary? You bet. Using their magical accessories, they’re able to repair the damage the theft caused and their friendship necklaces provide the seeds for the kingdom’s regrowth.
So why did Barbie have the same adventure twice? At first glance, it could be argued Barbie: The Princess and The Popstar is more modern. However, the tale still relies on a world of magic, as opposed to a true tale of today. The case insert details all the toys beleaguered parents will be put upon to purchase after viewing the film, assuming your little ones fall in love with Tori, Keira, or both. That’s the purpose of this outing anyway…to introduce yet another set of toys to collect. Cynical consumerism at its finest!
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the visuals are touch and go with the animation suffering from jerky movements, predominantly in any sequence where dancing is featured. The characters lack the fluidity you’d find in a higher-budgeted film but the intended audience is hardly going to notice. The palette is predominantly pink and purple and richly saturated with a softness that enhances the magical atmosphere. The audio choices are Dolby 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 in three different language tracks (English, French and Spanish), all of which are sufficient to carry the film’s numerous musical numbers. It sounds like the vocals were their own track, which really helps define the space. It’s worth noting that, in an attempt to connect with older viewers, the musical numbers feature not one but TWO covers: Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and Hoku’s “Perfect Day.”
Bonus features include outtakes, webisodes, and a few music videos. I confess to liking the outtakes, because I appreciate the work that goes into animating them. It’s an extra step which isn’t necessary, but quite enjoyable.
I’m all for parents’ rights to encourage whatever delusions of grandeur they want for their kids, but is it too much to ask for a decent story to go along with them? Why would the Barbie folks think today’s kids can relate to being a popstar better than being poor? Personally, if you want a good Barbie take on Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper, I recommend Barbie as The Princess and The Pauper. At least that story tries to teach the values of hard work and recognizing when the grass isn’t as green as you thought.