Every movie title should end with “z.” Just imagine Star Warz, or Casablancaz, or Birth of a Nationz.
There’s just no stopping the Bratz franchise. The Bratz started out as a series of dolls for young girls that were incredibly popular despite parents’ complaints about the dolls’ slutty-looking clothes. From there, the world saw a number of animated kid-based DVDs, where the girls continued to dress slutty, and they had no noses for some reason. And now, the Bratz have gone live action. Translating a line of dolls into flesh and blood might seem like a challenge, but the filmmakers give it a go, with tons of pop songs and colorful outfits and Jon Voight along for the ride.
Yasmin (Nathalia Ramos, Arrested Development), Jade (Janel Parrish, Heroes), Sasha (Logan Browning, Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide), and Cloe (Skyler Shaye, The Legend of Simon Conjurer) are about to start their first day of high school. Yasmin loves to sing, but not in front of others. Jade loves science and math. Cloe is a soccer superstar, and Sasha lives for dance and cheerleading. But what they all love even more is fashion—and their friendship with each other.
That friendship is put to the test, however, when student body president Meredith Baxter Dimly (Chelsea Staub, Arizona Summer) divides the four girls into four separate pre-designated cliques. Meredith runs the school with a pink iron fist, and her “system” maintains order on an Orwellian scale. As the four friends grow more and more distanced from each, and more and more publicly humiliated by Meredith’s further sinister machinations, they decide to take back the school. For the girls to save the day, it will take all their skills, all their new friends, and plenty of attitude—make that bratitude! (No, I didn’t really write that last sentence. Let’s just forget about it and move on.)
Even though it’s just over an hour and a half, I’m left thinking that a lot could have been trimmed out of Bratz. I’m not talking about stuff like shopping montages or bubblegum pop song n’ dance numbers, since that’s the bread and butter of this franchise. It’s as if the story is fragmented. It starts out with four titular Bratz as “BFFs,” as they keep repeating over and over. Then, thanks to Meredith and her evil clique system, the girls are separated, drifting apart both socially and emotionally. Secretly goaded on by Meredith, the girls start fighting each other, which ends up in a publicly humiliating food fight. Forced to confront each other, our heroes realize how much they’ve missed their friendship. They then decide to break down the whole caste system by enlisting the entire school’s help in competing against Meredith and her entourage in the school’s annual talent show.
Sounds like the usual three-act structure, right? Sure, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it should zip right along from points A to B to C well enough to be entertaining, right? Right?!? Sadly, no. We also have to deal with Meredith’s birthday party. This part of the movie lasts some time, and all it does is repeat the various themes or character beats already established. Or, even worse, it pulls off a lot of character beats and plot points that will later repeat during the big finale. When Meredith makes the girls wear embarrassing outfits, it’s just repeating how she embarrassed them during the food fight. When the girls turn the tables on Meredith and upstage her at her own party, it’s as if they’ve already won and the story is over, except there’s another 30 minutes or so of movie left, in which the filmmakers essentially redo the Bratz’s success and Meredith’s downfall all over again. The filmmakers attempt a third-act complication in which Meredith threatens to expose a gossipy secret about one of the girls, but she attempted this as well during her birthday party, so this too feels repetitive.
I know, I know. Most of you aren’t that interested in examining the movie’s plot structure. This is a comedy, and you just want to sit back and enjoy some laughs. The humor is of a kinder, gentler variety. Take the above-mentioned food fight. Characters get spaghetti poured all over them, and cream pies get smooshed into people’s faces, but it’s all done playfully, and not in a mean-spirited way. Meredith does make for a truly vile villain, but a running joke about her dog helps soften her scenes. Otherwise, there are a lot of montages of the Bratz shopping and trying on outfits, and while there are no jokes during these parts, I get the sense that viewers are supposed to laugh and giggle along with the girls on screen.
The main players are surrounding by some interesting to partially-interesting supporting players. Jon Voight (Anaconda) gets to do some comedy shtick as the clueless high school principal; Lainie Kazan (Harry and the Hendersons) plays the kind-hearted mom of one of the girls; Tom Hanks’ son, Chet Hanks, makes his acting debut as a nerdy kid who finds his inner cool dude; Sasha Cohen (the Olympic skater, not the Borat guy) appears as a cheerleader pal of the Bratz; And no, you’re not going insane, that really is “Hawk” from the original American Gladiators, a.k.a. Lee Reherman, as “Principal Sludge.”
Despite the movie’s PG rating (for “thematic elements,” whatever that means), parents can rest assured that the alleged “hoochie mama” look and attitude of the dolls don’t really translate onto the screen. The movie Bratz wear some wild outfits, but I never once thought “She looks like a slut” while watching. Each of the girls has a boy to twitter pate over, but this too is handled in a chaste manner, as a peck on the cheek is as physical as it gets (kind of sucks to be a guy at this high school, though).
The audio on this DVD is quite good. The movie is rich will music throughout, including three big song and dance numbers, and they come booming out of the speakers nicely. The picture quality looked mostly good, with a lot of bright, borderline-garish colors all over the screen. In some shots with bright reds, though, I thought I saw some color bleeding, so watch out.
A commentary with director Sean McNamara (Raise Your Voice) is a good one, with a lot of quirky behind-the-scenes tidbits. At times, though, he does seem a little too in love with his cast and his movie. From there, a series of deleted scenes fill in some small gaps in the story, but the audio on some of these is so rough that I couldn’t understand what the actors were saying. From there, we get 12 featurettes covering various aspects of the production, such as casting, music, and, of course, costumes. These are in a similar tone as the movie itself, light and breezy. You also have the option of watching the music videos from the closing credits without said credits, and when you first put the disc in your player, you get to sit through a couple thousand trailers for the Bratz animated DVDs.
• Meredith’s dad is the high school principal, and yet she lives in the biggest mansion I’ve ever seen. Nice to know that public school educators are so well-paid.
• In a spoof of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16, Meredith arrives at her birthday party riding on the back of an elephant. But then the Bratz upstage her with their cool new outfits. If you were at a party at a friend’s house, would some cute clothes really be enough to distract your attention away from the live elephant in the back yard?
• The movie attempts some genuinely heartfelt moments here and there, which is fine, except that these oh-so-touching scenes are accompanied by sad piano music. You know the kind, when just before the heartache kicks in, there are these few tinkly piano notes that might as well be a sign saying, “You will be sad during this part.” The sad piano has become such a staple of movies and sitcoms that I couldn’t help but laugh when it was used in Bratz.
• Doesn’t all this emphasis on fashion mean the movie will become horrendously dated in the near future?
So how does one evaluate a movie such as this? It’s a sugar-coated girly comedy, but all it ever set out to be is a sugar-coated girly comedy. And yet, the repetitiveness and go-nowhereism of the plot cannot be overlooked. That’s the deal breaker. I know the filmmakers mean well, and there are some amusing scenes, but, sadly, the script just isn’t what it could have been. File this one under “missed opportunity.”