Friday, 13 July 2012

Barbie: A Fashion Fairytale Review

Barbie: A Fashion Fairytale, or BAFF as it will be known from this point, is one of the many mule children born from the union of the nightmare realm that is the Barbie universe, and Universal Studios’ actually quite accomplished animation department.  Two cultural leviathans meeting to produce a masterpiece to be remembered for generations, you might say.  It is written by Elise Allen, who seems to have forged a career out of penning cutesy fluorescent toy tie-in movies, and directed by William Lau, who has done much the same thing.  Lau also wrote and directed Glitched, a movie so ambitious that IMDb has yet to rate it, presumably waiting for some obscure time in the future when the world will be able to comprehend his art.


BAFF stars the titular heroine “Barbie”, a blonde of monolithic vapidity, who, upon being cast aside by her boyfriend and losing her job, decides that instead of moving on with her life, she should emigrate to Paris, where she has no friends and doesn’t speak the native language.  It is at this point she discovers her love of making sparkly dresses, which she really should have anticipated, based on practically every other piece of Barbie media or merchandise.  The unique twist on this excursion into the demented mind of Elise Allen is the enslavement of magical fairy creatures to hasten the mass production of these shimmering monstrosities.  In spite of this, said fairies exude the requisite amount of shrieking childlike glee and patronising overconfidence.

Supporting characters include “token black sidekick” and “generic white sidekick”.  Incidentally, the former is voiced by Kandyse McClure, better known as Dee from Battlestar Galactica. 
Wait Kandyse, it might not be that bad!

Most of the voices in BAFF are actually to a pretty high standard, including the work of the monumentally talented Tabitha St. Germain. 

There is also the curious subplot of Barbie’s insufferable boyfriend Ken and his epic journey to France, in the course of which he deals with such pressing issues as bacon allergy, child rearing, train timetables, and wardrobe malfunction.  The most surprising thing about Ken’s story is that it is of absolutely no consequence.  By the time he catches up to Barbie like the bedraggled stalker that he is, the main plot, to which the writer has allocated 90% of the screen time, is basically over, and Ken’s presence is neither necessary nor applauded by anyone other than the predictably aghast Barbie.  Perhaps it says something about the subjugation of men in the universe of little girls’ toys, but that would probably be considered overanalyzing. 

The madness continues with her talking dog, and the collective of talking pets who conspire to bring about the complete dissolution of reality by constantly interfering in the realm of man, and generally exceeding their warrants to test the viewer’s patience and suspension of disbelief.

The movie opens with a snappy song and an incredibly convoluted sequence in which Barbie loses her job as an actress for having the audacity to raise her concern about the unrehearsed rap interlude in her scene, performed by a band of shambling gimps masquerading as giant birth-defective vegetables or something. 

This is a file I like to call "shit.jpg"

Not long after, she receives a call from Ken, who coldly and disjointedly jilts her and urges her to “forget he exists”.  “What kind of guy does that?” intrudes Kandyse.  “I guess a guy with no real emotions” comes Barbie’s response.

Not to be confused with “no visible emotions”

Also in this particular scene, a poster in her trailer seems to suggest that she had played a part in Barbie: A Mermaid Tale, which results in the kind of embedded reality confusion that would stun even most scientists.  These fleeting first few minutes allude to some rhetoric about aspiring to be a strong, independent woman, and standing up for your opinions, but such fanciful things are mostly secondary to the frilly intoxication of fashion and pixies which enshrouds almost every aspect the plot thereafter. 

With her incredibly complex life in ruins, Barbie resolves to flee from her problems and spend some time in Paris with her fashion designer aunt, presumably so she can recede into a childish fantasy of pretty clothes and novelty European accents, rather than actually overcome life’s hurdles or grow as a person.  There is another catchy song inserted here, and a rather aesthetically pleasing 30 seconds or so of Barbie wandering through Paris in the rain, which is greatly aided by the fact that it isn't stifled by flimsy dialogue or fantasy elements, and it stands alone as a piece of animation.

Next, we return to the hip American suburbs to see Ken’s mysterious behaviour unravelled in a confrontation which reveals that it wasn’t him on the phone after all, but a conveniently edited recording of his voice, transmitted by some ostensibly amoral woman who is never seen again after this scene.  In his defence, Ken fervently proclaims “I would never dump Barbie” in what I found to be one of the most depressing testaments to his downtrodden and meaningless existence.  Having no commitments or anything of value going on in his life, he decides that he would prefer to surprise his crestfallen lover with a demonstration of his long-distance stalking abilities rather than just, you know, call her or write her a letter.

It turns out that Barbie’s aunt Millicent, a character who is as gratingly annoying as she is witless, has fallen on hard times because the fashion elite have shunned her and she is going out of business.  At this point the movie could go in the direction of disparaging the senseless and highly arbitrary nature of fashion, but instead our heroines go obliviously forth on a crusade to pander to their audience.  Millicent’s demure apprentice Alice is the root of this scheme, as we are encouraged to believe that her designs are somehow objectively better than anyone else’s.  But being capable alone just doesn’t cut it in the fickle Barbie universe; enter three annoying fairies.

No one questions this, ever

Endowed with the power to turn things from not very shiny to ridiculously shiny, their newly bastardised dresses quickly become prised by the local populace as objects of incomparable allure, despite looking like a fireworks display being violently ill.

Hopefully they're not extremely radioactive.

The cast is completed by the treacherous yet substantially more likeable villains-next-door, with their much more successful rival brand, and the endlessly irritating talking animals, the principal of which is an incessantly pretentious dog fashion designer who somehow designs fashion for dogs. 

Try not to think about it.   

 Meanwhile, Ken is subjected to the mockery of children, and finally finds himself on the precipice of insanity.

Deeming this to be adequate rebuke, he rewards himself with a self-congratulatory fist pump. 
Thus the scene is set for a fairly generic adventure in the fashion-fairytale setting, admittedly not without a few glimpses of above average animation and voice acting.  The whole thing culminates in the most hollow of all gestures, a fashion show, the self-indulgent sun into which all plot threads gravitate before collapsing into a black hole of utter futility.

The moral of the story?  It doesn’t matter how talented you are, only how much attention you can draw to yourself.  And what have I learned?  It’s easy to pick apart a movie that no one will ever wilfully defend.  Actually I already knew that.  Thanks for nothing, Barbie: A Fashion Fairytale.


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