A nice thing about my blog not being widely read and me being fairly anonymous is that I feel comfortable making certain embarrassing confessions on here.
When I was a boy, I would secretly watch Barbie movies.
I had (and have) no interest in dolls, but fantasies and fairy tales did (and do) interest me much more than stereotypical “guy” genres like superhero stories and other forms of science-fiction, so when I noticed that a young female acquaintance of mine owned a number of computer animated movies that reimagined various fantasy-fairy tale-type stories with Barbie as the lead, I borrowed them on the sly.No, that doesn’t mean I borrowed them without asking. And you know what? I enjoyed them. Mind you, I wouldn’t recommend any adults rush out and watch them. They were aimed pretty much at kids and not even kids of both genders. But considering that, I thought they were quite well done. The one I considered the best was Barbie as Rapunzel, the music for which is honestly beautiful. Part of me is actually upset that it was “thrown away” on a movie that only young Barbie fans and their parents/babysitters would watch. But another part of me admires the movie and its soundtrack’s composer, Arnie Roth, for not skimping on the music just because they were making something for a small audience that would soon outgrow it. That shows real care for kids or, at the least, professional pride.
I haven’t seen every Barbie movie since then but one of the ones I did seek out was Barbie in a Christmas Carol, partly because I’m a big Dickens fan and partly because the idea sounded interestingly weird. Looking at the lists of Barbie movies, most of them adapt stories about heroic, or at least innocent, young women and even the ones originally about male protagonists, like The Prince and the Pauper or The Three Musketeers, were still about young, sympathetic leads. Whose idea was it to have the part of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a shriveled, icy old businessman, be played by a perky smooth skinned young woman for whom math is hard? (No shame, Barbie. It was never my favorite subject either.) Chalk it up to the evergreen popularity of the story, I guess. Let’s hope it makes for a fun blog post.
The movie begins on Christmas Eve with Barbie (voiced by Kelly Sheridan) looking for her little sister, Kelly (Amelia Thripura Henderson) whom she finds sulking in her overwhelmingly pink room because the family is going to a charity Christmas ball instead of doing their usual Christmas Eve traditions at home. When Barbie points out that helping to raise money for a hospital is a good way to spend Christmas, Kelly bursts out that she hates the holiday. If I were Barbie, I would probably say, “Tough beans, Sister! Mom says you’re going so you’re going.” Instead, Barbie gives her a snow globe that’s been in the family for generations and tells her a story about its origin.
In a not very historically accurate version of Victorian England, Eden Starling (Morwenna Banks) is the most popular singing star in London. (Melissa Lyons provides the character’s singing voice.) She’s also one of its biggest divas, resenting Christmas because of the “insipid little carols” she has to perform instead of the classical opera for which she’s trained. It’s never stated as such but in addition to being a star, Eden seems to own the Gad’s Hill TheaterGad’s Hill Place is the name of a house in Kent that captured Charles Dickens’s fancy when he was a kid and which he eventually bought when he was a wealthy adult. This is not the only … Continue reading since she has to power to refuse to give its troupe the day off for Christmas. Not even Catherine Beadnell (Kandyse McClure), Eden’s longtime costume designer and closest equivalent to a friend, can change her mind. “You know what should be important to you?” she snaps. “Me!”
Eden learned this selfish mindset from her Auntie Marie (Pam Hyatt.) But on Christmas Eve, her aunt’s ghost visits Eden and warns her to change her ways before it’s too late. Like the ghost of Jacob Marley in Dickens, this one is wrapped in chains but where his chains were made up of moneyboxes, Marie’s are made up of hand mirrors. She also tells Eden to listen to the spirits of Christmas Past (Tabitha St. Germain), Present (Kathleen Barr) and Future (Gwynyth Walsh) who are coming to haunt her.
The worst part of this movie is its visual style. The characters either look plastic or look just not plastic enough to make their general plasticity feel wrong. Their movements are distractingly stiff and robotic. The backgrounds are all bland with every building, inside and out, looking like a playset. But really, what else were you expecting?
The best thing about the movie is probably its script by Elise Allen. Not that it’s a brilliant example of writing, mind you. I described it as the best thing about this movie, not the best screenplay ever or anything. But, considering it’s not really trying please adults or even kids of both genders, I found the writing to be fairly engaging and sharp in its modest, unambitious way. I’d consider it better written than Barbie as Rapunzel which I’ve gone on record as considering the peak of this franchise. It’s also surprisingly true to its source material compared to other Barbie movies. Don’t get me wrong. It’s obviously a far cry from A Christmas Carol in Prose by Charles Dickens but, unlike most Barbie adaptations, it sticks to the original’s surefire dramatic structure, hits most of its important beats and and conveys many of its themes, such as actions having consequences and the importance of charity and loving relationships. It doesn’t add any action scenes to the story, something I wish we could say of every animated Christmas Carol. Neither does it try to be a love story even though there was an opportunity to do so with Scrooge’s lost love in the original book. (There is a subplot about a member of the Gad’s Hill Theater troupe working up the courage to ask another out on a date.Yes, they use the phrase, “ask her out on a date.” As stated before, historical accuracy is not one of the movie’s goals. It’s dull but it doesn’t take up enough time to get really tiresome.) The dialogue includes the book’s most famous quotes, “Bah! Humbug!” and “God bless us everyone!” in ways that suggest Elise Allen had no idea what they meant in their original context.The term, humbug, isn’t just supposed to a general expression of grumpiness. It refers to something phony or dishonest. As an interjection, it’s akin to saying, “B.S.” But the movie also surprised me with a number of in-jokes about other Dickens books, which couldn’t have meant anything for the target audience. (Pay attention to the names of animals and minor characters.)
Barbie in a Christmas Carol certainly doesn’t get anywhere near as dark as the book or its more faithful adaptations, but it doesn’t completely sanitize the material either. Most notably, its leading lady starts out as a genuinely unpleasant, if amusing, antiheroine, unlike any role had Barbie had been cast in before.I’m not quite sure if Eden Starling is actually supposed to be played by Barbie since she’s not voiced by Kelly Sheridan. But she doesn’t look that different from Barbie and … Continue reading She doesn’t say that the poor should die and “decrease the surplus population” but her cynical mantra of “in a selfish world, the selfish succeed” could have easily been written for such misanthropic Dickens characters as Ralph Nickleby or Sir John Chester. “You usually tell me stories about nice girls who are good to everyone,” a shocked Kelly interjects at one point. “Eden’s someone who is making a lot of mistakes,” says Barbie sagely, “but sometimes we can learn from people who make mistakes.” From what I remember, this whole framing device with Kelly is typical of the Barbie movies but in every other instance, the lesson for her was that she should be more confident. This just might be the only Barbie movie with the cautionary message of “if you don’t want people to treat you as a means to an end, be sure you don’t treat them that way.”
The Barbie aesthetic is a poor fit for portraying Dickensian poverty and the movie makes only a few stabs in that direction, but those stabs do turn out to be vital to the plot.
Eden never encounters the grotesque personifications of Ignorance and Want and none of the ghosts here are as scary or as interesting as those in the book. Still, compared to the jovial ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, the one for Christmas Yet to Come is relatively ominous and intimidating.
The thing your average Dickens fan probably will object to the most is that Eden’s visions of her future don’t include her unmourned death. Instead, they show…you know what? I respect this movie enough that I’m not going to give that away. I will say that, on the one hand, mortality is definitely a theme in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and the lack of it in the Barbie version means it can’t really be said to perfectly capture the spirit of the book.To be fair, there is sort of an implication that the movie’s Tiny Tim character has died though they don’t say as much. On the other hand, some adaptations, while generally more faithful than this one, have made too much of the theme of mortality. As I’ve written before, “a careful reading of the text shows that what Scrooge really fears is not death itself (after all, he’s going to die eventually whether or not he persists in his miserly ways) but, like Marley, never being able to turn his life or public perception of him around.” Sometimes this point can be lost. By eliminating any mention of death, Barbie in a Christmas Carol allows it to shine through. In that one way, it’s a great introduction to the story.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year, everybody!
|No, that doesn’t mean I borrowed them without asking.
|Gad’s Hill Place is the name of a house in Kent that captured Charles Dickens’s fancy when he was a kid and which he eventually bought when he was a wealthy adult. This is not the only in-joke for Dickens fans in this movie.
|Yes, they use the phrase, “ask her out on a date.” As stated before, historical accuracy is not one of the movie’s goals.
|The term, humbug, isn’t just supposed to a general expression of grumpiness. It refers to something phony or dishonest. As an interjection, it’s akin to saying, “B.S.”
|I’m not quite sure if Eden Starling is actually supposed to be played by Barbie since she’s not voiced by Kelly Sheridan. But she doesn’t look that different from Barbie and I’m not sure what the film’s title of Barbie in a Christmas Carol is supposed to mean if it’s not her.
|To be fair, there is sort of an implication that the movie’s Tiny Tim character has died though they don’t say as much.