Scrooge 4: Barbie in A Christmas Carol

Barbie_in_A_Christmas_CarolOk everyone get your girlie on and let’s do Christmas Carol Barbie style.  I mentioned the Barbie movies in my post Consider Your Audience.  They, along with the Tinker Bell movies, do a good job producing content for the vastly underserved girl 4-8 market.  A lot is made for both boys and girls and of course you have the occasional Frozen and Tangled but I’m glad these series exist for girls looking for good stories they can enjoy.

Barbie in A Christmas Carol is the 14th Barbie film and was made in 2008.  It does not have the production value of some of the earlier films like Barbie as Rapunzel 2002 or Barbie of Swan Lake 2003.  My favorite is Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses 2006.  But this is passable animation for a direct to video release. It’s the very stark, low cost CG (and I would prefer hand drawn) but I didn’t mind it.

Trailer:

The voice work and music is always good in the Barbie movies and is here; although no big names except Kelly Sheridan returns as Barbie. They take a few different touches to make the story work within the Barbie world but unlike Smurfs the essence of the story is there.

Differences: Obviously big difference is it is in Barbie world and all the key characters are women. We start out with little sister Kelly not wanting to go to the charity ball and wanting to stay at home (who has a charity ball on Christmas day but nonetheless).

kelly and barbieKelly says she hates Christmas so Barbie tells her sister a story about a Victorian opera diva named Eden. Barbie then becomes our narrator for the Christmas Carol story.

eden

Scrooge: Eden Starling is a diva opera singer who has been raised by her Aunt Marie to practice and shut the world out.  She has decided to make her team, including her best friend Catherine (Cratchit in the story) work over Christmas for their new show.  She has airs and doesn’t respect anyone even her best friend who she accuses of working on another show on the side (Catherine is a costume designer).

Aunt Marie has a saying “in a selfish world, only the selfish survive” and this has become Eden’s mantra. So it is no doubt a surprise when Jacob Marley is in fact Aunt Marie.  I thought it was kind of clever that Marie does not have cash boxes on her chains but mirrors.

aunt marie barbieShe tells her she was wrong about the world being selfish and that it is good and loving.

Past comes and is a big Eden Starling fangirl which I thought was kind of clever and funny.  She takes her back to her childhood when Marie was making her practice on Christmas but she sneaks out and spends the day with Catherine.

pastMarie is definitely a beast and a pretty chilling character.  It was a little bit of an interesting take to have Jacob and Cratchit characters in this story so intimately a part of the entire story not just present. I liked that.

barbie presentPresent takes Eden to see her colleagues angry at Eden for making them work and throwing tomatoes at her.  At first she is outraged and then she see’s Catherine going to her other show.  It turns out it is a choral program for an orphanage.  One of the orphans is named Tammy (Tiny Tim of course). They all love and idolize Eden.

barbie futureFuture shows Eden as a poor washed up singer.  She fired her team for being late on Christmas and then had one disaster after another including a hypnotist that was funny. Catherine has become a famous designer but is bitter and has accepted the ‘in a selfish world, the selfish succeed’ mantra.  I thought that was an interesting take to have Cratchit become Scrooge in the future.  Never seen that before . She can’t bare to see her friend this way and realizes she needs to change.

catherine barbieStrengths- I think fans of the series will enjoy this entry.  It’s about as good a job as could be done in this world with this story.  I liked the voicework and a few of the touches like Aunt Marie and the message about selfishness were effective. The idea of a diva barbie fits and I enjoyed it. I’m glad they went with traditional carols instead of new songs and they are all performed well.  I also thought the idea of Marley being basically Scrooge’s mother and Cratchit being his best friend (girls in this version of course) was interesting.  I also liked the design of Aunt Marie with the mirrors on the chain.

Weaknesses- the animation is strictly on a direct to video level. I am sure some people would find it very garish and ugly.  It is kind of jerky and can be unpleasant at times to look at, but only in moments and then it is good again.  It is certainly not a traditional take on the story but most of the components are there (Marley, Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Spirits) but I’m sure purists would have an issue with it.  There are better Barbie movies but this is in the top half I would say.

It is made to target 4-8 year old little girls and I think it does its job quite well. So if you have a girl in that age range sit down and watch it together.  You will enjoy the holiday memories!

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Consider the Audience

As I’ve been watching all these Disney movies a thought has struck me which I want to present to all of you.  When is a movie just not made for me? What responsibility does a movie have to please a general audience verses a niche group?

On first glance it seems like there are movies that entertain every demographic.  Pixar films are often brought up.  However, even their movies have typically pleased some audiences more than others.  For instance, Toy Story 3 was universally praised by critics and most audiences, but my nieces found the ending with the incinerator to be too upsetting. They didn’t like it at all.

Toy_Story_3_incinerator_scene_screenshotSo should they have taken the incinerator scene out because it upset my nieces?  Well, that depends who they are  making a movie for? As my nieces were a secondary audience, not the primary the scene stays and is actually a very profound, tense and exciting moment for most viewers.

This invites lots of interesting questions.  In fact, my thoughts are very scattered on the topic and I’m struggling to focus them in a coherent way.

Here’s some points to consider:

Small audiences need and deserve stories for them.

barbie movies

Let’s face it.  We live in a world where movies are the predominant storytelling device of our age.  More so than books and I still think more so than TV, especially for children.  So imagine how difficult is to be say 3 or 4 and hear about all the exciting movies your brothers and sisters get to see.  Things like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings that are not appropriate for your age group.   Even most Disney movies are not made for the smallest kids.

Tinker-Bell-Movie-Three-Pack

That’s what makes it nice when movies are made for these toddler to preschool age audience.  For example, the Barbie movies, Tinker Bell movies are made for girls 3-7 and for that demographic they are made very well.  I haven’t seen all of them but the one’s I have were engaging and very well done.  Now a 50 year old movie critic could tear them apart but they aren’t made for him, so who cares?  (I’d give boy examples but I only have nieces so don’t know any). I think it is great girls have their own franchises and films to get excited about and learn from.  That’s great!

An even more narrow audience for movies is the toddler age.  Part of this is because 1-3 aged children can’t sit for the length of a movie.  This is one reason I loved the 2011 Winnie the Pooh movie.  I don’t want to give away my review but it is a rare Hollywood movie made for very small children.  First of all, it is extremely short.  It has simple ideas and plot but lovingly told.  Even the other Winnie the Pooh movies I have seen are too scary and usually too long for toddlers. It uses repetition and is friendly and happy, which toddlers love.  The music is hummable and sweet.

I can’t even think of other movies for toddlers, which are even made, and even fewer that are made well (Curious George movie was a good one that gets a lot of flack from those outside its intended audience).  Most entertainment for toddlers is television (and I don’t think toddlers should spend much time in front of the TV if any but most parents need a moment or two for a break.  Let’s be honest!).   Should these shows worry about being entertaining to teenage boys or 2o year old college students?  No.  That’s not their audience!

toddlersAnother example of a narrow audience is religious films . With the affordability of digital film-making, movies can be made for a smaller audience and still be profitable.  This gives us movies like the evangelical films of Kirk Cameron or the Mormon films made for my faith.

mormonShould someone making a Mormon film worry about pleasing an Evangelical or an Atheist?  No, that isn’t their audience.  Any movie who tried to make all religious groups happy would have a tall order.  It could be done with good writing but there is something nice about having a movie made, telling a story just from my religious perspective.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

Now is an audience an excuse to making a bad film? No. If anything you should put more effort into telling a story for your smaller audience.  It should be even better than the average Hollywood schlock because you have a more narrow window of people to appeal too.  That’s why I hate when people say ‘it’s for kids’ as if that somehow means it is stupid.  The best kids movies inspire their creativity and imagination.  The best Mormon films make me want to be a better person (and I’ll be honest I’m not the biggest fan of most of them).

It angers me when I can tell filmmakers of any genre are being lazy.  Your audience, no matter how narrow, deserve a good effort.  (For the record, I feel the same way about Michael Bay movies.  His audiences deserve more of an effort to make a good film).   I should be able to walk away from a movie and say ‘well, that didn’t work for me but I can see who they were trying to reach and how some could enjoy it’.

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Another problem we can have is when a movie doesn’t understand its audience.

Hunchback of Notre Dame is a perfect example.  Even its defenders usually admit it is a mature film not for small children.  But the studio still wanted it to be for small children and their families so they threw in kidlike violence and humor which ruined the movie.  It’s way too dark for these kids and the immature moments are off-putting for adults.  It makes it a tonal mess and a frustrating experience.  If they had just said ‘you know what . This movie is for adults’ like Pans Labyrinth or even the later Harry Potter films it would have been a favorite of mine.  As it is I just can’t endorse it.   Trying to appeal to the wrong audience, or too many audiences, ruined the film.

We can also have films who have a main and secondary audience.  This is what Pixar does well.  Children are the primary audience with parents being the secondary.  This makes sense since both are usually at the theater watching (a lot of the age specific films I listed above are direct to DVD which is probably the best way to appeal to some audiences). What I personally hate is when the secondary audience sullies the primary, or takes over the tone and feel of the film.  This was my issue with the Shrek movies . Instead of a few jokes, the innuendo is so strong the films feel vulgar to me.  I honestly hate them.

So, the priority is making a good movie but in order for that to happen filmmakers must ask themselves ‘who is my audience?’  and we as filmgoers need to be willing to say ‘this just isn’t made for me’.  It’s not bad for a film to be made for toddlers or any other demographic.  That is very good because they can participate with us in this great storytelling device of the movies.

All audiences deserve quality and to have movies made for them to enjoy.