It is very easy to meet the 'Barbie' films with a lot of dislike and
scorn and they are all very lowly rated here (despite some favourable
reviews). It is understandable to take issue with the dialogue (a fair
few are ropy in this regard), the predictability of the stories, the
odd annoying character, the animation in a few (not all are well
animated) and whether there is enough for adults to keep interest.
Despite not being the main target audience, to me they are mostly
better than given credit for, easy to take them for what they are and
don't deserve to be dismissed as baby-ish and for little girls only (a
very narrow minded generalisation). Are they animation masterpieces?
No. Are they among the best films ever made? Again no. Are they worth
watching if taken for what they are? Absolutely for most of them. Most
of them look good if not having the polish of studios specialising in
computer animation (Pixar for one), often great music, good lessons and
messages, a good deal of charm, have their heart in the right place and
have entertaining characters well voiced (some had actors of
considerable calibre like Tim Curry, Anjelica Huston, Martin Short and
Kelsey Grammar, all of them terrific in their respective outings Curry
especially) and a likable title character that particularly young girls
can relate to.
'Barbie and the Secret Door' regrettably didn't much for me. Certainly
it is much better than 'A Fairy Secret', 'A Fashion Fairytale' and 'The
Princess and the Popstar', it would take a lot for a 'Barbie' film to
be worse than those three. However, it is no 'Nutcracker', 'Diamond
Castle', 'Island Princess', 'Pink Shoes', 'Prince and the Pauper' and
'12 Dancing Princesses'. Despite leaving me indifferent, 'Barbie and
the Secret Door' doesn't offend anybody really and passes the time if
you have little better to do.
Starting with the faults, the story is too much of a Hodge podge of
ideas tried, tested and already worn to the ground, giving a real sense
that the 'Barbie' franchise has run out of ideas. It means that the
story-telling lacks any kind of surprises, which does take away from
properly enjoying it, and that some of it is dull too makes it less
forgivable. Also don't think the mix of traditional and modern works,
the traditional aspects have moments of colourful magic and a nostalgic
quality but the modern aspects are clumsy and juxtaposes far too much
with the traditional, can understand what they were trying to do but it
was a case of trying too hard to do too much and benefiting more from
either or and less is more.
The dialogue has rarely been a strong suit in a 'Barbie' film, even in
the films in the better half of the series but not quite among the very
best of it. That's an understatement in the case of the dialogue here,
which really doesn't flow and the worst of it makes the toes curl.
Although the characters are nice enough, the lack of character
development makes them bland and archetypal too. The only character
that has hints of it and where something relatively different is tried
is with the villain.
Was underwhelmed mostly by the soundtrack. There has always been a
preference for the more classical music-oriented soundtracks (which is
a large part of why the first three 'Barbie' films are in the better
half of the series) but having a more modern approach has rarely
bothered me. The first couple of songs were upbeat and the villain's
song was quite good and the only one to drive the story forward or do
anything to the character, the rest despite some surprisingly good
visual choreography are ear-bleeding terrible. Again, most of the
animation is a long way from bad, but there were a few instances where
the bright colours got a little excessive.
Despite how negative this all sounds, 'Barbie and the Secret Door' does
have enough to make it watchable. The animation mostly really isn't
bad, trust me anything from Video Brinquedo and Spark Plug
Entertainment and all the (computer-animated) 'Swan Princess' sequels
and those for 'Alpha and Omega' are far worse looking than any 'Barbie'
film put together, have never felt physically ill watching a 'Barbie'
film, even the ones that are not good. There are bright colours,
handsome and imaginative backgrounds and the character designs and
movements have natural freedom rather than being stiff. Oh and those
dresses are gorgeous and any pre-schooler girl who loves princesses
will want to wear them.
Although the story is less than perfect, it does have cute and charming
moments and has its heart in the right place. Appreciated the positive
messaging, hardly new the messages taught but done in a way that's
heartfelt and not like the film is talking at you. The character
interactions have their appealing charm and make up for the lack of
depth. The villain is a lot of fun, though her trivial punishment was
indeed a slap in the face. Along with likable and resourceful Alexa,
the grandmother's role was very enjoyable.
Voice acting is pretty good and done with a lot of spirit. Cannot
imagine Barbie without Kelly Sheridan (the 'Barbie' films without her
did suffer from her absence on top of even bigger problems) and she
continues to grow. Ashleigh Ball is another standout.
In summation, not bad but not particularly good. 5/10 Bethany Cox