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.
There are better 'Barbie' films ('Nutcracker', 'Diamond Castle', 'Island Princess', 'Pink Shoes'), but 'Barbie: Spy Squad' to me is one of the better later 'Barbie' films and much better than the likes of 'A Fairy Secret', 'A Fashion Fairytale' and 'Princess and the Popstar'. Like what was said with 'Barbie and her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure', given a chance without prejudice, some are very likely to be surprised that due to the sugar, glitter and princess-y nature of a lot of the films in the series being toned down and instead going the spy/secret agent route (a fairly mature subject for a 'Barbie' film) that this film attracts a wider audience than most 'Barbie' films.
Not a great film strictly speaking. The dialogue is simplistic and at times forced. The story is yet another that sees the viewer a step or two ahead of the film in how things are headed, and there could have been a little more imagination with the spy concept. The characters are still easy to like but character depth beyond neatly black and white is not a strong suit here.
However, the animation is quite nice with the lack of the original/traditional look that in general appeals much more than the modern one not being a bother whatsoever. There are some beautiful bright colours (never excessive here), handsome and imaginative backgrounds and the character designs and movements have natural freedom rather than being stiff. It's not exactly imaginative and it's not as polished as Pixar, but when you have computer animation that makes you physically ill like the entire output of Video Brinquedo and Spark Plug Entertainment and the sequels to 'The Swan Princess' (the CGI ones) and 'Alpha and Omega' it's very clear which is better than them and this.
Music is upbeat and fitting, enough to put children and adults alike in a good mood. Nothing generic or too loud or intrusive here.
Regarding the story, it is predictable but it is full of energy, cuteness and charm with its heart in the right place the entire time (nothing at all mean spirited). It flies by and the action is very much eventful and rarely repetitive, plus it doesn't feel anywhere near as much of a Hodge Podge of tired ideas like a few of the recent 'Barbie' films have been. While not exactly imaginative, the spy concept and the gadgets are fun and cool.
Characters, even with the lack of depth, are engaging and carry the film well. Barbie is likable and resourceful as ever, serving as a good role model for young girls especially. The chemistry between the characters is great too, as is the positive messaging that was delivered with the right amount of making-its-point and subtlety.
Voice acting is pretty good and done with a lot of spirit. One may miss Kelly Sheridan, but the new voice actress is a worthy replacement.
In summation, good fun if unexceptional. 7/10 Bethany Cox