I’m now reviewing Barbie Video Game Hero. I’m aware that the little kids who watch these movies are too young to read my blog… but this film is adorable and needs more exposure! Someone* is quietly churning out two Barbie movies a year and, to my surprise, they are a lot better than some of the stuff that gets released in theater. Video Game Hero doesn’t reinvent the wheel story-wise, but it has a unique tone and unique animation. It doesn’t try to imitate what big Hollywood studios are doing.
In this movie, Barbie is a gamer and a coder. It’s awesome. She writes her own game, she plays coop with her friends and she has an impressive setup with four computer screens (who pays for this?). This movie is straight-on telling little girls that girls can be tech savvy, smart, competent and innovative. Barbie’s friend tells her: “It’s so cool that you know how to code Barbie”. It’s so… wholesome! Barbie later explains coding to another female character, to which the character replies “Wow! I want to try!”.
The gist of the movie is that Barbie gets sucked into a video game and goes through four mini-games. While most movies nowadays try to be gritty and realistic, Video Game Hero unabashedly embraces neon colors and cuteness overload. From the cloud sidekick to the pieces of code, it’s all cupcakes and rainbows (often literally). And it’s not just the visuals, but also the script. There’s next to no snark, no fart jokes, minimal pop culture references and no catering to adult laughs. I found it refreshing.
The animation is really varied. Barbie transforms from her “real world” form to a 3D anime-style video game character. The first mini-game is a rollerskating racing level. The second mini-game is a jewel-matching game featuring 2D chibi characters. The third mini-game uses a blocky style like Minecraft. There’s a bonus level where everything is neon. There’s one product placement and that’s Just Dance (twice in 2017!). In between the levels, the characters float in a trippy cylinder of 1s and 0s.
The narrative is an earnest fantasy adventure about the power of coding, teamwork and “thinking outside the box”. It even has a couple of neat twists/surprises/puzzles. Of course, Barbie figures everything out, and she also encourages others to work together and overcome their fears. When she uses the advice her little sister accidentally gave her, she acknowledges her contribution like a perfect older sister. In fact, Barbie is a bit too perfect, and she’s too good at everything, but that’s the Barbie brand.
I’m also starting to notice that these Barbie movies have a lot of female characters and usually only one guy. I suppose that’s because they want to sell dolls, most of which are girl dolls, with the occasional Ken doll. I think it’s a nice change since the usual animated movies tend to have a bunch of guys with one girl (Madagascar, Winnie-the-Pooh, Toy Story, etc.). My only complaint with Video Game Hero is that the stakes aren’t super high. Barbie saves video game characters, but for her they aren’t real people.
Verdict: I think I’m in love with this movie.
*I checked and the Barbie movies are animated by Rainmaker Entertainment (now Rainmaker Studios), none other than the creators of ReBoot, a CG Canadian TV series from the 1990s. They’ve been making Barbie movies** their principal business since 2001, but they’ve made other direct-to-video films and TV series. They produced the theatrical films Escape from Planet Earth and Ratchet & Clank and they animated the direct-to-video sequels Open Season: Scared Silly and Surf’s Up 2: Wavemania.
**Actually, there are at least three Barbie movies that weren’t animated by Rainmaker: The Barbie Diaries, Barbie & Her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure and Barbie: Star Light Adventure. Star Light Adventure is the only Barbie movie that was animated by Arc Productions and it’s also the best-looking of the bunch in my opinion. Video Game Hero also looks phenomenal, but that’s due to the fact that it uses four different animation styles (five if you count the llama game, six if you count Just Dance).