barbiecoverGrade:  C+
Entire family:  No
2013, direct-to-video, 75 min., Color
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features:  D
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UV

This one’s for family movie night only if your children are ballet loving girls under the age of 12.

Universal and Mattel have been recycling plots for their animated direct-to-video Barbie movies since the very beginning, when they riffed off a Tchaikovsky ballet to create Barbie in The Nutcracker (2001).  With Barbie in The Pink Shoes—the 24th full-length feature in the popular series—they return to ballet.

It’s based on The Red Shoes, a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a girl whose dance shoes take control and keep her dancing and dancing, though she wishes them to stop. Andersen’s is a cautionary tale for vain and selfish children, but in Barbie in The Pink Shoes the shoes are more like the ruby slippers that transported Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  Here they’re pink, and our light-footed heroine is magically beamed into the “real” ballets that she’s been dancing (or has wanted to dance) for years.

Barbie plays Kristyn (voiced by Kelly Sheridan), a ballerina who aspires to be a prima donna. Her dance company’s artistic director gets on her for dancing how she feels, rather than classically with the routines that were choreographed for her. Her friend, Hailey (whom, I confess, reminds me a bit of Velma on Scooby-Doo!) is close enough to her when she puts on the magic shoes from the prop room that she too is transported inside the world of ballet:  Giselle, Swan Lake, and (sort of) The Nutcracker.

I say “sort of” because while Giselle and Swan Lake are recognizable, the Snow Queen is more like something evil out of Narnia, even though she’s shown with a Nutcracker and the Sugar Plum Fairy—which would imply she’s from the Tchaikovsky ballet. Turns out, though, that this Snow Queen comes closer to one from another Andersen fairy tale. It can be confusing.

screenIn fact, the whole plot can be confusing to people who aren’t somewhat familiar with the different ballets. One minute Barbie—I mean, Kristyn—is Giselle, which, in that ballet, we learn, ends badly, and the next minute she’s on the edge of Swan Lake, turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer named Rothbart. There’s no explanation for the quick shift, and no sense of menace for the kids unless they know the ballet and know that this one too ends badly. And if Kristyn can enjoy dancing but get out of those ballets in a nick of time, she still has the Snow Queen to contend with—though even this menacing creature won’t traumatize too many children. Barbie in The Pink Shoes is meant to delight, not frighten.

The film is all about dance, and dance is a metaphor for life. It’s by doing her own thing that Kristyn ends up coming out ahead in the film, and that’s the message for youngsters: follow your feelings, follow your dreams. And if you’re the filmmakers, follow the “Oz” formula where characters from life turn up in the fantasy portion.

I’ve never been a fan of the animation style of these movies—which are deliberately designed to look like the dolls, for optimal integrated marketing—but I have to admit that it was mesmerizing to watch the dance sequences, especially the group numbers. What impressed me most was that minor dancers may have been in synch, but one or two struggled to hold their positions—just as weaker dancers might in real life.

The choreography and dance sequences were wonderful. The storyline? Less so. Girls under 12 who love ballet will love this film, but everyone else will watch just to be polite.