The first generation of Barbie films encapsulate exemplary storytelling

Despite modern Barbie animation being of higher quality, classic Barbie films far surpass their predecessors in storytelling, characterization, and soundtracks.

Nostalgia: Early 2000s Barbie movies capture childhood memories and magic. Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper is a computer-animated musical film released on DVD in 2004. “My dad worked a lot and so did my mom, I was too little to be on my own so anywhere I would go they would bring Barbie DVDs with them,” junior Gabi Prieto said.

Photo courtesy of flickr

Nostalgia: Early 2000s Barbie movies capture childhood memories and magic. Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper is a computer-animated musical film released on DVD in 2004. “My dad worked a lot and so did my mom, I was too little to be on my own so anywhere I would go they would bring Barbie DVDs with them,” junior Gabi Prieto said.

In Post-2010 Barbie movies, Barbie embodies an older sister archetype, always having the correct emotional response to situations and giving perfect advice. Audiences no longer see Barbie make any significant mistakes; she is essentially the same from the start of the movie to the end in movies like Barbie and Her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure (2015) and Barbie: Dolphin Magic (2017).

In contrast, in Barbie & the Diamond Castle (2008) audiences witness conflict, jealousy, and fear from characters as they struggle to keep their friendship alive during a turbulent adventure. 

“[I like] when she faces challenges between her friends and also her own personal life,” junior Gabi Prieto said. 

Barbie movies can be separated into two categories: Pre and post-2010. Early Barbie movies were story-driven, often musicals, and although the animation can be a little scary at times, the early era of Barbie movies didn’t shy away from high-stakes plots and truly deranged villains. They each had their own distinctive aesthetics and were paired with ethereal soundtracks. 

“Classic all the way, early 2000s have the best ones. All the animation in recent years isn’t as satisfying. I have seen one of the newer ones, it’s just not the same,” sophomore Sunan Arens said. 

Barbie movies are often written off as “childish” or “girly”  and therefore apparently are deemed as shallow and without meaning. Barbie movies have always targeted a young audience; however, early Barbie movies capture a wide array of relationships and conflicts. Barbie movies such as Princess and the Pauper contain themes of female friendship, comradery, choice, as well as poverty and class struggle; all things children have the capacity to understand.

The dichotomy between new and classic Barbie movies can be most acutely examined through the comparison of the cult classic Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper (2004) and Barbie: The Princess & The Popstar (2012). 

Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper (2004) Plot: 

Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper opens with a beautiful duet between princess Anneliese, and a poor indentured servant named Erika, as they lament the lack of choice they have in their lives yet remain firm in their duty to do what they must for others. 

Anneliese and Erika meet in the village one day when Anneliese’s tutor and friend Julian takes her out to get a last taste of freedom before she is married to King Dominick to keep her struggling kingdom afloat. 

Erika and Anneliese are shocked at their similarities in appearance and mind. A short time later, however, the queen’s advisor Preminger, the main villain of the story, details his plan to kidnap Anneliese and gain the throne. Turns out, Preminger is the person responsible for the kingdom’s financial woes as he had been stealing from the royal mines. 

Preminger kidnaps Anneliese, throwing her arranged marriage with King Dominick into disarray. Julian asks Erika to dawn a wig and pretends to be the princess while he finds Anneliese to keep the country’s politics stable. Erika agrees and meets King Dominick pretending to be the princess, and genuine romance sparks. 

Anneliese escapes in time to stop Preminger’s marriage to her mother, the queen, and exposes him for being the evil murderous thief that he is. 

Anneliese finds true love with Julian despite his lowly status, and King Dominick proposes to Erika. Erika, however, after a life of servitude declines his proposal to travel around the world singing–her dream from when she was young. After experiencing this freedom, she returns to marry King Dominick.

Princess and the Popstar (2012) plot:

Princess Tori desires a life outside the bounds of her duties and responsibilities, and when she meets her favorite pop star Keira, the two devise a plan to trade places for a day, so they can see what their lives are like. 

Keira deals with the weight of the world’s eyes watching her, and struggles with the pressure she feels from Seymour Crider, her manager while Princess Tori wants to be free from her royal duties. 

Tori shows Keira the royal magic gardenia plant that grows diamond flowers. Keira’s manager finds out about the plant and devises a plan to steal it the night of Keria’s big concert. The girls intercept Crider and replant the magical gardenia plant.

“It was okay, I thought many more characters compared to past characters were annoying,” junior Jada Knaub said.

Similarities: Both movies contain themes of class. When Anneliese first visits the village, she sees how her people are struggling, not to mention Erika’s indentured servitude is a strong theme throughout the movie. Similarly, when Keira discovers that some of the town’s children can not afford tickets for her concert, she makes the event free. Anneliese and Keira are both deceived by their advisers: Preminger the Queen’s advisor and Crider Keira’s manager. 

Differences: Anneliese and Erika trade identities out of necessity while Tori and Keira switch places out of the desire to escape the lives they live. Princess and the Pauper does not contain any mystical elements, while Princess and the Popstar does (Tori’s magic hairbrush, Keira’s magic microphone, and the diamond flowers). Tori and Keira are both in positions of privilege, whereas Anneliese is being forced into a marriage and Erika is an exploited and mistreated worker. 

Music: One of the strongest pillars of the classic Barbie movies are the beautiful soundtracks that accompany the movies. Barbie Princess and the Pauper have some of the best songs from the Barbie movie franchise. Let’s compare them with Barbie Princess and the Popstar.

Movies that demonstrate conflict and not just fluff are greater tools for children to understand their own feelings and hardships. Putting a movie in front of a child that contains soundtracks to bop to will fade away in a few days, whereas music containing substance and emotion will last with a young person for a lifetime.

Both of these opening lines of the song are sung by the princesses: Anneliese and Tori. Anneliese’s opening lines depict her monotonous life, trapped in her royal duties. Tori, on the other hand, sings about how much she loves Keria’s purple hair and wishes she lived the pop star life. The song “Free,” which is also the opener of Princess and the Pauper, lays out the girl’s motivations and dreams. Anneliese wishes she could marry someone she really loves, and Erika wishes to travel around the world and sing.

These next verses switch perspectives to pop star Keira and poor indentured dressmaker Erika. Erika describes the weight she feels trapped by due to the debt her parents accumulated, and Anneliese laments the need to marry a man she doesn’t know. Keria apparently wishes she was a princess who could have bonbons in the morning and every night as if she couldn’t do that already. Anneliese sings that even though she is receiving many engagement gifts, the presents remind her of the lack of choice she has in her life and what she must do for her kingdom. Tori and Keira are still singing about how much they wish they could have the other’s role. “it just might happen never,”

Erika and Anneliese commit to their duties despite the pain it will bring them to ignore their dreams, “Duty means doing the things your heart may well regret,” is a poetic duet that shows the core beliefs that the girls have in common. Tori and Keira are still saying “I wish I had her life” based on surface-level reasons.

The first generation of Barbie movies are for children, but they also contain substance, which is why so many people who grew up with these movies can go back and watch them again and again; reliving their childhood and feeling nostalgic, but also connecting to the story, characters, and songs.

Excitingly, Barbie has been in the process of creating more diversity in their most recent movie Barbie: Big City, Big Dreams which was released in 2021 and introduced audiences to Barbie Roberts, an African American girl who quickly connects with Barbie at the performing arts school they both attend. 

A new Netflix series Barbie: It Takes Two debuted on April 8, 2022, and follows the girls as they both work to get into their dream performing arts school. 

This new rollout is a great direction for Barbie, it’s taken long enough to have meaningful representation in the Barbie universe with more than just side characters. One can hope that this new era of Barbie will supersede the lackluster productions from the late 2000s. 



4 must-watch barbie movies 

Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper (2004)

Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses (2006)

A prime example of a classic Barbie movie is the 2006 Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses, which features iconic vocals and beautiful string music. 

“I think the most iconic one in my book is Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses, that’s just always a classic one,” Prieto said.

The story itself follows Barbie, who plays Genevieve, one of 12 sisters. Her father, the King, calls on his cousin Duchess Rowena to help teach his rambunctious daughters to be more royal as he feels they are lacking due to the death of his wife. 

Duchess Rowena, the main villain of the movie, slowly poisons the king and enacts a militant strategy to get the princesses in royal shape.

Desperate for an escape from Duchess Rowena’s no dancing rule, the sisters discover a portal to a magical world where they can dance forever and any wish they make comes true, which happens to be a story their mother told them before she passed away. 

“It’s just so well played out and it’s not too complicated of a story that you won’t understand but it’s also not really simple and boring. I’m easily engaged in that movie,” Arens said. 

The film contains humor, political intrigue, and a romance between a poor shoe cobbler and Genevieve. In the end, the sisters come together and save their father from Duchess Rowena. 

Barbie and the Three Musketeers (2009)

Barbie and the Three Musketeers follows Corinne, a girl living in the country with a dream to be a Musketeer at the palace-like her late father. 

Corinne experiences failures and setbacks to her goal, and winds up stuck with a maid job inside the palace, where Corinne meets Viveca, Aramina, and Renée. The girls become reluctant allies when murder plots against Prince Louis begin to occur around the palace that only they can stop.

While the film lacks a stellar soundtrack, the feminist take on The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas demonstrates how femininity, intelligence, and strength are connected in many different archetypes. 

“I really like her when she’s in barbie three musketeers I feel like that’s such a big thing for little girls to grow up hearing ‘oh you throw like a girl but then to have that feminist message in the movies I think it was really cool,” Prieto said. 

Barbie and the Diamond Castle (2008)

Barbie and the Diamond Castle is about Liana and Alexa, two friends living in a cottage. One day the girls stumble upon an old woman who looks to be in need of food. Liana offers her a sandwich, and the woman tells her to take an object out of her bag as payment. Liana chooses a grimy mirror. 

One night a storm destroys their garden and their only source of income. As they clean up the damage, they hear a voice coming from the mirror. Turns out, a girl named Melody who was a muse at the diamond castle escaped death by hiding in the mirror. 

Lydia, the villain of the film, wants to be the only muse of the diamond castle and spends the course of the film tracking the girls as they attempt to bring Melody back to the castle. 

“My favorite Barbie movie is Barbie and the Diamond Castle because it was the one I watched the most with my sister and I would reenact the scenes with my own barbie dolls,” junior Brooke Shipman said. 

There are some creepy moments in this movie, like when two puppies Alexa and Liana find start dancing on two legs, but the soundtrack is beautiful and memorable.