Once upon a time, the toy company Mattel had a brilliant idea to sell Barbie dolls. The plan was to produce a series of movies that would star Barbie as the main character, and it worked! It started with Barbie in the Nutcracker in 2001 and Mattel continued to churn out at least a movie per year until 2017, at which point they decided to try producing a live-action movie.
The fourth movie in the animated, direct-to-video franchise was Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper, and it was my absolute favorite of the lot. I had the dolls, the horse, the carriage, my sister and I even dressed up as Erika and Anneliese for Halloween. I love this movie. And in honor of the fact that I am a lot older and I can still enjoy this movie, I would like to list ten great things about this movie.
All of the Little Things.
There are a ton of little details put in here that I absolutely adore. From little lines that the characters say, to lyrics that just resonate, to the background characters each looking distinct, to the expressions that the characters have in each scene. It breathes life into a movie that maybe didn’t really call for it. Plus, I tend to latch on to these little things, so yeah.
The Animated Bloopers
There is no reason that they had to do this. It’s more work for literally everyone, but they did it anyway. And they are really funny. Preminger admires himself in a mirror, Serafina resists being catapulted onto the roof of the cottage, and Wolfie falls into the bathtub. My favorite one, however, is the one where Julian starts dancing in the middle of “To Be a Princess.”
So, you may have noticed that Anneliese wears pink and Erika wears blue. I know, it’s super subtle, very hard to miss. But I think these colors were chosen for more reasons than just “well it’s a Barbie movie, we have to have pink. And what’s the opposite of pink? Blue of course.”
Nah, son. Colors all have a ton of meaning, and they can give us insight into the characters that the dialogue might not be able to spend much time on. So, in totally broad strokes, pink is the color of femininity, friendship, and romance, but it is also the color of selfless love, affection, and approachability. All qualities that you can easily associate with Anneliese. Blue is a symbol of freedom, imagination, loyalty, and intelligence, all of which you can apply to Erika and Julian. Dominick usually wears red, a color that denotes love, power, energy, and emotional intensity. The Queen and Preminger are both clothed in purple. It symbolizes royalty, luxury, ambition, and wealth. Even the shades they wear have meaning. The light purple on the Queen is romantic and nostalgic, and Preminger’s dark purple is more gloomy and frustrating.
It’s just… I love the use of colors on the characters. It is pretty spot on for what the characters are and what they want, and the costumes were also very pleasant to look at.
While in most Barbie-related media, the animal sidekicks are the least interesting and most annoying part of the entire movie, in this one they serve a purpose that directly connects to the plot and final conflict of the characters. The two main animal sidekicks are Serafina, Anneliese’s kitty, who has a very regal and elegant, yet playful personality. Wolfie, who belongs to Erika, is more rascally, chivalrous, and basically just a really cool dork. Both are loyal to their ladies and genuinely seem to care about what happens to them. They contrast Preminger’s black poodle Midas, who is very conceited and materialistic. There’s also a really awesome horse named Herve, and he is basically just the best. He’s an old horse that just wants to help and ultimately saves the day. The animals have character depth and growth, which is absolutely fantastic.
The animal side plot is directly connected with the main plot, but doesn’t detract from it. Serafina and Wolfie become friends after Wolfie saves Serafina from Midas, which is how we learn that Wolfie barks instead of meows. Herve helps Serafina on to the roof of the house that Anneliese is trapped in, where she later helps the princess escape and ride off with Herve. This is also the scene where Serafina learns that Preminger can’t be trusted. Midas catches Serafina when she sneaks into the castle on Anneliese’s behalf, which leads to the princess getting caught again. Herve goes to find Wolfie because Serafina is in danger, then Wolfie digs a hole and reveals a mine shaft which saves the royal couple and their cat. Finally, Herve brings Preminger back to the wedding after he tries to run away, which leads to Preminger’s arrest. It’s almost like they’re the actual protagonists, since they propel the plot, whereas the girls mostly have to respond to their situations.
Finally, I really like that the animals can’t talk to the humans. They speak in their own animal language. I think this is the first of the Barbie movies that did this, and I really enjoy this touch.
Anneliese isn’t Deviant
Princess Anneliese loves SCIENCE~ In the opening scenes, we are shown that Anneliese loves science and is very inquisitive, which she later “uses” to save her people. The best part? Where most movies or books would portray this interest of hers as deviant or something to be erased or not princessy enough, this never even comes up. I love this. Science-loving girls are just as needed as musical or artsy girls, and that is a powerful statement to make.
So… there’s this thing I’ve been noticing in children’s media recently. They really like having comedic villains, that way they don’t give your kids nightmares. So they make them act funny and do ridiculous things, like tapdance. Here’s the thing, those villains usually aren’t very threatening to the heroes. So, why should they be scared of this dandy and his little doggy?
Because while Preminger is funny to the audience with his butt-shaped hair, platform shoes, and flamboyant personality, he is genuinely threatening to the protagonists. He successfully endears himself to the royal family, captures and contains Princess Anneliese twice, and convinces the queen that the only way to save her kingdom is to marry him. He nearly obtains all the power he desires. To the characters, he doesn’t seem like the obvious bad guy.
He is motivated and dangerous, and smart, while still looking and sounding ridiculous. He is basically my go-to example of how to do a comedic villain right.
The Themes of the Movie
So, there’s this song it’s called “Free” and it’s the first song of the movie. It sets up a lot of things in the movie. Firstly, it tells you what the characters want, and what’s stopping them from getting what they want. And secondly, it outlines some of the major themes that are explored over the course of the film.
Freedom, responsibility, friendship, self-acceptance, and balance.
The first one is kind of obvious. Anneliese and Erika both want the freedom to do what they want. Anneliese wants to explore and go on adventures, and Erika wants to escape the confines of her warden and travel around the world. They are prevented from just going and doing this because of their responsibilities. Anneliese has to marry to save her kingdom, so she can’t marry Julian and run away to some far away island with him, and Erika has to stay with Madame Carp to repay her debt to her. They find true friendship with each other because of these, and that helps to save the day. Ultimately, the solution is to find balance between freedom and responsibility.
Self-acceptance is the most flimsy of the themes and is mostly exemplified through Wolfie, who tries to meow at one point, and Erika convinces him to just be himself. I guess they could have done more with this, but I don’t think it would have added anything to the story. It was probably just there because that’s what all movies did in the early 2000s.
This was the very first musical that the Barbie franchise did, and OMG the music is amazing! Each of the songs moves the story along, usually by explaining where the characters are emotionally, but occasionally advances the plot. Most of them are also supremely catchy and will be stuck in your head forever. That said, the harmonies and melodies in “Free” and “I Am a Girl Like You” are beautiful. “How Can I Refuse?” is not my favorite song, at all, but it’s pretty fun, and that phrase will never leave my head. “To Be a Princess” is really fun and bouncy. “The Cat’s Meow” is really cute, though not very strong, neither is “If You Love Me for Me” for that matter. They’re pretty forgettable. And “Written in Your Heart” is really pretty.
I’m not an expert with music by any means, but I do appreciate a good score. Princess and the Pauper has an effective score. When they aren’t stealing from Nutcracker or Swan Lake, they use instrumental versions of the songs, or they create a little mood music. It’s performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, so it’s performed well. I dunno, others might hate it, but for what the score is, I like it.
One of my favorite things about watching this movie, even as an adult, is the way the characters each interact with each other. Anneliese and Erika are obviously very new friends, but develop a very strong connection during the short time that they interact. They’ve just met, but their interactions feel so natural that it’s heartwarming to see a couple of girls develop such a nice relationship in such a short amount of time. I also really like to see how loving the queen is with Anneliese, she truly wants her to be happy.
However, the aspect of this that I really like is the interactions between the two couples. Anneliese and Julian have an easy relationship that is indicative of many years of friendship. You just know that after they get married their relationship will change very little. Again, it’s just something that feels very natural. Even Dominick and Erika, though they don’t have a ton of screen time together, develop a relationship based on mutual interests and admiration. None of these people go looking for a specific kind of relationship, but rather easily fall into the one that is right for them. It’s nice to see in a world where finding love is portrayed as the most important thing. For these characters, it wasn’t the most important thing, but it happened anyway.
I bet it doesn’t come as much of a shock that I really enjoy these characters. I love their designs, their sidekicks, and their interpersonal relationships, but none of this really means anything if the characters themselves aren’t engaging. As I mentioned before, Anneliese has a strong interest in science, but she is also unfailingly kind and empathetic. She wants to learn new things and take care of her people. As a kid, I think she was my favorite character. Erika is more creative and musical, but determined and courageous. She loves to sing and is quite ingenious. Julian is quieter and reserved but is observant and dedicated, and I’m pretty sure that he’s my favorite as an adult. Dominick is less interesting, and certainly not as dynamic, but the man’s a hopeless romantic with a flair for the dramatic, how can I not like him?
These characters are all interesting because they are more fleshed out than they had any reason to be. They all have hobbies and personalities, they have different responsibilities and different ways of responding to hardship. They all have clear motivations. And, my favorite part, they are all very intelligent without being obnoxious. They don’t feel like cut-out character archetypes, but rather people who are just thrust into extraordinary circumstances and have to use their natural gifts to get through it.
So, yeah, as you can tell, I really like this movie for a lot of reasons. From the characters to the writing and the little touches that the writers and animators didn’t have to do, but chose to anyway.