I Actually Like Barbie Movies a Lot!
I’ve got a big soft spot for the Barbie direct to VHS and DVD movies. Part of this is because I had one or two that I grew up with, and part of it is because they’re actually not all that bad. Well, some of them can be pretty bad, but there’s a ton of them that I actually enjoy and don’t mind watching. This past summer, my roommate and I started ourselves on a journey to watch and rank every single one of the barbie movies. There were 36 when we started, but there are now 38. What I want to tell you about today is one of those films, one we watched early on that has been living rent-free in my head ever since. Hopefully I can evict it by telling you all about it.
We also took some notes while watching to help us when it came time to giving it a rating out of ten (10 being “Barbie is a Goddess” and 1 being “Literally unwatchable, I’m dying inside”). I’m going to share some of those with you as we go since they were our genuine reactions in the moment. Without further ado, I present Barbie: Video Game Hero.
Barbie – Pro Gamer
The film starts out with Barbie playing a game called “Cupcake Caverns”, a 2d platformer that she seems to be really versed in, but it’s soon revealed that she is the one who made the game in the first place. Which, for all the gripes that I may have for this movie, I think this is a really cool move. Showing girls that they can not only play games, but also make them too is really important given that the gender disparity between men and women working in game creation is still way wider than it should be. I’m here for anything that gets young girls interested in the backend process of their favorite games. The representation of coding here is oversimplified, just being Barbie moving some colorful blocks around in a program, but it’s understandable given this is aimed at a very young audience. She invites her friends to play Cupcake Caverns in multiplayer with her and when they get to a difficult part, codes them all in a powerup. This breaks the game, but that’s fine because Barbie’s friends both have to go before even finishing one level of the game. Okay?
There’s a really great joke here about dismissing the tutorial of a game immediately, though, which I have to admit does get a chuckle out of me.
Chelsea – Judgmental Sister
One of Barbie’s little sisters (Chelsea) comes in and just starts using Barbie’s tablet without permission, which she gets the stink eye for, but permission to use when she actually asks. This leads into Barbie’s sister trying Barbie’s game out. The sister keeps going left off a cliff, despite the fact that she is supposed to go right into the titular Cupcake Cavern. Barbie tells her multiple times that she’s going the wrong way and that’s not how it works, but her sister insists she doesn’t want to go that way and wants to play the game her way and there should be more than one way to play. Barbie explains that that’s how it works and that’s how the game is programmed. So Chelsea says “That doesn’t sound like fun.”. It’s actually kind of uncomfortable since this seems to genuinely hurt Barbie. I’m not one to always say that the designer is always right, but I think that if some kid is deliberately walking into a pit in a platformer and that makes the game not fun for them… maybe that kid shouldn’t be playing games? By the way, this sister? She’s like eight, not four.
“You know what is fun? Your favorite game!” Chelsea says before turning on and calling out by name… Just Dance. It even shows one of the just dance routines playing on the tv. The product placement is strong with this one…. Chelsea offers to play, but Barbie turns it down in favor of reading up on what might be causing the glitch in the powerup she added to her game. Chelsea is fine with this and goes away. Once she’s gone, Barbie’s tablet starts making weird noises so she checks it out to find that the tutorial character from her game is there and it starts talking to her. It offers her the chance to beta test a game, a super sketchy move that Barbie immediately agrees to, of course. Barbie is magically sucked into her tablet and the real adventure begins.
Immediately after being sucked in, Barbie goes through a magical transformation into a whole new look. Outfit transformations are commonplace in Barbie movies and are actually one of the more fun parts, but in this case, the transformation is actually making her into a video game character, so it’s more apt. She gets the look that you can see on the DVD cover, which makes her look younger, gives her big pigtails, and puts her in a rainbow vomit outfit. Not one of her best looks in these movies… She drops into the world of a skating game, meeting two characters who aren’t that important and learns from the tutorial that there is an “emoji virus” (angry little purple balls taking everything over and self-replicating) that he needs help fixing by beating every level of the game. So we set off with the roller skating race, which is over with fairly quickly so we can move on.
This first level area is my least favorite part of the movie since it has a lowered framerate in an attempt to give it that video game look, along with a new artstyle. I can see what they were going for, but it just looks bad. My exact note for this part was: “Looks cheap. Like uploaded to YouTube and compressed and then put on DVD cheap”, which is a shame since the newer Barbie movies generally loo pretty decent. Also, the characters introduced here are uninteresting and the tutorial speaks entirely in rhyme for all his exposition. Thankfully, though, the frame rate goes back to normal the second they leave.
With everything cleared up in level one, the move on to the second, travelling through the code, where Barbie is given a gift of some code in the form of, well, I noted “That’s just a Mario star with wings”. We also see that Barbie has some level of ability to manipulate the code of the game within it. This will be important later. Level two does bring us a shift in art style, though. I did like how this changed for each level to give distinction, even if that would not be reflective of a real game in most cases. However, what I cannot forgive is the way that level two is just an entirely different game in an entirely different genre from level one!
Here, Barbie encounters a Bejeweled style match 3 puzzle game, where the gems must be matched to bring a treehouse closer to the ground because the character inside it won’t come out on her own because she is afraid of heights. There’s also some squirrels attacking? It doesn’t make a ton of sense, but they manage to sneak in what I am pretty sure is a Fruit Ninja reference, which tells you just how deep this movie is cutting for what it is talking about when it comes to games. The virus has followed them so they finish up and take off with the new character, grabbing some code before moving on.
Barbie has the chance to go to a bonus level! The tutorial warns her away from it, saying that any character that is there can just stay there because the bonus level isn’t required, thus it likely won’t help them on their quest to beat all the levels of the game. So, I guess it’s just the main levels and not every level. Barbie decides she’s going in anyway and finds herself in another race. The two characters she meets here are covered in neon, have little personality, and don’t believe Barbie when she tries to warn them. They come around when they’re able to see the virus invading the level for themselves. Ultimately, though, Barbie does not beat the two in the race, so she is sucked out of the level before she can take them with her, leading to a moment where she realizes she’s failed to save them.
This is pretty upsetting for her since the NPCs in this game seem to be pretty dang sentient, but everyone she’s helped so far tries to reassure her. Then, we get the big twist. The tutorial finally stops speaking in rhyme as he reveals that he was the one that created the virus! The reason is actually a little clever, I will admit. He was trying to create his own friends because “nobody talks to the in-game tutorial” and it got out of hand. As someone who has skipped tutorials, that gets a laugh from me too. Barbie still agrees to help him anyway and we move on to level three.
Level three is Minecraft. I’m not joking. It’s pretty clear that they were going for Minecraft here, though with some blocks extending instead of breaking. Barbie doesn’t know what to do, but after being encouraged to think outside the box, she gets building. She codes herself a way back to the bonus level along with her building, meaning the only conclusion that we can come to is that Barbie is the god of this video game world now since she seems pretty able to rewrite it without having to worry about ripping it apart. She picks up the characters she had to leave behind and they join everyone back in level three. Barbie gets even more stars of code for this.
The virus is here as well, and after wrecking things for a while, all the little virus bits form into one big enemy for them to take down. After sitting in a cave and playing with code for a while, Barbie makes a plan using a used up powerup and an antivirus of her creation that she thinks can bring down the virus. What follows is the playing out of this elaborate plan, which I won’t get into because it doesn’t work. Also, the note I had here was “We have to finish the level – she says in MINECRAFT“.
The Part with the Product Placement
The viruses merge into an even bigger enemy so they have to come up with a new plan and this is the point that things just go completely off the rails. Barbie just… codes Just Dance into the game. She straight up makes Just Dance from some stray bits of code they picked up here and there. I said the product placement was strong and it’s really strong, making this an incredibly untimeless Barbie movie, odd since most of them usually are pretty timeless. They challenge the virus to a round of Just Dance to defeat it and Barbie starts doing really badly because she’s a a little block person with no elbows and knees. The tutorial fixes this for her by shifting code, so I guess he’s a god here too. The other characters join her and that somehow boosts her score to help her catch up? Don’t ask me how. We watch Barbie and her new friends to the entire Chiwawa routine from Just Dance 2016.
This somehow wins the third level so everything is suddenly fixed in the video game world. The NPCs all want her to stay but she has to go and the movie really tries to milk this and make us feel sad… despite this movie not giving any of these characters more than 1 personality trait and the movie only being 72 minutes. Barbie returns home and takes a physical trophy with her, once again, don’t ask me how. She fixes her game, beats the level with her friends, and plays Just Dance with her little sister, so I guess all is well. She also gives her sister the trophy because Chelsea inspired her to think outside the box, which is super strange, since all Chelsea did was tell her her game sucks. It was actually the tutorial that told her to think outside the box.
I love Barbie Movies… But Not This One
Overall, it’s just not a good movie. It’s no wonder that Barbie: Video Game Hero is the second lowest rated Barbie movie on IMDB. If you’re someone who actually has an interest in gaming, it just feels kind of patronizing and doesn’t make a ton of sense at all. I can understand the desire to want to help get girls into coding, but I don’t think this movie will do that, especially when it just feels like a big Just Dance ad. It’s not unwatchable. My roommate and I did give it a two out of ten, which translates to “at least the people making it thought it was good” on our scale. I just think there are better things that you could be showing your kid. In fact, there are way better Barbie movies! I promise that they’re not all like this and they’re well worth giving a chance. Just… look into which ones people tend to like before picking a stinker like this one.