Move over, Black Swan. The original Swan Lake movie adaptation is still the best.
That's right, I'm talking about Barbie of Swan Lake.
Being six years old and a baby bunhead at the time of this movie's direct to home video (yes, as in VHS tape) release, I was exactly the target demographic for this movie and I was *obsessed*. Like, "watching my copy over a hundred times" obsessed. "My older brother fled from the room whenever the music started" obsessed. "My dad mimicking the choreography to tease me" obsessed.
Swan Lake wasn't the first Tchaikovsky ballet that Mattel adapted into a children's film. In 2001, Barbie in the Nutcracker was released on VHS and the plot was wildly different from what dancers perform each Christmas. If I remember correctly, Barbie of Swan Lake at least bears slightly more resemblance to the ballet as we know it.
But how does this 2003 classic hold up in 2020? Here are my beat-for-beat reactions as I rewatch the movie that first introduced so many younger Millenials/Gen Z kids to ballet.
- The twinkly sounds as the music starts! Ugh, my childhood.
- Okay, already we're veering away from the original and starting the movie with the Act 1 Finale music.
- Choreography by Peter Martins?? Oh noooo…
- In traditional Barbie movie fashion, we've got a frame narrative before diving into the main ballet. This time, Barbie is a camp counselor (sure, why not?) and she's pointing out the Cygnus constellation to a camper who can't sleep. And segue…
- I like how we're centering the story on Odette rather than starting with Price Seigfried. More heroines in charge of their own stories in ballet, please.
- Another thing I love about these movies is how much of the original music gets incorporated. Now we have Odette dancing around her bakery to more music from Act 1.
- Odette has a sister? Um, what is she busy doing when her sister gets turned into a swan?
- I remember the animation being better than it looks now, but it was 2003. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Odette had better get that bird out of her bakery, that's a health code violation.
- We're at minute eight and we have already gone OFF THE RAILS. A purple UNICORN?
- A purple TALKING unicorn? I take it back, this movie is not similar to the ballet whatsoever.
- Now Odette's followed the talking unicorn to a *magic* part of the forest, and she's already pulled a magic crystal the size of her hand out of a tree.
- Who is this fairy queen? Plenty of ballets have fairy queens, but Swan Lake certainly isn't one of them.
- Odette, completely unfazed by the glowing fairy woman who flew down from the sky, sure.
- Alright, let's get some exposition in the form of a flashback. The Fairy Queen is Rothbart's cousin and Rothbart became an evil sorcerer out of jealousy of the Fairy Queen. Trés dramatique.
- And since she found the magic crystal, Odette is destined to save the forest from Rothbart. I actually don't mind Odette as the hero of this story instead of a passive victim, even if it's a bit of a deviation from the original.
- Imagine if the movie ended here, with Odette saying she doesn't want to challenge Rothbart. Roll credits.
- Since this is a children's movie, we have a few obligatory animal friends, complete with cheesy one-liners. They're silly now, but those jokes killed when I was younger. Instead of a corps of swan maidens, we have a fox, a duck, a skunk, and a porcupine. Kind of iconic.
19. Nice of Rothbart to fly around laughing evilly, in case we weren't clear on who the villain of this story is. One thing that ballets and children's movies have in common is that it's very clear who the bad guys are, from their menacing background music to their dark colored clothes. We love a villain with style.
20. Odile's voice is VERY familiar so I looked her up and she's Maggie Wheeler, the actress who played Janet on "Friends," wow! A+ casting, I'm here for it.
21. We're 20 minutes in and Odette has just now been turned into a swan—we're finally caught up to the start of the ballet.
22. Six-year-old Catie thought that a crown with a gem in the middle of her forehead like Odette's was the height of glamour. Adult Catie might have to agree.
23. Now we have a new quest, to find a magic book that can break the swan spell on Odette! There's a magic book, a magic crystal, Rothbart has a magic ring and now the Fairy Queen has given Odette a magic leaf..? Lots of moving parts here.
24. Hold up, they've renamed Prince Seigfried to Daniel. Basic. Is he appearing on this season of The Bachelorette?
25. This movie feels like it should be a musical.
26. What does it say about me that I can quote lines from this movie from memory?
27. The Tchaikovsky score is really well incorporated into some of the scenes that don't have any dancing, just to amplify the drama. The music is already so cinematic and it's handled well for a kid's movie. Credit to the music department.
28. "You know me?" Prince Daniel, you are literally the crown prince of the kingdom, of course she knows who you are. Between this and the cube-shaped globe you had earlier, you're not coming across as the sharpest arrow in the quiver.
29. Finally, some animated dancing! And some costume changes. Don't forget, we're trying to sell dolls here.
30. Prince Daniel needs to straighten his legs and point those biscuits. Come on dude, a prince should have better technique.
31. A 2003 article in the New York Times says that the dancing in this film was modeled after motion-capture footage of New York City Ballet dancers, including then-City Ballet principal Charles Askegard and current City Ballet-star Maria Kowroski. If so, why do all the animated characters have wonky arms and bent knees? Make it make sense.
32. I wonder if Benjamin Millepied still lists the role "Ivan the dancing porcupine" on his resume.
33. Oh my goodness, your party is not at the top of anyone's priority list right now Daniel. Read the room. Read the enchanted forest.
34. We were off to such a strong start from a feminist perspective just for the magic book to say that Odette needs Daniel's true love to break the curse. Ah, 2003.
35. Odette and the Fairy Queen are both rockin' romantic tutus during this dance lesson for Odette. I'm a fan.
36. Rothbart is really out here monologuing his evil plan like a James Bond villain.
37. Let's go, ball scene! I'm ready for more clunky animated pas de deux.
38. Odile's screechy voice not being disguised and potentially giving her away is a fun addition. Maggie Wheeler is the scene-stealer of this whole movie.
39. Cross your ankles in those bourrees, Odile!
40. Gosh darn it Prince Daniel, you ruin everything.
41. Even though she can fly, the Fairy Queen arrives in her unicorn-drawn pink swan carriage just in time to see Odette passed out on the floor. The makers of this movie really know how to sell Barbie merch.
42. Finally, a face-to-face matchup between Rothbart and the Fairy Queen!
43. Nevermind, he turned her into a mouse. That was fast.
44. Quick sidebar, this thing is almost over and we haven't seen or heard the iconic Swan Lake Pas de Quatre and I'm bitter about it.
45. Rothbart managed to hit both Daniel and Odette with his magic ring and the crystal is supposed to be powerless after Daniel professed his love to Odile, so how is it that the crystal suddenly powers up and defeats not just Rothbart but also repairs the entire forest? What in the deus ex machina…
46. Oh right, it's the power of true love. All the spells are broken and the day is saved!
47. Time for a celebration dance party! Odette has another new dress, and could it be…? The skunk, fox, duck, and porcupine are doing the Little Swans Pas de Quatre! Ugh finally, I'm satisfied.
48. Odette's father is there at the enchanted forest celebration? How did she manage to explain the past 48 hours to him?
49. Odette's sister didn't bother to show up to the enchanted forest party. Why did Odette even need a sister?
50. And the moral of the story is, "Odette learned she can be brave!" and Barbie passed that message along to her camper. Very cute. And somehow 2020-appropriate. Good work, everyone.