By now, there have been more adaptations of A Christmas Carol than anyone can count. In addition to the straightforward takes on the story, there have been so many parodies of the classic holiday tale that taking any form of an inventory on them would be virtually impossible (though I’m sure many have tried). So when I heard that Barbie of all characters would be taking on the role of Scrooge, my curiosity was tempted. How could the fashion doll with a million careers star in any re-telling of the Dickens story? How stupid would it be? Sensing the makings of a new “so bad it’s good” holiday classic, the movie was given a blind buy at my house when it first hit store shelves in 2008.
So I was slightly taken aback when I gave the film a watch. Sure, Barbie in A Christmas Carol still has plenty of silliness in it–beginning with the opening sequence in Barbie’s room in which everything is somehow a different shade of pink–but it’s also very decent for what it is, and rather than falling into the “holiday sap” category that some might expect it to land into by default, the movie is surprisingly sincere in its efforts, providing a fun take on the story while still maintaining its themes.
The film opens with a framing device involving Barbie and her younger sister Kelly (and seriously, where is Barbie’s mother? Does Barbie have custody rights over her various siblings? And why am I even asking these questions?), with Kelly pouting because Barbie wants to take her to a charity ball on Christmas Eve. Kelly doesn’t want to go because she sees it as a violation of their normal traditions together, and rather than grabbing her by her arm and dragging her to the car kicking and screaming, Barbie decides to teach her a lesson by telling her the tale of one of their ancestors, Eden, who serves as our substitute for Scrooge. This narrative device is as appropriately groan-worthy as it sounds (also, who holds a charity ball on Christmas Eve?), but this movie is targeted at little kids, and they’ll have nothing to complain about.
The film does begin working more, though, once it gets to Eden’s story. Eden is London’s most famous singer, but she’s incredibly stuck-up, looking down at her fans and feeling that those who work for her should be grateful for the opportunities she’s given them rather than expect to be treated fairly. Unlike Scrooge, Eden’s greed doesn’t stem from obsessive penny-pinching, but she’s become corrupted by her success, believing it makes her better than everyone else, including her childhood friend Catherine, who’s now employed as her costume designer. As strange as it may sound, a Barbie movie actually provides a surprisingly insightful analysis of what happens when cynicism is taken too far. “In a selfish world, the selfish succeed,” Eden frequently repeats, quoting the words of her deceased aunt (who, yes, serves as our Jacob Marley, complete with a chain made out of mirrors as a result of her vanity). If everyone is looking out for number one, then no one can be looking out for anyone else, which is why Eden views Catherine’s genuine gestures of kindness as a ploy to get ahead.
Eventually, Eden does encounter spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, but if you’re looking forward to a dramatic sequence in which she wipes some snow off of her own gravestone, you’re going to be a bit disappointed. This is a decidedly “non-dark” take on A Christmas Carol, with plenty of gentle humor throughout, with the majority of it coming from Eden’s cat Chuzzlewit (a name which is a pretty clever joke as a Dickens reference). The animators are apparently familiar with how cats behave, including how they will cuddle up to once you call them out for being assholes, making the character effectively amusing for anyone who has ever had a pet.
Eventually, though, Barbie does get as bleak as it allows for itself to get once it arrives at the aforementioned Christmas Future sequence. Eden, who has become poor because she made the mistake of firing her employees after they failed to show up on time for work on Christmas (somehow this also involves her firing a hypnotist who embarrasses her on stage, because this movie never does go very long without a joke), seeks out her old friend Catherine for financial help. But Catherine has the success that Eden once enjoyed, enjoying the fame of her highly popular fashion line while treating those around her as poorly as Eden did. “I’ve tried caring, Eden,” she tells her bitterly. “It never works.” Catherine has now fully embraced Eden’s jaded view of the world, and while it’s certainly not as devastating as witnessing the Cratchit family mourning over Tiny Tim, it’s nevertheless disheartening to see after how optimistic the character has been earlier.
Of course, your very tolerance of the film (if you’re an adult, anyway) may depend on your holiday spirit. Barbie doesn’t have any original songs, but it does have several Christmas carols (and almost all of them are performed in their entirety), and they might test the patience of certain viewers. And this is a freaking Barbie movie, so it goes without saying that it gets pretty silly a lot of the time, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Barbie in A Christmas Carol is easy to poke gentle fun at, but it does have a message which I think is very effective and even poignant. Of course there’s selfishness in the world, but proclaiming that everyone is greedy does no one any favors, least of all yourself. Ultimately, the best thing we can do is try to see the good around us and make our best efforts to thrive off of that. Whether the story stars Scrooge, Bill Murray or freaking Barbie, A Christmas Carol remains as timeless as ever.
Next: A Very Merry Cricket is a yuletide Chuck Jones charmer.