Bratz: The Movie
There is a lot of source material available for a film. You can get stories and base characters on novels, stage plays, the news or even comic books. Now it looks as if we can add dolls to the list. The live action Bratz movie is based on a group of dolls popular with the pre-tween market or single digit aged girls. The dolls were popular enough to have an animated television series created and now a live action flick. I am admittedly way out of the target age and have the wrong gender for this film but still could see how it would be entertaining for young girls. The problem with reviews of a film like this is there are not a lot of eight year girls keeping busy with writing film reviews. I guess they are too busy playing with their Bratz dolls. As an adult male watching this film I know that I am missing the key points required by the correct demographic. For them the trendy clothes, internet inspired abbreviations used in regular speech and the combination fear and excitement at the prospect of starting high school is lost on adults like me. I do have a daughter who is now in her early twenties but the experience of raising her left me unprepared for this flick. My daughter at eight was more concerned with the weapons of the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles than the latest pre-teen fashion trends. There is one theme central to the story here that is universal, cliques. All young people are divided by their peers into clearly defined groups that make the Caste system in India or Feudal Europe seems loose in structure. It is easier for a serf to become a king than a teenaged girl to change her clique. For a parent of a girl of this age watching this movie is like the CIA gathering intelligence or perhaps like an anthropologist documenting a completely unknown society. As a parent you should also realize that this is what a pre-teen girl watching is going to expect from her upcoming teen years. This is a film made about teens for those who have not yet reached that age.
The flick opens with music that sounds like a young girl’s treasured music box. The four protagonists awake in their fabulous bedrooms happy and anxious to start their first day of high school. The girls are Yasmine (Nathalia Ramos), Chloe (Skyler Shaye), Sasha (Logan Browning) and Jade (Janel Parrish). They are bffs, or best friends forever to those of us illiterate in popular girl-speak. As they roll out of bed they immediately are perky and turn on their computers to video conference so they can coordinate their outfits. I have never heard of a teenaged girl that happy first thing out of bed and I guess the normal things like heading for the bathroom are not necessary for this quartet. They also all have closets larger than some apartments I have lived in. here in New York City if they tossed the incredible quantity of clothing they could sublet that space for about a grand a month. By the way, the closets are also better organized than the National Archives. Jade even has a secret closet behind the mom approved clothes for what she will change into after leaving the house. This may seem like a lot of concentration on the clothing but this does seem to be a major point here. As much as they can bond over clothing the girls are vastly different. Yasmine, the Latina of the group, loves to sing but suffers from major stage fright. She lives with a little brother and her grandmother Bubbie (Lainie Kazan) and what appears to be a full Mariachi band in her kitchen. Sasham the African-American girl splits her time between her divorced parents. Since this is Monday she is at dad’s house. She loves dancing and gymnastics. Jade is Asian-American and has parents that want to commit every moment of this special day to photographs. She excels in the sciences and loves to design clothes. She needs her friends to encircle her in the schoolyard so she can change into her real outfit for the day. Finally Chloe who is fantastic sports including her favorite, soccer. The differences never seemed to matter to the girls, they just accepted them.
Now what would a flick about teenaged girls be without drama. In this case it comes in the form of Meredith Dimly (Chelsea Staub). She is the top of the social hierarchy, a position cemented by the fact that her father (Jon Voight) is the school’s principal. Despite her young years she would leave Niccolo Machiavelli in awe of her ability to manipulate others. She is also overly concerned with her own sense of order. Meredith wants to divide up the student body into clearly defined (by her) cliques. As the arbiter of all social aspects of life she is offended by the eclectic friendship of the Bratz. She becomes intent on breaking them up forever. I suppose world domination has to start somewhere. The new world order starts at mandatory lunch table assignments into one of 48 strictly pre-defined groupings. Meredith also runs the annual talent show which she always wins since she will only include contestants far worse than she is. The girls are put through every teen nightmare possible to break them up but in the end of course we have the required song and dance number.
Director Sean McNamara certainly has experience in this very specific genre. He has worked on several ‘tween television series for Nickelodeon including "Even Stevens’. He knows how to pace a film like this, fast. There is barely a minute of downtime in the whole movie. The division between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is clearly defined. There are also a few nice little messages hidden in the story such as ‘be yourself’ and ‘sometimes your parents are right’. Trying to look at this from the target audience’s viewpoint I have to say I think it works. It is perky and up beat and hits everything important to girls this age. The cast are all girls that the audience can identify with. Each of the four leads shows a strong personality, proud of the differences that help define them and capable of real friendship that goes deeper than the structure imposed on them. The bottom line is this is not exactly the type of film that will intrigue the adults watching. It is also ‘safe’ enough to let your young daughter watch with their friends.