Barbie in the Nutcracker
At a time when popular animation is geared toward rowdy, raunchy, anime-inspired action and irreverent Shrekian hijinks, and when the rough Powerpuff Girls are the preeminent female figures on the scene, Barbie's screen debut (not counting the Linda Lovelace-like circumstances surrounding her appearance in Todd Haynes' legally embattled Karen Carpenter: Superstar) is certainly a welcome respite. Mattel's venerable, best-selling doll (voiced by Kelly Sheridan) stars in this good-natured, pleasant, and thoroughly refreshingly girly adaptation of Tchaikovsky's beloved ballet fantasy. While the 3-D computer animation is unambitious, it is careful and nice, and there is likewise no attempt to shake up this classic holiday tale: Barbie/Clara shrinks toy-size and embarks on a magical journey through a fantastic otherworld inhabited by sugarplum faeries, a friendly Nutcracker, and an evil Mouse King (voiced by Tim Curry). Unlike most contemporary cartoon movies, there is no adult humor to engage parents, but young girls (and some old ones) will likely be enraptured by the unironic romanticism, the stirring music, and the excellent dancing as animated from footage of a New York City Ballet production. Artisan's nicely assembled DVD is presented in both 1.85:1 widescreen and 1.33 full-frame ratios with either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround audio, and includes a couple of fun extras. Children can take acting lessons with Barbie, as she leads them through her process in four scenes from the film and encourages them to play along. More substantial, however, is the unassuming but quite engaging half-hour documentary Living a Ballet Dream, about four young aspiring ballet dancers and two professionals. But be warned: Showing this featurette to your daughter may result in a series of expensive dance lessons. Keep-case.