Barbie: Big City, Big Dreams (2021) is the 39th Barbie movie and is available on Netflix. After unboxing my new Brooklyn doll, I decided I should probably watch the film and sat down, hot chocolate in hand, to review it for you guys!
To be honest, I actually had a good feeling about this movie before it even began, which is surprising because I really didn’t like Princess Adventure. (See my review here). Firstly, I hadn’t done much research on the film before watching it – I don’t even think I saw the trailer? So I went in almost completely blind. Secondly, I loved the concept of a performing arts school! It’s something different compared to the good ol’ reliable “princess switches places with a commoner” which we have seen about 10000 times already.
The film starts with Barbie on her way to the Handler Performing Arts Academy in New York – aptly named after Ruth Handler, this academy offers a summer program which Barbie will be attending! There, she meets another student also named Barbie, which seems to be a little confusing and unnecessary.
The girls decide to go by “Brooklyn” and “Malibu” instead, which again, is a little weird because they could have just had the characters be named that to begin with, rather than it being from Barbie’s perspective.
The girls explore New York City and I start to think to myself “wow, this movie might actually be okay!” Then, they launch into a spontanous song, called “Before Us,” which isn’t good, but it’s not hateful, either.
On the train ride back to the Academy, Malibu points at a poster of Emmie Lee, a popstar. Brooklyn says that she and Emmie used to be friends back when they were kids, but then Emmie got famous and left Brooklyn behind.
(This is a really random thing to hate on, but I wish that “famous people” from the Barbie universe would, like, stay the same? Eg; Keira from Princess and the Popstar, Erika from Rock n Royals, etc. Like instead of Emmie, why couldn’t Brooklyn’s old friend be Erika? That would be a fun little throwback.)
It’s the first day of classes and Brooklyn and Malibu haven’t changed clothes since the previous day. Wow, talk about lazy editing! It’s really bizarre that sometimes they change clothes and sometimes they don’t – how hard would it be to change the colour of their shirt, for example? Or even just re-use an outfit from the Dreamhouse Adventures series, since it’s the same damn animation style anyway!
The Dean gives a presentation where she explains there will be a Spotlight Solo at the end of the summer, where the winner gets the chance to give a performance in Times Square.
After the presentation, Brooklyn and Malibu follow a lost dog into the costume room, where they meet the resident costume designer, Rafa, who gifts the two girls free dresses which he wasn’t happy with.
Then, we launch into a montage of the girl’s first week! Brooklyn excels and Malibu does, er, not. The song in the background, Work It, is an absolute banger and the montage is really good, too! The dance class scenes are really fun. I just wish there was more! Since they are at a performing arts school, I expected there to be a lot more actual performing arts!
It’s time for lunch and guess who is sitting with Brooklyn, Malibu and Rafa? Emmie Lee! She reveals that she taking the performance course in secret because she doesn’t want to be recognised.
“What’s a mega-star like you doing in a place like this?” Rafa asks, which is funny because isn’t the Handler Performing Arts School supposed to be a really good school? So it would make sense that celebrities and famous performers would attend.
Emmie Lee reveals that ever since she became famous, her Dad took over as her manager and made her cut all of her friends out of her life. “Sweetheart, you don’t have friends. You only have competitors.” Brooklyn feels a bit better knowing that she wasn’t the only one that was cut out of Emily’s life.
In rehearsal, Malibu, who is notoriously clumsy in this film, knocks Brooklyn over and she sprains her ankle. They sit outside together with Rafa and sing “Good Vibes”
Now, here’s the main dilemma in the movie – Malibu gets expelled by the Dean for trying to sabotage her competition! Brooklyn explains that it was only an accident, but the Dean suggests that Malibu did it on purpose. Malibu is sent home home to California and her friendship with Brooklyn is over.
She’s distraught, of course.
Luckily, their friends Rafa and Emmie are here to save the day! Rafa was recording the moment when Brooklyn fell over and uses it as evidence that it was an accident. In the footage, we see that Emmie’s Dad was standing nearby, and Emmie realises that he was the one who reported Malibu to the Dean.
Emmie confronts her father and he says he was only looking out for her career by getting rid of the competition (Malibu). Personally, I felt like this scene was unsatisfying as it had no real resolution – I was expecting Emmie to say “Dad, you’re fired” or something like that, but there was nothing.
Malibu goes back to the Handler Performing Arts Academy and immediately wins the Spotlight Solo – expect, she shares the solo with Brooklyn, which is a little confusing as this was not explained at all. I feel like it would have been better if Malibu won it and then was like “I couldn’t have done it without my best friend Brooklyn – get up here Brooklyn!” and then they performed it together.
Overall! I thought this movie was GOOD, but it was definitely lacking depth! There were lots of things that felt “unfinished” and it was overall a bit unsatisfying. However, it was still good! Probably the best Barbie movie since Dolphin Magic.
Some things in particular I thought were weird:
What was WITH the subplot of Emmie vs her Dad? It just felt like there was no resolution! I was expecting Emmie to say something like “Brooklyn and Malibu are my friends! You don’t care about me, you just care about the money! You’re fired!” But no. There was nothing. It was just like that whole part of the movie just …went away?
Secondly, the timeline in this movie was very weird! First of all, there was the montage of Malibu’s first week, then Brooklyn immediately sprained her ankle, then her ankle healed by the time Malibu arrived in California (for even the most minor sprains, it takes at least 1 week to heal), and then Malibu comes back to the academy and immediately wins the Spotlight Solo? But the Spotlight Solo is at the end of the Summer? HOW IS THE SUMMER SUDDENLY OVER?
I think it would have been much better if Malibu came back to the academy and then there was another montage of them taking more classes and hanging out. This could signify the summer passing. Perhaps there could be another scene where Emmie fires her Dad, or Rafa finally gets the dresses to work properly, and then there could be the Summer Spotlight at the end.
It just felt very rushed and unfinished.
Thirdly, I feel like a lot of the characters didn’t have much personality. For example – Brooklyn! Even though she’s a main character, we don’t know that much about her. Sure, she likes dancing and playing music, but what else? Is she bossy? Shy? Confident? Goofy? Who knows. There wasn’t much of her personality explored at all.
Then for characters like Emmie, all we know is that she’s famous and attending the academy in secret! We don’t even know what she does exactly! Is she an Instagram model? A singer? Why does she want to study acting? It’s just not fleshed out enough.
Personally, my favourite song in the film was Work It, although Big City Big Dreams was a close second. I feel like putting this song in the credits was a waste! They easily could have fit this into another scene, like a rehearsal or a class or anything, really!
See You At The Finish Line was also better than expected! Definitely not bad for a modern-day Barbie musical song, which, let’s be honest, haven’t been the best in recent years. The only let-down was Before Us, which is a song about Brooklyn and Malibu’s friendship.
Overall, none of the music in the film was as bad as Princess Adventure; they were definitely all bearable, which is saying a lot.
To conclude, this movie was definitely not bad!!! It was actually enjoyable to watch and I would be happy to watch it again. I thought it definitely had a lot of potential – perhaps it would have worked better as a first episode in a new series, rather than a standalone movie? There just were a lot of aspects that were not explored as well as they could have been, and I would have really liked to see more actual “performing arts” at a performing arts school.
Overall, I would recommend giving this movie a try. It’s not the best Barbie movie out there, but it’s not the worst, either. Definitely one of the better post-2015 options!