Outside of some recent CG video movies, Barbie really isn’t a cartoon star. But the Mattel fashion doll has been a fixture of Saturday morning and after school cartoon shows (mainly through commercials) since 1959. Is Barbie a human or a toy? Cel animated or CG? Floor wax or dessert topping? And how did she meet The Snow Queen? As my special Christmas gift to you – here’s my exclusive report:
Read Along with 24-Page Book
Mattel #840 (Three 7” 45 rpm records with illustrated lyric book / Mono / 19 minutes)
Songs: Ken Darby, Eliot Daniel. Performers: Charlotte Austin (Barbie); Bill Cunningham (Ken), The Daniel-Darby Orchestra.
Songs: “Nobody Taught Me,” “Ken,” “Barbie,” “Recipe for Instant Love,” “My First Date,” The Busy Buzz.”
Imagine if Barbie and Ken were guest stars on “The Alan Brady Show” and Rob, Sally and Buddy had to write songs for them. Well-written and performed wackiness ensues. That’s what this album is like. It’s very well done and sounds VERY 1961. Barbie’s doing sort of an Ann-Margret thing and Ken is her Steve Lawrence.
Barbie is played by, as the liner notes state, “the lovely Charlotte Austin,” whose father wrote the early standard tune, “My Blue Heaven,” which you heard at the end of the Tom and Jerry cartoon, Kitty Foiled (1948). Austin was a child actor who was signed to 20th Century Fox while in high school. Singing for Ken is the “handsome young Bill Cunningham,” a former High School track star whose credits included The Dinah Shore Show and The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. The liner notes add, “Special note to girls: Bill is 5’11”, goes for surfing, tennis and Italian food. He really IS a doll.” Big deal—I’m 5’11” too, though I’ve probably loved ‘way too much Italian food.
Longtime collaborators Eliot Daniel and Ken Darby are both Hollywood legends. Darby was a two-time Oscar winning vocal arranger who worked on Song of the South, Make Mine Music, So Dear to My Heart, Melody Time, Finian’s Rainbow and wrote the musical version of “The Night Before Christmas” that was heard at Disneyland, Walt Disney World and the 1968 Playhouse Pictures TV special. For The Wizard of Oz (1939), he even arranged the Munchkin voices. Eliot Daniel composed the theme and incidental music for I Love Lucy, the Oscar nominated “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly) for So Dear to My Heart, and the aforementioned Disney animated package films of the ‘40s.
Barbie’s full name, by the way, is Barbara Millicent Roberts, and her boyfriend name is Ken Carson—Barbie creator Ruth Handler’s children were named Barbara and Ken.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Ken” / “Recipe for Instant Love”
Kitschy as the songs are, the music is top drawer. It has what I call the “Jetson Jazz” sound, with lots of great brass – just like a vintage Hanna-Barbera cartoon.
BARBIE CHRISTMAS ALBUM
Kid Stuff Repertory Group
Kid Stuff Records KS-5009 (12” LP record / Mono / 1985)
Producer: John Braden. Music: John Braden, Victor Herbert.
Running Time: 38 minutes
Songs: “Christmas With Barbie,” “Toyland Disco,” “You Look Just Someone I Love,” “Jingle Bells Disco,” “I’m the Snow Queen,” “Christmas with Barbie (Reprise)”
And now from the sublime of Barbie’s recording career to the well, not-so-sublime. This album was one of dozens that the once ubiquitous Kid’s Stuff produced in Hollywood…Florida. Professional actors from local children’s theaters were among those recruited to do the heavy lifting, though they were never credited as far as I am aware.
Songwriter/Producer John Braden’s movie credits include the 1979 sci-fi film, The Day It Came to Earth, notable because it not only was featured on Elvira’s Movie Macabre, it co-starred comedian George Gobel as a astronomy professor(?). The accompaniment is sparse, but that’s to be expected in a low budget children’s LP. I just wish the album didn’t have such tinny sound and isn’t in stereo, odd for 1985.
The best I can say is it’s among the “best” of the in-house Kid Stuff records (they did a few sound tracks and a fine Chipmunks album). The story is crazy-go-nuts, but it’s imaginative. Barbie shrinks to the size of a toy and Captain Ken saves her from Tobor, a toy robot that malfunctions and tries to run her over. Meanwhile, on Side Two, the adventurous twosome fly in his rocket ship to the planet Arcticana, where the people wasted their fossil fuels “on large cars and buildings.” (Easy for you to say, Ken—you have plastic cars and buildings.) The planet was frozen and became the domain of The Snow Queen and her army of icicles. I won’t spoil the ending in case you chase this album down on eBay.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Barbie is Perplexed / Barbie & Ken Meet The Snow Queen
Barbie has a Kafkaesque moment in which she insists she is human after meeting a jack-in-a-box. She gets perplexed. The other excerpt has shades of Captain EO when The Snow Queen calls Barbie and Ken “infidels.” Ken sucks up to The Snow Queen (you’ve probably had co-workers like him) and she sings a Rocky Horror-ish number.
BARBIE in A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Mattel 371170318258 (CD / Stereo / 28 minutes)
Released in 2008. Executive Producer: Rob Hudnut. Music Producers: Arnie Roth, Leslie Mills, Chris Pelcer, Gabriel Mann. Associate Producer: Carrie Wilksen. Original Songs and Lyrics: Leslie Mills, Chris Pelcer, Rob Hudnut, Jeannie Lurie, Gabriel Mann. Arrangers: Arnie Roth, Eric Roth, Leslie Mills, Chris Pelcer.
Performers: Melissa Lyons (Barbie, Eden Starling, Christmas Past); LeAnne Araya (Young Eden, Ann, Nan); Shauntia Fleming (Catherine), Kathleen Barr (Chuzzlewit); Lisa Roth (Christmas Present); Kelly Bixby (Christmas Future); Michael An Angonge (Tammy); Timothy Fett (Maurice); Anthony Fett (Freddy); Chicago Children’s Choir; Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra.
Songs & Carols: “O Christmas Tree,” “Deck the Halls,” “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,” “Joy to the World,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night! Holy Night!,” “A Barbie 12 Days of Christmas,” “I Love This Christmas,” “California Christmas.”
The production values are kicked up from Kid’s Stuff in this soundtrack to Barbie’s direct-to-video CG version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Barbie tells the story and appears as Scrooge-like “Eden,” a narcissistic stage star who abuses her staff in a Devil Wears Prada style. It’s probably the only time Barbie played a villain, albeit a soon-to-be redeemed one, and she’s truly the Streep of Toys ‘R Us. Eden is so much a cheapskate as she has been taught by her Aunt to look out for number one and, as Fred Flintstone once thought, “Nice guys finish last.”
SPOILER: What’s significant about this adaptation is that Eden is abused by her Aunt, and as often happens, she grows up to be an abuser of others. The Ghost of Christmas Future does not suggest her death, but an almost worse fate: that she has passed her abusive ways on to a once-goodhearted young protégé. Good thing this doesn’t happen in real life, right kids?
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“A Barbie 12 Days of Christmas”
The soundtrack album is primarily a collection of Christmas carols and songs, but this is a reworking of “12 Days” with Barbie-centric lyrics. It’s not only a checklist of Mattel products, it’s more than a little shallow. I like to think that in this case, Barbie has enough of a sense of humor to do a little bit of self-parody. You be the judge.
And finally, as a special Christmas treat, I am now going to share a truth that I have never publicly revealed: I actually met Barbie. We really hit it off because we have so much in common. I love vinyl records and she loves vinyl cars, houses and fashion accessories.
Anyway, Barbie and I crossed paths when she was starring in the 1994 musical extravaganza, The Magical World of Barbie at Epcot. Through her phenomenal cosmic powers, what is now the America Gardens Theatre was built for her. Millions of Walt Disney World Guests have Barbie to thank for turning an unsheltered stage (that was at the mercy of weather) to an impressive permanent structure where pop music concerts and the “Candlelight Processional” are performed to this day.
In a rare interview, Barbie was asked how she spends a typical day:
“I like to wake up real early in the morning and get a really good breakfast and then I like to have enough time that I can take a nice bubble bath before I start the shows ‘cause we have such a long day, that I just like to sit in the bubble bath for a while. Sometimes I doze off and Skipper has to wake me up (laughs).”
I’m not making any of this up. For some reason, I’ve aged 20 years while Barbie is still fresh as a daisy. (Between you and me, I think she’s had some plastic work done.)