Director – William Lau, Screenplay – Elana Lesser & Cliff Ruby, Producers – Jesyca C. Durchin & Jennifer Twiner McCarron, Music – Arnie Roth, Songs – Megan Cavallari, Lyrics – Amy Powers, Animation Directors – William Lau & Guy Nichele, Production Design – Walter P. Martishius. Production Company – Mattel Entertainment/Mainframe Entertainment.
Kelly Sheridan (Princess Annelise/Erica), Martin Short (Preminger), Allesandro Juliano (Julian), Mark Hildreth (King Dominick), Kathleen Barr (Serafina), Melissa Lyons (Singing Voice Annelise), Julie Stevens (Singing Voice Erica), Ellen Kennedy (Queen Genevieve), Pam Hyatt (Madam Carp), Jan Rabson (Midas/Nack), Brian Drummond (Nick), James Corlett (Wolfie), Guy Chalk (Herve), Lee Tocker (Ambassador Bismarck), Mark Luna (Singing Voice Dominick)
With the kingdom facing bankruptcy, the queen’s only choice is to marry her daughter Princess Annelise off to the neighbouring King Dominick. However, Annelise is in love with her tutor Julian. She and Julian sneak off into the nearby town where Annelise is startled to meet Erica, who is an exact double for her. Erica has been sold into servitude to the seamstress Madam Carp in order to pay off her family’s debts. The queen’s advisor Preminger schemes to snatch power for himself by marrying Annelise. He has Annelise abducted and imprisoned by two inept thieves so that Dominick will think she has fled and depart. Julian saves the day by getting Erica to stand in and pretend to be Annelise. Meanwhile, Annelise makes an escape from her captors – only to be found by Madam Carp who thinks she is Erica and thrown back into servitude. While posing as Annelise, Erica finds she is falling for Dominick but is unable to tell him the truth about who she really is.
Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper was the fourth film made by Canadian computer animation company Mainframe featuring Mattel’s famous girl’s doll Barbie. The Princess and the Pauper had been preceded by Barbie in the Nutcracker (2001), Barbie as Rapunzel (2002) and Barbie of Swan Lake (2003), wherein Barbie was cast as the heroine in various re-enactments of fairytales and/or adaptations of classical ballets. Subsequent films include Barbie Fairytopia (2004), Barbie and the Magic of the Pegasus in 3D (2005), Barbie in The 12 Dancing Princesses (2006), Barbie Mermaidia (2006), Barbie Fairytopia: Magic of the Rainbow (2007), Barbie as The Island Princess (2007), Barbie & the Diamond Castle (2008), Barbie in A Christmas Carol (2008), Barbie Mariposa (2008), Barbie and the Three Musketeers (2009), Barbie Presents Thumbelina (2009), Barbie: A Fashion Fairytale (2010), Barbie in a Mermaid Tale (2010), Barbie: A Perfect Christmas (2011), Barbie: A Fairy Secret (2011), Barbie: Princess Charm School (2011), Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2 (2012), Barbie: The Princess & The Popstar (2012), Barbie and Her Sisters in a Pony Tale (2013), Barbie in The Pink Shoes (2013), Barbie Mariposa and the Fairy Princess (2013), Barbie and the Secret Door (2014), Barbie: The Pearl Princess (2014), Barbie and Her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure (2015), Barbie in Princess Power (2015), Barbie in Rock’n’Royals (2015), Barbie and Her Sisters in a Puppy Chase (2016), Barbie Spy Squad (2016), Barbie Star Light Adventures (2016), Barbie: Dolphin Magic (2017) and Barbie: Video Game Hero (2017).
Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper turns to Mark Twain’s novel The Prince and the Pauper (1881). The Prince and the Pauper is in itself not a fantasy story, although it has a setting of 16th Century England and it takes little stretch of the imagination to fit the story out as a pseudo-fairytale here, replete with talking animals. [Straight versions of The Prince and the Pauper have been filmed a number of times in live-action with the most well-known of these being the Errol Flynn film The Prince and the Pauper (1937), The Prince and the Pauper/Crossed Swords (1977) and Hallmark’s tv mini-series adaptation The Prince and the Pauper (2000)]. Alas, while The Prince and the Pauper works perfectly acceptably reinvented as a fairytale, Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper fails to work successfully as a film. (The Barbie series later reissued The Prince and the Pauper in Barbie: The Princess & The Popstar).
The Princess and the Pauper is made in the same bland, plastic style that Mainframe used for the other early Barbie films. Unfortunately, the film is formulaic and director William Lau never invests it with enough vitality to make it stand out in any way. Barbie’s name has become synonymous with an airheaded blonde beach bunny; William Lau’s failing is that he allows the character on screen to be barely more than that either. There is little in the way of expression to the characters. In fact, one suspects that Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper might have worked better in live-action rather than animation where actors would give the characters some life, subtlety of expression and been able to fill out the humour much more. There are far too many songs, all of which are bland and forgettable. Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper is a competently made film – one has to give it that – but far too formulaic to be involving.
William Lau also does one thing that crucially kills the slender suspension of disbelief we are prepared to give the film – he gives a series of animated outtakes at the end where we see the characters’ stunt doubles, the princess’s cellphone ringing during a romantic scene and the prince suddenly breaking into a rap number. Even aside from the fact that the idea of animated outtakes has been borrowed outright from Pixar and is a hackneyed joke by now, for these to come after having sat through the film seem almost entirely designed to shatter what reality we have been prepared to extend to the story.