Tuesday, February 12, 2013

So I Finally Saw the Bratz Movie

Next to Paula Abdul, I am fairly certain that I, Emily Elizabeth Intravia, have invested more time and energy in Bratz: The Movie than any other mere mortal who has not gone on to receive a reward from it, monetary or otherwise. It all began when the first Netflix disc arrived with the radius drawn out as one giant crack. Bad luck, I thought, perhaps to be blamed on a careless mailman. I immediately requested a replacement, for it wasn’t the Bratz’s (Bratz’? Bratz’z? they never taught that sort of punctuation in college) fault that DVDs are a flimsy invention, and I had already vowed to watch the adventures of the live action version of a lawsuit-pending Barbie knockoff product line for The Shortening. True, the movie has nothing to actually do with dolls or the vertically challenged, but considering its inspiration—a multimillion dollar fashion toy empire coveted by children and hated by adults—it seemed like a good February fit. 

The gods of film did not agree.

Disc 2 arrived. As I removed it from its sleeve, I was reminded of any teenage character in a film with a penchant for self-mutilation. The DVD surface resembled a horribly scarred stab victim, crisscrossed with what I imagine were key marks or fingernail imprints. Somebody did not want me to watch this movie.

Here’s what I learned about myself from my Bratz experience: if I ever end up in a haunted house filled with a helpful ghost who tries, night after night, to convince me to leave before my soul is taken, I am as good as damned. I heed no warnings. I do not back away from evil. I listen to no one.

I requested a third disc. And it arrived. Unscathed.

Now armed with the knowledge that DVDs of Bratz: The Movie are an endangered species with a 33% survival rate, I decided it was my duty to thoroughly explore this special edition for future generations. Hence, rather than approach the film as one typically would, I turned on the director commentary track—yes, there is a director commentary track for the Bratz movie—and dove in.

Quick Plot: It’s the first day of high school for four over-accessorized clear-skinned teenagers who instantly vow to be friends forever, even though their interests in extracurricular activities don’t match. See, Cloe (answer you’re seeking: I don’t know if she’s aware that she spells her name wrong) is blond and a soccer star. Sasha is a black cheerleader. Jade is Asian and therefore, pressured by her mother to be the top Mathlete, violinist, and chemistry student. Then there’s Yasmin, whose thing is sometimes journalism, sometimes music, and when at home, being Spanish.

Oh, because you’re wondering, this is Yasmin:

Dios mio, amiright chicas?

At Carry Nation High, the class president/token blond villain Meredith enforces a rigid code of socialization, where jocks only play with jocks, Mathletes only math with other Mathletes, and Kids Who Dress Like Dinosaurs only dress like dinosaurs with Kids Who Dress Like Dinosaurs. It’s a cruel system akin to centuries of racial segregation, and when our perky freshmen heroines threaten the status quo, a movie plot is born.

I knew I was in for something terribly special/specially terrible when I chose to watch a movie based on a product that makes Barbie look Gertrude Stein. I knew this even more when the opening credits rolled with three magical words, the likes of which I haven’t seen since a certain Briard showed off his martial arts skills:

“And Jon Voight”

Midnight Cowboy. Coming Home. Deliverance. Bratz: The Movie.

The beauty of the American right to free choice is not lost on this man.

Voight plays a filthy rich high school principal constantly berated by his spoiled daughter Meredith and probably very uncomfortable in facial and ear prosthetics. Why does Jon Voight wear a fake nose and set of ears? Director Sean McNamara does not explain this (and yes, we can all probably figure it out on our own), although he does praise the Oscar winner for bringing his own ideas to his character and rewrites to the script. I don’t know about you, but this bit of trivia puts me in a confusing place: on one hand, it’s nice to know Voight doesn’t phone in performances, even when, you know, PLAYING A SUPPORTING ROLE IN THE BRATZ MOVIE. On the other, it’s almost sadder to know that someone with the talent of Jon Voight actually cared about this film. It takes the easy excuse of ‘he just needed a paycheck’ or ‘he was high on goofballs’ or ‘the director was dangling a Butterfinger just out of his reach’ out of the equation, making Jon Voight a true enigma for our time to ponder.

Less mysterious, but still noteworthy are a few other faces that stop by. Olympic silver medalist figure skater Sasha Cohen plays an unmemorable cheerleader. Tom Hanks’ Twitter star son Chet does, according to the director, his very own kung fu moves as a science nerd. Future Glee star Kevin McHale performs some slick boyband moves. Kadeem Hardison plays a divorced dad, Lanie Kazan is a Spanish/Jewish bubbie, and an elephant steals the show playing an elephant.

I am too good a person to insult any of the young actresses shouting “BFF!” over, and over, and over and over and over and over (and over) again. As pretty teenagers wearing tacky jewelry go, the girls are on par with any Babysitters Club caliber performance. A DVD extra includes a behind-the-scenes look at casting, where one producer notes “We were looking for girls who are not terribly defined.” I imagine this translates into “not TOO ethnic,” leaving us with one sorta Asian, a green eyed African American, and a hilariously strawberry blond Latina who confirms her background by knowing all the words to La Cucaracha and living in the kind of household that has a mariachi band stationed in the kitchen on a weekday morning.

No, I’m serious. Estoy seriouso!

“A lot of shoes were worn in this movie,” director McNamara notes on his solo commentary track. This comes only twenty minutes or so after he compares one of his shots to Hitchcock with a stunningly sincere sense of enthusiasm. A longtime Disney and Nickelodeon employee, McNamara has nothing but glowing compliments for his movie and cast, and by the end of the film, it’s almost hard to resist his Corky St. Claire confidence.  

High Notes
In perfect honesty, there are some positive messages to glean from Bratz: The Movie. The young actresses are thankfully less scantily clad than their doll namesakes (because to be otherwise is illegal at their age), and the characters do make valiant efforts to maintain good relationships with their friends and family. So while the results are laughable, I won’t fault the heart of the film. Just its skill.

Low Notes
Any film that features product placement for MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen has a hot seat reserved in hell

In a perfect world, and I say this knowing there’s a full-size recliner for me reserved in hell, the actresses playing Bratz would have gone through extensive head implants to better match their plastic counterparts

Lessons Learned
Real friends cancel their ski trips when their pals need a hand

Juggling is not talent show worthy

Divorce isn’t that bad, so long as you have two incredibly wealthy parents

Words that rhyme with brattitude include platitude, latitude, gratitude, and attitude

As Glee already taught me, high school is different today than in the late ‘90s when I was there: for the 21st century youth, it is no longer acceptable to participate in more than one extracurricular activity. Consider it the new 1-Child Act

Did Bratz: The Movie live up to my expectations? Certainly, but I never said I had good taste. This is as ridiculous as any entertainment based on skanky dolls ever was, made all the more so when you turn on Sean McNamara’s earnest commentary track. The DVD is embarrassingly rich in special features, with mini-specials on casting the leads, choreographing the music, and giving tips on how you—yes, YOU!—can dress just like your favorite Brat(z). Those with a soft spot for just-how-bad-can-this-be? will find plenty to enjoy here. Those with standards need not apply.


  1. What?! John Voight?

    I have to admit that from your review, this doesn't sound nearly as bad as I imagined, judging from the toys. Still, many thanks for taking one for the team and satiating my curiosity!

  2. All in all, I was expecting A LOT worse in terms of the sexualization of the girls. Thankfully, the movie was smart enough to avoid that, but it's still not quite on par with Midnight Cowboy or some other Voight fare.