Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 30, 2004)
For today’s Personal Moment of Humiliation, we head to the toy store. I collect a few action figure lines - yeah, I’m a geek - and periodically hit the shops. Inevitably, this leads me past aisles with lines that don’t interest me, so I know a little about toys that fall outside of my own collector’s realm.
This means that although I don’t collect the Bratz dolls or have any reason to get involved with them, I’ve seen them in the stores and have an awareness of them as a major competitor for Barbie. I guess they’re Barbie for the hip-hop generation, as they’re multicultural and more in tune with contemporary fashions.
However, the Bratz apparently go for the more flamboyant side of that street, which means some of their outfits don’t look like they’d fit in at your local 7-11. My friend Kevin was with me when I saw some male Bratz aimed at a prom theme. One wore a flashy purple ensemble that I instantly mocked since it looked like nothing any actual teen boy would wear. Frankly, it made the doll look like he’d be a lot more interested in the other male figures than the female ones, and I had a good laugh at the toy’s expense.
Until I noticed the name given to the doll. Just like the Barbie line, all of the Bratz have individual names. This one’s moniker? You guessed it: Colin.
Needless to say, Kevin had a grand time at my humiliation and even proceeded to drop the six bucks necessary to pick up the Colin doll. It now proudly sits on top of his living room TV, there to taunt me whenever I stop by his condo.
Much to my relief, Colin fails to appear in Starrin’ and Stylin’, the animated feature based on the toys. The Bratz line revolves around four female high school juniors: Yasmin, Cloe, Sasha, and Jade. Everyone gets excited when Cloe buys a car with her savings, and they all prep for prom night.
Snags enter the mix, however, through a variety of sources. A teacher assigns them a project to express themselves artistically and makes it due the Monday after prom, which doesn’t leave them much time. The girls get permission to do theirs as a team, and they use videotape to work it into their prom preparation.
A few other issues cause friction along the way. Cloe crashes her car, and rumors fly that prom organizer Sasha is going over the edge. Jade worries that she’s losing her fashion sense. The program follows the girls’ attempts to overcome these and other obstacles as they shoot for the perfect prom.
If you watch Season Four of The Simpsons, you’ll find a great episode in which Bart and Lisa write Itchy and Scratchy shorts. They eventually get an award nomination, and they go up against an episode of Action Figure Man called “How to Buy Action Figure Man”.
That’s how I felt as I watched Bratz. From start to finish, the show demonstrated absolutely no reason to exist other than to push products. The paper-thin plot exists for one reason: to put the girls in as many situations - and as many outfits - as possible. All those situations and outfits exist for one reason: to showcase all of the totally awesome toys the target audience can immediately go out and purchase. Hey, in the Internet age, they don’t even need to schlep to the local TRU to snag the dolls - just hop online and order them there!
Very few attempts to differentiate the personalities occur. We get token scenes in which the girl Bratz relate some minor notes; for example, we learn that Jade’s the one who shoots for cutting edge fashion. These blurbs feel like they’re copied straight from the toy boxes and it remains very tough to tell the difference between the girls. They have minor variations but essentially come across as the same character.
Not surprisingly, the animation falls flat. The program jerks and stutters through the material awkwardly. It avoids looking as bad as something like Pokemon, I suppose, but its cheap origins remain obvious, and the unappealing character designs don’t help. Of course, they’re based on the dolls, but the artists made some odd - and ugly - choices. While the dolls have noses, the cartoons don’t. Add to this other factors like their enormous mouths and the figures tend to look really freakish.
At times, I actually questioned if any humans worked on Starrin’ and Stylin’. It seemed more likely that they just dumped a bunch of toys into some big machine and it cranked out this inane product. There’s absolutely no sign of real human involvement to be discerned. Heck, it doesn’t even credit the voice actors! From the predictable and bland plot to the one-dimensional characters to the stiff and unappealing animation, this flick was a total dud.