Review of Barbie of Swan Lake Which I Don’t Even Know What To Do With
My apologies. I haven’t written a Babysitting Book Review in a while because I have been sitting on this one, totally baffled, as, honestly, I just don’t know what to make of it.
Enter: Barbie of Swan Lake. Let’s start by setting aside the fact that I feel pretty weird about these Barbie books in the first place. Barbie is bad enough in real life with her high-heel-shaped feet and totally impossible proportions and the whitest and blondest of white people features, but does she really have to invade books too? Why do we have to suffer through commercial reinterpretations of classic fairy tales featuring Barbie as the protagonist? Aren’t fairy tales already misogynistic/racist/classist/heteronormative/terrible enough without having everyone’s favorite sex-doll-turned-toy get in the mix?
In general, I try to keep an open mind when I read to the Babysitting Charge. (Please note here that one thing I love about kids is their total inability to have any sense of “taste” when it comes to books––whatever that means. A “trashy” Barbie fairy tale is just as satisfying to them as a “classic” masterpiece by Roald Dahl, and, at the end of the day, if a story gets a kid into reading, as the great Donalyn Miller encourages, who cares what they read?) Besides, I love the story of Swan Lake. As a Russian Language & Literature major in college, I spent a year living in St. Petersburg, which included several viewings of the Swan Lake ballet at the famous Mariinsky Theatre. Tchaikovsky is my boy.
Then I turned to the first page. “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl named Odette. She was sweet and kind…” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then I blinked.
Certain I was hallucinating, I turned to the second page.
Nope. Still there. Yes, you are seeing exactly what you think you are seeing––a giant purple unicorn. I’m all for artistic license or whatever, and I know there have been a fair number of adaptations of the classic Swan Lake tale, but last time I checked, none involved a unicorn. “She watched as the unicorn tapped its glowing horn on a rock near a waterfall.”
And then my head exploded.
I read on in disbelief––about an enchanted crystal and some Magic Fairy Queen and a Book of Forest Lore and Odette’s internal struggle to be brave. I quickly realized that the only thing Barbie of Swan Lake has in common with the original is the names: Odette, Odile, and Rothbart. The end. Yeah there is a curse and Odette gets turned into a swan, but that was about it.
By far the highlight of the story was that apparently the illustrator had used Cyndi Lauper for the model of Odile.
When the troll appeared, I actually started chuckling to myself, and the Babysitting Charge looked at me like I had lost my mind. “A wise unicorn told me that I was braver than I thought,” says Odette at the end of the story, a line that I choked out through suppressed laughter.
I had never been happier to reach the end of a children’s story before. I quickly closed the book and thought about where I could hide it so I would never have to read it out loud again. Meanwhile, the Babysitting Charge sighed happily.
“I love that story,” she said dreamily.
“Oh…” I replied. “I’m so…. glad…”
“And guess what?”
“This weekend I am going to get to see Swan Lake the ballet with my mom! I can’t wait for the unicorn. She’s my favorite part.”
The poor kid. She is going to be so disappointed.
No one will perhaps read it, but I’m protecting here this Swan Lake movie, in case someone will read it.
First, you can’t compare the ballet on stage with the original fairy tale from 1877. And also ballet productions have differences.
Actually, Barbie Swan Lake is the closest to the original. Because of following points that are so coincidental that they must know the original.
Odette is no princess. Her mother is dead. The crown is only a magical charm to protect her. She gets it by The Ruler of The Forest. The Swan maidens are not court ladies, but fairies.
Odile is only for the prince visible as Odette.
Odette loses her life powers as soon as she loses the protecting powers of her crown.
And what about the unicorn? What’s wrong with retellings? Each animated fairy tale has animal sidekicks.
And consider to which Swan Lake ballet this girl would go. Russian (Happy end, but established 1930ies), English/American (drowing together, first established 1895), or Nurejew’s (prince is a loser and Odette is left behind in grief, first established 1960ies).
I think this would be even more a disappointment.
And it’s actually funny that the original is so much forgotten that it isn’t recognized anymore.
June 9, 2018
I just want to add something to my comment:
As a passionate Swan Lake lover, I did research on Swan Lake around the world and through time.
The Swan Lake at Mariinsky, the so called Russian Swan Lake, is not the original. A lot of changes, like the prince’s battle and victory, were created around 1930.
The English Tradition keeps Petipa’s production from 1895, released at the Mariinsky theatre. The difference is here the drowning of the couple, which breaks the spell, and the after-life apotheosis. Modest Tchaikovsky edited the libretto and was probably influenced by the folk-tale of the enchanted princess.
But what was the original?
The origins of Swan Lake are in the darkness, but on several links from the Russian Swan Lake Wikipedia page I was directed to the original Libretto from 1877. And even here, the question of Tchaikovsky’s influence is crucial.
Whatever it was, Barbie Swan Lake could be inspired by this forgotten tradition. A time in ballet, when the girl rescued the man and was allowed to be brave (Yes, the first what Odette did in the original Swan Lake was be annoyed about the prince- rather than be afraid.) Or did Barbie include the Lilac Fairy – a part of the Sleeping Beauty movie project Barbie wasn’t allowed to produce because of Disney?
Swan Lake is about love, tragedy, magic, romance, purity, betrayal, hope – whether with or without unicorns.
June 9, 2018
I love these comments so much
September 1, 2018