When it comes to commercialism in children’s TV, I’ve looked at the relatively good (PAW Patrol) and the absolutely awful (Shopkins). But now it’s time to go bigger, and surely no one embodies a life of materialism and merchandise like Barbie™. Life in the Dreamhouse follows the animated adventures of the fashion fanatic doll and her friends, living it up in their Malibu mansions. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but this show is actually more self-aware and humorous than it first appears.
You’d be mistaken for thinking this episode opens in a shoe shop, but it’s actually Barbie’s cavernous wardrobe, filled as far as the eye can see with pink. Midge, Barbie’s southern and down-to-earth friend, hold up a high heeled shoe, ‘Five minutes in these and I’d have bunions the size of grapefruits’ she jokes. I guess the writers tried to balance out the pinkness with grossness, but neither is very palatable.
The plot of this episode focuses around Closet, Barbie’s fashion expert robot reminiscent of a pink HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Barbie is scheduled to walk the runway at a fashion show, but baddie Raquelle (you can tell she’s up to no good because she’s wearing black) is determined to delay her so she can take Barbie’s place. She presses Closet’s ‘evil’ button, turning him bad and making him hold Barbie and her friends hostage until they agree to use his terabytes of fashion knowledge to take over the world.
At the fashion show Ken’s Barbie senses are tingling (that’s not my joke, that’s an actual line from the programme), and he rushes to the Dreamhouse to save her. Previously Raquelle had called the Dreamhouse a hovel for only having one elevator. Ken studies the house’s blueprints and finds that his rescue plan won’t work – ‘No! That would only work if the Dreamhouse had two elevators!’ I’ll admit, I found it funny.
Meanwhile, while escaping from Closet, Barbie and her friends somehow fall into an industrial-sized washing machine. Barbie saves them with her technical know-how, ‘I was once an electrical engineer’, by pulling out the right wires to disable the machine. It’s a clever nod to the 136 different careers Barbie has had over the years.
The race is then on to find and disable Closet’s CPU. Barbie and her friends rush to a room with a model of the Dreamhouse, attach a pendant to a staff and let light shine through onto the model to show the CPU’s location. The Indiana Jones references continue when they find the CPU on a weight-sensitive pedestal, replace it with a handbag and run away as a giant bald Barbie head rolls towards them. The giant head destroys the Dreamhouse, but Ken builds another one – with two elevators!
My expectations were low, but I was presently surprised by how light-hearted and self-aware Life in the Dreamhouse is. The Sims-like animation is not the best, but it’s watchable, and there’s lots of cartoon humour alongside pop culture references, similar to Toy Story or Shrek. Barbie fans will appreciate the pink, while newcomers can enjoy the silliness – the Dreamhouse doors are wide open to everyone.