A Narrow Demographic Hit Very Narrowly

With the stiff competition in Hollywood among actors and actresses—the absolute saturation of souls with hopes of becoming the next Somebody—it must be something of a painful ego trip (and subsequent face-plant) when non-human characters like superdogs, polar bears, pigs, and rats get more screen time and better attention at the boxoffice than human beings.

Adding to the humiliation are the inanimate objects (like toys) found starring in feature-length films: think Transformers, Care Bears, cars, even the cucumber-tomato combo that sweeps us along through retold Bible stories. Apparently people (as in homo sapiens) don’t have what it takes to be entertaining anymore.

Chelsea Staub as Meredith in Bratz

That being said, I will confess that, in general, I can ease into the land of make believe for such characters in animation. But I have to draw the line at live-action films based on fashionista dolls. A cartoon would at least make sense, but turning poorly-proportioned, “BFF” Barbies-of-the-new-century into (nominally) human characters just crosses the line for me.

Yasmin, Jade, Sasha, and Chloe are a quartet of high school freshmen who are joined at all things “hip.” They connect via computer cams in the morning to decide what to wear. They try their darndest to avoid the pitfall of cliques at Carrie Nation High School, a remarkable institution of education with more than fifty identifiable cliques, each of which has its tightly controlled, color-coded, seat-charted, depersonalized place at the school. In spite of their tepid attempts to avoid breaking up into these cliques, several nanoseconds after they “pinky swear” that their quartet would not separate, they, too, fall into the clique-world, stuck under the thumb of the reigning Student Body President (who apparently was held back, as she remains in her position long past the typical tenure).

Fast-forward two years. (Really. There is no clever montage that shows time passing, no visible changes in the pubescent young women—just a pink “Two Years Later” flashing up on the screen.) From there, I suppose, we’re intended to ache for the friends to reunite, to conquer the cliquey system and bring it (and the student body president) to its knees through a funky dance routine in the talent show under the group name “Bratz.”

Unfortunately, this film is as shallow and aimless as it sounds. The audience I saw it with was fairly diverse—young girls through senior citizens—yet there was little response from anyone, regardless of age or demographic. There are a few nearly humorous moments, but no guffaws, and the moral of the story seemed to be that “BFFs” (Best Friends Forever) should always remain so—and never allow the possibility that the maturation process brings some flexibility in the depth and connectedness of all friendships.

Creating a feature-length film based on four dolls (whose heads are as disproportionate to their bodies as Barbie’s breasts are to hers) may seem like a great summer-break film concept for kids, but the vapidity and predictability with which Bratz assaults the intelligence of the audience is more irritating than entertaining. The plot is transparent, the editing is clunky, and the action-figure dolls at the local Toys ‘R Us have more dimensions than any of the characters.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise for me came through my ignorance of this particular childhood craze: I figured the main characters would be snotty, exclusive, mean-spirited, and rebellious—in other words, I ignorantly expected the Bratz to be brats. Instead, they are the ones that refuse to become exclusive and snobbish, and counter the culture of their highly-segregated high school.

I imagine that the target audience of ‘tween girls—who are still playing with dolls—will be very happy with Bratz. Seeing their favorite dolls come to life as older role-models with a positive message will provide an air-conditioned escape from mid-summer boredom. But I think that’s the only demographic that will find this film even remotely entertaining. Anyone who has already survived the gauntlet of high school segregation will merely be haunted by their own specters, which is generally considered somewhat less than entertaining.

Bratz is rated PG for “thematic elements.” I’m not sure which thematic elements they’re referring to, but I have no argument with the rating. Young children may not even understand the clique caste system, and older ones may benefit from a talk about how they see such elements in their own schools.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jenn attended a promotional screening of Bratz.