The stories behind the greatest classical compositions of all time
It may seem like an unlikely source of inspiration, but nevertheless I wish to take a few moments of your time to sing the praises of a movie franchise that made quite an impression on me and my daughters as they were growing up. The movie franchise I am referring to is none other than Barbie…you know, the doll from the Mattel toy company. That Barbie! The story of how we came to be devoted Barbie movie lovers dates back to the very earliest moments spent with our children. It serves to reinforce an important principle of parenthood which is that reading with your children from the day they are born reaps unimagined benefits down the road. Here is the story of how I became a Barbie movie fan and what that has to do with classical music.
From the very first moment our eldest daughter entered the world, my wife and I knew that something magical had happened. We were determined to love our child as fiercely as possible and raise her to be armed with as much confidence and knowledge as we possibly could so that she could take on the world on her own terms. One of the ways we decided to do this was by reading to our baby every day. Being teachers, my wife and I recognized the intellectual benefits for children to being exposed to language at an early age. But, even more than that, reading to our daughter gave us the opportunity to hold her close to our hearts each day while we read to her. This allowed for the pairing of warmth, security and happiness with the act of reading. In time, our daughter was old enough to hold and choose her own books. When she did, she explored the world of books with a sense of curiosity and excitement. In time, our daughter began to develop a tendency to read certain types of books so we began taking her to our public library and letting her have a say in what books we would borrow there. One of the book series that she became drawn to was the Baby Einstein series. These books were filled with shapes and colours and textures and flaps that opened and closed. But, they were also filled with short poems, works of Art and so on. It was a very enriching experience for our daughter and helped introduce her to people like Mozart and Brahms while doing so in an intellectually-appropriate manner for her young age. These Baby Einstein books led us to discover that there were DVDs available at the library, too. So, our daughter began looking in the DVD section of the children’s department as part of each visit, just as she did the storybook sections that were available to her. As our daughter grew some more, she began watching age-appropriate shows on TV and then looking to pair her viewing habits with books. So, before we knew it, we were inundated with books about Dora the Explorer, Caillou and The Berenstain Bears. Before long, our daughter discovered Barbie. That led to borrowing Barbie storybooks and then, eventually, she discovered a Barbie DVD called Barbie and the Three Musketeers. This is where my family’s love affair with the Barbie movie franchise began.
As of the writing of this post, there are a total of 47 movies in the Barbie movie franchise. The series has gone through four re-boots along the way. Both of my daughters went through their Barbie movie phase but agree that the first quarter of the franchise had the best of the movies. So, let me tell you a bit about why my girls enjoyed the Barbie movies so much and why I recommend them so highly to any parent of children under the age of ten. First of all, just like the Baby Einstein books and DVDs, the early Barbie movies were all based on classic works from literature or the stage. So, our first DVD was the Barbie version of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel, The Three Musketeers. From there, the girls watched Barbie and Swan Lake, Barbie and the Nutcracker, Barbie as Rapunzel and Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses, just to name a few. For my eldest daughter, in particular, watching these movies gave us the chance to introduce the original classic stories into our home. So, even though the animation was rudimentary, the storylines were faithful to the original classic works which made the experience of watching these movies worthwhile. Secondly, each movie contained a soundtrack that introduced new, original music but mostly featured the real versions of familiar classical compositions. It was through these Barbie movies that my daughters got to hear Swan Lake being performed, as well as the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky. In Barbie and Rapunzel, the girls were introduced to “Symphony No. 9, Movement No. 3” by Antonin Dvorak. For me, the pinnacle of the integration of the Arts with the Barbie movies came when we watched Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses.
“The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is originally a fairy tale from Germany’s The Brothers Grimm. In the Barbie movie, the same fairy tale was told with long segments of ballet interspersed within the storyline. The opening theme of the movie used the classical composition “Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3, Movement No. 3” by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. The beautiful ballet scenes that formed the core of the story were accompanied by the music of Felix Mendelssohn and his “Symphony No. 4”. All in all, the movies were magical, made all the more so because of the wonderful music that was included in the soundtrack. As I have said before, using such rich pieces of music and combining them with classic tales well told all served my daughters very well. My eldest daughter, in particular, has developed a great love of reading and has challenged herself to read a wide variety of books from the present and from the past, involving a seemingly endless array of subject matter and themes.
The final aspect of the Barbie movies that made them such valued additions to our home was the fact that the storylines all involved strong female characters. There were no helpless damsels waiting for their prince to come and save them. All of the Barbie movies involved an element of “girl power”, which was important for my impressionable young daughters to grow up seeing. In addition to helping our daughters grow up to be literate and knowledgeable, we wanted them to be strong, confident, self-sufficient young women, too. So, having them watch movies based upon classic literature that used classical music gems, and then that showed the female characters being brave and innovative and loyal, all without the need to rely on male characters, added up to a big parenting win in our minds.
In the links below, I will show how the Barbie movies used the original compositions from Respighi and Mendelssohn in the films, as well as a few other styles of music that my daughters each happened to like. All in all, I am aware that the character of Barbie comes with some cultural baggage based upon how she was built and marketed during her heyday as one of the toys that were “meant for girls”. I took that attitude into my initial viewing of the very first Barbie and the Three Musketeers movie that we borrowed from our public library. But, I am happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of it in all regards. The Barbie movies are not Oscar-calibre films by any stretch, but as a way to expose your children to classic works of literature and music, they are excellent and I highly recommend them…especially the first ten-twelve in the series.
The link to the original composition of “Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 3, Movement No. 3” by Ottorino Respighi can be found here.
The link to how “Ancient Airs and Dances” was used in the opening theme to the movie Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses can be found here.
The link to the original composition of “Symphony No. 4, Movements 1 and 3” by Felix Mendlessohn, can be found here.
The link to one of the scenes from the Barbie movie that used Mendlessohn’s “Symphony No. 4” can be found here.
The link to the movie trailer for Barbie and the Twelve Dancing Princesses can be found here.
My eldest daughter’s favourite Barbie movie song is “Unbelievable” by EMF. The link to that can be found here.
My youngest’s daughter is a fashionista in real life. Not surprisingly, her favourite Barbie movie song involves fashion. The link to “Get Your Sparkle On” can be found here.