It’s Musketeer Media Monday! This month, I’m reviewing Barbie and the Three Musketeers (2009), a direct-to-DVD computer animated feature which was already on our shelf because Ms5 loves it kind of a lot.
I’m not even sorry.
I have a ridiculously soft spot for this particular movie, because I watched it with my daughters multiple times before I started this whole Musketeer Media project, and once you’ve seen all the Barbie movies about princesses and fairies and surfer girls and so on, the idea of one that’s about swords and adventure feels pretty progressive.
Also, how can I complain about the movie that did gender-swapped Musketeers long before I started my story? Hell, this movie is the reason that the shops were full of Barbies with swords for a while there.
Corinne (daughter of D’Artagnan though she never uses a surname) is a fairly standard Barbie avatar – sweet and blonde and determined to succeed at whatever she tries her hand at. This time around, she opens the movie practicing her swordwork, and then convinces her mother to let her leave home to become a Musketeer. All we are missing is a surreal slow-mo fencing shot like in the opening to Musketeers Crack Me Up Seventies Style (1973).
Barbie may be taking D’Artagnan’s place in the story, but there isn’t much of the original character left now he has been Barbiefied – none of the anger and reckless stupidity that is actually quite essential to the character. She compensates partly for this with pluck and gymnastics, but she’s a little too smart and coherent to be a gentuine D’Artagnan avatar. Also, she has a talking cat (Miette) and a talking horse (Alexandre).
Let’s not talk about the talking cat. I find the talking cat distressing. The particularly weird part is the interactive portion of the DVD where you can play a version of the movie that creates some kind of unholy reaction in the toy version of the cat you might have bought, causing it to erupt with cutesy catchphrases. The very thought of it brings me out in hives.
I thought we agreed we weren’t going to talk about the cat.
In Paris, Corinne comes across a small gang of Musketeers fighting in the courtyard and takes up their challenge to all comers. She makes a good go of it and almost looks impressive for the first five seconds, but is sabotaged by some rolling barrels and gets laughed at by the mean men. There’s no doubt at this point that while D’Artagnan struggles to be taken seriously because of his youth and rural origins, Corinne’s cross to bear will be institutionalised sexism.
“Why don’t you run along and leave the Musketeering to the big boys?”
In other news, Rochefort is a dog. Well no, not really – the sneaky, unnamed man in a black eyepatch hovering near the Regent at all times is probably the real Rochefort.
But it’s the dog Brutus who takes Rochefort’s narrative role in the story when he steals her letter of introduction and eats it, ruining her first impression with Treville. I hope Christopher Lee isn’t too offended at how easily his part can be played by a cranky bulldog.
To Treville’s credit, he turns Corinne down because she doesn’t have the experience, not because she’s a girl. It’s the same reason that the original D’Artagnan doesn’t get his dream job – he has to work on his CV first.
On to the traditional Musketeer meet cute! Corinne chases Brutus, who is chasing her cat Miette, and manages to knock over (in quick succession) three women who look exactly like Barbie with different hair, skin and frock colours: the purple, who is admiring some cloth; the green who is being romantic about a rose, and the blue who is playing the violin. That makes them Porthos, Aramis and Athos in that order. As usual, she knocks them all over, messes up their stuff and ruins their day.
A note about Barbie characters: it’s traditional in these movies for all the female characters to look as if they have all been poured out of a literal Barbie mould, with different hair colours just like the Barbie Friends in the toy range. It’s for this reason that all older female characters (like Corinne’s mother) look really weird, because they’re Barbie with wrinkles drawn on.
The other girls in this story are Viveca the fashionista (purple) “played” by Teresa, Aramina the dancer (teal green) “played” by Summer, and Renee the violinist (purple) “played” by Nikki. Teresa, Summer and Nikki are Barbie’s friends in the real world, which is to say, the toy shelf. If you want to understand this complex ecosystem further, check out the surprisingly awesome web series Barbie Life in the Dreamhouse. That was not an ironic recommendation. I have been causing bemused expressions all month from people I have tried to convince that this show is a bit awesome.
While the original D’Artagnan managed to score a job in the guards in his story, Corinne falls into a cleaning job at the Palace (institutionalised sexism!) where her ambitions to be a Musketeer make her an object of derision. Girls have never been Musketeers before!
Corinne also performs her fairy tale duty by being kind to an old woman in the kitchen (again, Barbie with wrinkles painted on and grey hair). To her dismay, it turns out that her three main co-workers are the Barbie Friends she knocked over on her way to the Palace, and they’re not happy with her. Instead of a duel, she ends up cleaning a marble floor with a toothbrush.
The girls take pity on Corinne because Barbie movies are all about friendship and none of them are allowed to be angry for long. They take her home – they have an extra bed since ‘Constance’ left – she was the girl we spotted briefly being fired before Corinne was given the job. They’re still skeptical about the newcomer, but after she shows Renee a small act of kindness by repairing her violin bow, they decide they adore her unconditionally.
Viveca has the vanity and love of pretty clothes of Porthos. Aramina is romantic and soppy like Aramis. Renee brings the snark which must make her Athos. This watch-through is the first time I’ve ever been able to tell the difference between them! And yes you have to look at them very closely and squint a bit to make those character connections.
Louis is not a King (or married) in this version, but an eligible Prince whose Uncle Philippe is about to lose the Regency when he turns 18 in a few days. Which means that the plot is actually a lot closer to Mickey Mouse the Musketeer than any other version of the story. Yep, the Regent is the bad guy.
Turns out that Louis is a bit of a daft inventor type, who is happy building fun gadgets and is particularly obsessed with air travel via balloon. When the assassination attempts begin, he’s going to need someone strong and brave around to protect him…
A falling chandelier almost takes out the Prince, and all four of the cleaning girls reveal their hidden martial arts skills as they save him from being crushed. Later, Corinne finds evidence that the rope was cut. She confesses to the other girls that she longs to be a Musketeer and they admit the same – they all came to Paris to become Musketeers and ended up as cleaning ladies!
There’s a message in that somewhere.
The elderly and mysterious Helene overhears them and takes them through a secret passage (by way of a brilliant slide ramp) to a training room once used by Musketeers. They all show off their skills to Helene, who turns out to be something of an expert. Viveca fights with accessories (ribbons twirling), Aramina with grace (fans) and Renee with a catapult and snark. Barbie fences with her gymnastic moves – and Helene is better than all of them.
Luckily, she’s also willing to teach them.
“In my day, no one thought a girl could be a Musketeer. They still think that. You must prove them wrong.”
Corinne has a bonding moment with Prince Louis when something goes terribly wrong with his prototype hot air balloon (more rope severed in interesting places) and it launches by accident. She saves his life, and the two of them manage a rather pleasant trip together.
She is impressed with the Prince’s skills of invention – they both have what seem like impossible dreams, which gives them a lot in common. He’s a bit miserable that he’s going to be King soon which means no more fun inventing and lots of boring paperwork. So the country’s in good hands then. She gets up the courage to confess her own dream to him and is crushed when he laughs at her.
“You can’t be serious. Girls can’t be Musketeers!”
She yells at him and huffs away after they crash land, which is obviously a thing he likes in the ladies. Being yelled at, that is, not crash landing.
Meanwhile, Helene’s hardcore fencing lessons continue. When Corinne tells the other women about her day they that this was another dangerous near miss for the king – it could be sabotage! Helene trusts no one, not even Treville, and won’t let them call anyone for help.
Miette meanwhile is miserable because she wants to train to be a Musk-cateer like the big girls, and isn’t allowed inside the Palace. She confesses her sadness to Alexandre the horse. Brutus the dog threatens her, letting her know that when his master is the King, Miette will be banished forever. Miette is scared, but Alexandre helps her sneak into the Palace to be with Corinne.
Cue the next training montage! The girls use mops and other kitchen utensils to practice their moves while they’re working. But when it’s playtime, they can practice properly in the secret training room. Which by the way includes some extraordinary gear including clockwork suits of armour for them to train against. It’s all to the tune of ‘Unbelievable’ – or a version of the EMF song with slightly different but not actually Barbie specific lyrics. By the end of it, Barbie finally disarms Helene.
The montage has done its job, and they are SO ready to rumble.
“Nothing can stop us!” Corinne declares.
But on their way to celebrate, the girls spot Creepy Eyepatch man and others of the Regent’s men doing something mysterious with crates. His dagger has a gem in it just like the one that Corinne found near the chandelier. And apparently, the crates include swords for the upcoming masquerade coronation ball – or “party favours.”
The swords are really pretty colours that sort of match the dresses our girls like to wear. I thought this would be super significant to the plot but apparently no, that’s just the colour of pretty weapons in this universe. This universe is so stylish.
Corinne and the girls storm their way into the Palace but the cranky housekeeper refuses to let them anywhere near the Prince. They pick her up bodily and hurl her out on the grass, and race through the corridors to tell Treville about the plot – in front of the Regent himself which shows an extreme lack of subtlety on their part.
When asked for evidence, Corinne points to the crates – which turn out to be filled with sword-shaped decorations for the sword dance at the party. The Regent shows her that they’re fake and laughs at her for her concern. Treville refuses to support Corinne in her embarrassing ramblings, and tells her to stay away from the ball and the prince.
So they’ve probably all lost their jobs, then.
Oh yes, there’s the housekeeper reassuring them of that fact. If they ever return to the Palace they will be thrown in the dungeon.
Sucks to be Barbie.
The other girls are ready to give up but Corinne begs them to stay with her and protect the Prince – it’s what they have been training for. And of course, as cleaners, they know the Palace better than anyone.
Viveca is in charge of costumes, Renee in charge of inventing new covert weapons that match their outfits, and Aramina is going to teach them all to dance. Another montage, then!
Yes, they have to learn how to DANCE before they can save the Prince. And of course, to fence in ball gowns. Barbie never does anything half-arsed.
The Regent Phillipe claims he is going off to live in seclusion now that Louis is properly the King – as is only right and proper. But as soon as he leaves, he turns around and returns secretly to the Palace with a mask and his scary bulldog.
Everyone’s using the secret passages today – not only Corinne and her friends, but also Phillipe, Eyepatch Dude, and their men. Their plot of course is that they have real swords for the dance, and no one else does. But the real swords are candy-coloured like the fake ones.
Corinne and the others make their appearance at the ball, masked and gowned. Treville doesn’t recognise them despite their distinctive hair and frock colours, because he’s obviously lost his touch.
The guest announced before them is Countess De Winter. Yikes!
The girls are briefly panicked before they realise they can use fake names – and thus they are announced as Lady Barbie Q, Ivana Party, Abbey Birthday and Countess Hedda Lettuce. Class all the way.
The ceremonial sword dance begins. Weirdly everyone is still calling Prince Louis a prince, and not a king – has he not been crowned yet? Is this his pre-coronation? I’m confused. Naturally he picks Corinne to dance with, because she’s the main character and he has a subconscious interest in blondes wearing pink.
Everyone else at the ball stops to stare at them while they dance. I guess because he’s the Prince? Louis keeps trying to figure out where he has met her before and Corinne evades him with the skill of a highly trained teenage girl.
The sword dance, it turns out, involves the prince dancing with his chosen lady in the centre, and everyone else dancing slowly around them with their swords pointing directly at the prince. It seems like an occupational health and safety nightmare, frankly, and that’s without the real swords.
Aramina cuts in on the lady dancing with the masked Phillipe, and manages to kick him in the shins. I’m not sure if she suspects something or if that’s just a thing she did randomly. But when the fireworks go off and everyone stops to gaze at them, Phillipe makes his move. Corinne moves in to stop him and gets hold of a real sword. Phillipe calls out that she is the threat, and hustles the Prince away while his men take on the mysterious masked women. (Treville, by the way, was knocked unconscious some time ago, and apparently there is no security working the Palace tonight who isn’t in Phillipe’s pay already).
With what can only be classed as sparkle power, and a repeat performance of “Unbelievable” (also available as a karaoke film clip in the DVD extras, featuring Miette and a bunch of other computer generated cats) the four women go into an extraordinary dance routine, ripping off their long dresses and fighting with fans, scarves, jewellery catapults, etc. They’re pretty awesome with those accessories.
Also, Miette takes out Brutus with a tiny wooden sword. It’s cute and disturbing. It’s cutesturbing.
Even Helene, busily cleaning up the mess at the orders of the offensively pompous housekeeper, manages to clobber a couple of blokes with her broom.
Corinne and the others realise too late that they lost track of the Prince – but they know which way they went, through the secret passageways. They escape their aggressors with a perfumed sparkle spray and take off after their man.
Louis, it turns out, isn’t quite as dumb as he looks. In between figuring out how to improve on the elevator he is being kidnapped with, he works out that Phillipe is deeply suspicious.
Corinne and the girls find Treville and all the Musketeers tied up in the cellar. They don’t hold back on how smug they feel right now.
The final showdown between Corinne and Phillipe happens on a rooftop where he’s trying to get Louis to walk the plank on the grounds that he is a starry-eyed inventor and will make a terrible king. Which is actually true. I think I’m on Team Phillipe with this one.
Corinne swoops in to rescue the Prince, fencing the Regent on the edge of the rooftop up until the point that he disarms her. Ah. That montage wasn’t infallible, then. Phillipe is delighted that she’ll make a great patsy to blame the Prince’s death upon.
Louis flings a sword at Corinne, allowing her a second chance to defeat Phillipe. When he comes back for a third try, Corinne and Louis defeat him together, both hands on the sword hilt, which seems…unlikely but romantic, I guess?
The bad guys and the bad dog are all shipped off to prison, and the Prince unmasks the women who saved his life. He is genuinely startled to see Corinne beneath the mask of Lady Barbie Q… but he knows a movie resolution when he sees one.
Rose petals are flung down upon Corinne and her friends by several of their new male comrades, up in the flying balloon. Helene, now in charge of the castle cleaning, gets to order the rude housekeeper around to sweep everything up.
Oh, and the King shyly asks Corinne to come up and see his balloon again some time (slightly more original than etchings) but she has to give him a rain check on their date because Treville has uncovered a plot, and it’s time for the new recruits to go to work.
Corinne, Viveca, Aramina and Renee ride off into the sunset to save the day, and the King is left smiling ruefully behind them.
Musketeer in Pink (2009) is a silly, ribbon-bedecked and petticoated version of the Musketeer story, but it leaves Mickey Mouse the Musketeer (2004) in the dust on many counts including having a narrative that mostly makes sense, not being enragingly sexist, not featuring that asshole Donald Duck, putting a sword in Barbie’s hand, and actually addressing/challenging a few gender conventions along the way. Ms5 did fencing exercises pretty much through the whole movie, with a few dance steps thrown in.
I’m kind of glad this one exists. Considering some of the awful movies out there “for girls” it has a better message than most. Also, it has a fake Bloopers reel which is the DVD special feature I always want in everything.
Lyrics from the Barbie song ‘All for One, One For All’ as distinct from the Sting version.
We may look beautiful
We may be dutiful
But don’t be fooled of our finesse
We’re here to save the day
Come on, en garde, touche
We’re no damsels in distress
Don’t mess with the dress
This Musketeer Media Monday post is brought to you by the paid sponsors of Musketeer Space, all 50+ of them. You guys rule! Previous posts in this series include:
Musketeers in an Exciting Adventure With Airships (2011)
Musketeers Are All For Love (1993)
Looks Good in Leather: BBC Musketeer Edition Part I (2014)
You Can Leave Your Hat On: BBC Musketeer Edition Part II (2014)
It’s Raining Musketeers: BBC Musketeer Edition Part III (2014)
Mickey Mouse the Musketeer (2004)
Musketeers Crack Me Up Seventies Style (1973)