Feature: Barbie sings

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Sept. 10, 2004 at 4:44 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- When Mattel Inc. decided to produce the first animated musical starring the classic doll Barbie, the company turned to one of the few female composer-songwriter teams in the entertainment industry, Megan Cavallari and Amy Powers.

"Barbie as The Princess and The Pauper" is a computer-animated retelling of the famous Mark Twain tale "The Prince and the Pauper" -- only with Barbie at the center of the identity switch. Powers said Mattel and producer Rob Hudnut wanted Barbie to be empowered for the story, in a reversal of the classic "damsel-in-distress" scenario.

"In this one," said Powers, "Barbie not only rescues herself, but she rescues her entire kingdom."

Still, there is an emphasis on fashion -- one of the major attractions that Barbie holds for young girls who play with the dolls, as well as for older fans who collect the Barbie line. In "Barbie as The Princess and The Pauper," the Princess Barbie just happens to own some of the gowns that Pauper Barbie designs at the dress shop where she works.

And one of the songs -- sung by actor Martin Short -- contains a lyric instructing Princess Barbie that one of the things one needs to be a princess is to own 1,000 pairs of shoes.

The songs also deal with issues of identity -- particularly the questions of whether a young woman should be forced to marry someone who isn't right for her, or whether she can even find her identity through marriage at all.

Powers said one of the project's objective was to "reposition Barbie, redefine Barbie for a new generation" -- and so Princess Barbie is also a scientist.

"She sees quite literally that what's beneath the surface can be more important than what's outside," said Cavallari.

The composer-songwriting team has contributed music to productions at several major studios -- including Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount and Disney. They have also written tunes for cable shows on HBO, Showtime and the Disney Channel.

Cavallari formerly worked as composer Danny Elfman's assistant on such movies as "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Dolores Claiborne." She has written songs, produced music or contributed orchestrations for such TV shows as "Happily Ever After" and such movies as "A Christmas Carol starring Whoopi Goldberg," "All Dogs Go to Heaven" and "Oliver Twist."

Powers' first published songs -- "As if We Never Said Goodbye" and "With One Look" -- were included in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard." She wrote the title track for the Oscar-winning documentary "When We Were Kings," and she has written songs for such recording artists as Barbra Streisand, Brian McKnight, Diamond Rio and Alabama.

Cavallari and Powers are both mothers in their 40's, and Cavallari said they have both listened to enough musical products for their own kids that they took that into account when they wrote the songs for this project.

"Kids watch these films over and over," she said. "We, as parents, don't want to drive moms and dads crazy with kiddie songs."

Rather, the songs are more along the lines of the kinds of Broadway tunes that became a staple of Hollywood animated features with the success of the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken collaborations on "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast."

Cavallari is such a fan of the Oscar-winning team of Ashman and Menken that she named her dog "Shmenken." Powers said she and Cavallari discovered in their first meeting with Hudnut that he was also a big fan of those musicals.

"It was like meeting a fellow trekkie," she said.

The production employed a mythology consultant to help keep it on track in such areas as the mythology of twins among other things. Cavallari said Hudnut himself served as something of an expert on Barbie -- since he had previously produced "Barbie as Rapunzel" and "Barbie in the Nutcracker."

"We never felt that anything we did would get off course on that," she said. "He would say, 'Barbie would not do that. Barbie would not say that.' He was a filter, because Amy and I could come up from crazy ideas."

Powers and Cavallari said that as they worked on the songs for the movie they were well aware of the responsibility they carried for shaping a message that would be received by countless girls -- not just in the United States, but around the world. The movie will be marketed in 21 languages in international markets including Brazil, Denmark, Hungary and Japan.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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