The Princess and the Pauper is Way Better Than You Remember: Part 1

Sometimes, when you rewatch the movies that you enjoyed as a child, you think to yourself, “Was I really that dumb?” Whether because of your undeveloped brain or the fact that kids have way different priorities when consuming media, rewatching certain things as an adult simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, even if it’s still rose-tinted by nostalgia.

But then, sometimes, a piece of children’s media is so transcendent, so powerful, so flawless in its execution that it ages like a fine wine, getting better and better every time you watch it.

Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper is one of these rare, S-tier movies. And I can prove it.

Check out the full video here:

Or, in case you prefer to read, below is the video transcript (not verbatim, but close enough)!

Part 1: The Adaptation

I’m not talking about the story, as in, the writing, here (we’ll get into that in a bit) I’m talking about the way they chose to adapt this fairytale into a movie.

But first, allow me to shatter your reality: the Prince and the Pauper ISN’T A FAIRYTALE. As in, it was not written by the Brothers Grimm nor our good friend Hans. It’s a Mark Twain novel written in 1881! 

But the plot is pretty much ingrained into every one’s cultural psyche like a fairytale, so I don’t think I have to do more than summarize the original: prince and pauper meet, realize they’re dopplegangers, and trade places, learning valuable lessons about the others’ lives.

Somewhat surprisingly, our Disney overlords never made a full-length adaptation of Prince & the Pauper, though everyone’s probably seen or heard of the Mickey Mouse one, but it’s like 25 minutes long so it doesn’t count! 

They allllmossst did with Kingdom of the Sun, but it never really happened. Which left that void unfilled.

Meanwhile, Barbie in the early 2000s was somewhat emulating Disney renaissance films, particularly princess ones. Sure, their primary directive was to sell Barbie dolls, but in service of that goal, they had to make movies that little girls would actually watch.

What’s interesting about Mattel’s formula versus Disney’s is that when you break it down, they’re really just inverses of each other: Mattel is a merchandise company making movies to sell merchandise. Disney is a movie company making merchandise to sell… well, more merchandise.

But in Mattel’s case, their reputation was on the line. In the 1990s, Barbie sales were on the decline due to girls spending more time on computers than playing with dolls (all hail our Apple overlords) so they turned to interactive media to get them back on track.

And it worked.

But rather than make cheap knock-offs of preexisting movies by adapting stories that you haven’t seen in 3D or 2D animation before. 

Though maybe this had more to do with Disney copyrighting everything than it did actual creative problem-solving, I’d like to believe they chose to be different.

I mean, their breakout hit was the Nutcracker. The Nutcracker, of all things! And you’ll see this recurring theme time and time again of Barbie movies prioritizing the arts – particularly ballet and classical music – in their early 00s adaptations. 

It’s genius. It’s brilliant. It’s different. And it’s so good for kids. I cannot describe to you the ecstasy of hearing the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony live for the first time and realizing, “THAT’S THE SONG FROM 12 DANCING PRINCESSES.”

I fully credit Barbie movies for helping me develop my love of classical music. 

But P&P is different because whereas its predecessors: Nutcracker, Rapunzel, and Swan Lake (all great movies) chose to either adapt ballets or otherwise incorporate preexisting classical music into their scores, P&P was Barbie’s first MUSICAL with completely original songs and orchestral score.

AND IT SLAPS way harder than it should.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. The music itself deserves its own section. I’m talking about what this means for the adaptation, so let’s get back on track here, shall we?

Part 2: The Plot

If you haven’t seen this movie, first of all, what are you doing here? Go watch it. Go. Now. If you’re a Gen Z or millennial you definitely know a girl who has seen these movies and owns every one of them so go find her now! 

But just in case you need a refresher, here’s is how the events of Barbie Princess and the Pauper play out:

Two girls are born on the same day (in this way, it’s true to its source material) one to a poor family, the other to the king and queen. They look identical except for their hair color: Annalise is blonde, Erika is brunette. Or maybe her hair is just dirty because she’s poor. We don’t know.

Via our intro song (more on that absolute banger in a bit) you learn that Erika is an indentured servant to a cruel dress shop owner named Madame Carp who pointedly reminds Erika that she’s a slave to compound interest. But homegirl’s spirit remains unbroken as she dreams of paying her parents’ debt and becoming a singer.

Annalise, on the other hand, has to enter into an arranged marriage because her kingdom is basically on the verge of bankruptcy due to their gold mines “mysteriously” turning up empty.

(And I guess this kingdom’s economy is fully dependent on their gold exports and nothing else but okay Barbie you get a pass because kids don’t really care about economics… but then again it kinda does make sense if their currency was backed by a gold standard and now that the gold is gone the value of their dollar has basically plummeted to nothing therefore rendering their currency useless and their economy collapses under the weight {or lack thereof, hahaha}… we’re also told that this kingdom is high on a mountainside which means a) they probably built the kingdom around the mines and b) they are probably mainly dependent on the local economy vs. trade due to their obscure location, making it even more detrimental because they can’t seek revenue outside of the kingdom without the right resources…)

In any case, the only way to, quote, “take care of their people” is to marry a rich king. Fair.

And in this royal family’s defense, that’s a much nobler solution than, say, taxing their already poor citizens out the ass, but nonetheless, she’s not exactly happy with the prospect because homegirl’s got eyes for the tutor. She’s also a MAJOR FREAKING NERD who literally just wants to read books all day (specifically science books, as we’ll examine later). let’s go Women in STEM I guess???

Directly after that we’re introduced to our villain, Preminger, and learn that he has been actively stealing the gold from the mines right under the queen’s nose and he has finally stolen it all. 

Like, no one would notice all the gold was gone? No miners down there? No overseers? Regulations? Nothing? Okay. 

But now he can “return home a hero who’s discovered mighty wealth” and marry the princess. 

But plot twist! She’s already engaged! So he revises his plan: he’ll kidnap her instead and force the king to withdraw because, like, how can you marry someone who’s not there? And then he’ll “find” her and then marry her and then kick her to the curb because eff that two-timing biotch!

He has a serious hero complex… I’ve watched a lot of Criminal Minds, and he really takes the cake…

Next we see that Annalise is sad because she has to marry a rich, handsome king (but come on she doesn’t love him!) and soft boi Julian takes Annalise for a little joyride through the kingdom to cheer her up before she’s shackled to her obligatory marriage and gosh can we just appreciate the chemistry between these two for a bit?? They’re so cute!

I also just can’t help but be amused at the fact that Annalise comments on the “fresh air” of the village even though anyone who knows history knows that villages in this time period (and we’re obviously emulating 18th century France here, viva la revolution!) the “fresh air” was more akin to “dank, poopy air” and we even see the cat stepping around the detritus on the ground like “girl do you even have a nose?”

But Annalise is just so happy to be outside the palace walls she goes instantly noseblind so we’ll let that one go. 

Also the fact that they take the time to point out that Julian grew up poor. She asks him to show her the house where he grew up and he says “it was more of a room, really” and points to an apartment building – KEEP THIS IN MIND BECAUSE RISING ABOVE YOUR SOCIAL CLASS IS A RECURRING THEME IN THIS DAMN MOVIE THAT I NEVER NOTICED BEFORE.

Annalise also gets a little taste of how bad things are in her kingdom as she watches a poor family board up their home or shop and leave the village and has what looks to be a moment of introspection… what? Some people may have it worse than you, Princess? How could this be?

But oh? What’s this? Someone singing? It’s our homegirl Erika, and Annalise is vibing with it, so she donates to the poor – and then we get the “holy effing shit we’re dopplegangers” moment and accompanying song that is unintentionally a commentary on social class. (Put a pin in this we’ll come back to it later!)

And then the scene ends not with a “let’s trade places” revelation but a “you should come sing at the palace sometime” which blows Erika’s mind because that could be her ticket out of the indentured hellhole she calls life!

The very next night, the princess is kidnapped by the two idiot henchmen! 

The next morning, the ambassador and a page who definitely isn’t King Dominic arrive but oh no! The princess is missing! But our boy Julian thinks it’s very sus and what’s more, the “I’m running away” letter she left SMELLS LIKE THE WRONG FLOWER. Our boy pays attention to the details. He’s attentive. He knows his girl and she is a rose-scented stationary person, not mother effing lilacs!

I love how the subtext here implies that he has either received letters from her or has actively sniffed her mail and I really want to believe it’s the latter. Homeboy is thirsty, okay?

So, he does the only logical thing: tracks down the doppleganger he just met and asks her to take the princess’s place until he finds her. She’s reluctant at first, but ultimately agrees because it’s the right thing to do and she feels a special connection with Annalise even though they’ve only met once and maybe she thinks it might springboard her out of the hellhole she calls life, who knows?

So Julian teaches her how to be a princess via the hallmark of the Barbie musical repertoire “To Be a Princess.” This song is so iconic that Mattel ripped off their own song in another one of their movies. But I digress. 

The clock is winding down, the ambassador and the page boy who definitely is not King Dominic in disguise are about to pack up shop, but wait! The princess has returned! And she seems a little clumsy and speaks a little stilted but it is definitely her. The wedding is back on!

Meanwhile, the princess is being held at a secondary location – some kind of cabin in the woods that I really don’t wanna know the origins of. But thanks to her fiercely loyal cat Serafina and some really friggin’ dumb henchmen, she’s able to escape.

Annalise tries to go back to the palace, but gets turned away by the guards because of the IMPOSTER in her place, which she still has no idea about. Annalise spends most of this movie in the dark, honestly. She goes to the village and accidentally falls into Erika’s life, and maybe you can infer that she’s kind of connected some dots, but in any case, you see her start to empathize a little with the plight of the common man as she demands that Madame Carp respect her workers and attempts to sew a dress. 

So, yeah, Annalise is a pampered, privileged princess whose problems are way below those of the working class, but at least she’s empathetic. She’s a good person with good morals (can’t have anything less for a Barbie protagonist) royal life is just all she knows. And that’s an important point. You can’t fault her for acting a certain way towards people below her class, especially at the beginning of this movie, because that’s all she’s been taught. It wouldn’t occur to her to think otherwise, which is something I don’t think people understand when they criticize monarchies. Yeah, it’s privileged and elitist, but she didn’t ask to be born into it. She just was. The system is working against her, too. 

But once she’s put in a situation where her status no longer matters, she doesn’t fight it – she just tries to make the best of her situation where she is. 

Okay, maybe I’m thinking a little too hard about this movie made for seven year olds, but come on. It could be way worse. 

Because next, we get treated to a really genuinely funny scene where Preminger shows up at the cabin and his henchmen try to hide the fact that she’s run away. It’s great fun and borderline risque. But Julian has followed him there and oh no he’s caught because homeboy is smart but he’s not smart enough to not make noise when you’re peeking through a window!

So, next morning: Erika is having a blast, gets served breakfast in bed and breaks social construct by sharing it with the maid, and your gut reaction is to go “you dumb bitch you should know a princess wouldn’t act like that!” but then you gotta remember she’s never experienced this level of luxury and extravagance before. She’s so overwhelmed by the stimulus she can’t help but overreact. And it’s really very cute. 

And then, bath scene! And Erika sings a song about loving yourself to Wolfie after he tries to meow. (Did I mention he’s a barking cat yet? Right. He’s a barking cat.)  

And then we get King Dominic deciding that NOW is the time to tell the “princess” that he disguised himself as a page the first time they met. And even though he was obviously creep’n on her while she was taking a bath, we know that he doesn’t actually look because if he did he’d see her hair color and get really confused (also she’s in a bathrobe by this point so everything’s PG).

Really, this scene is really just meant to establish that Dominic hears her singing and likes her voice. Don’t worry, we still stan King Dominic in this house. But for real, are men even allowed near the princess’s bath house? Are there no guards or ladies-in-waiting to convey his message for him?  

Anyways, the king and the “princess” officially meet and get to know each other via musical number plus montage and it is *chef’s kiss* 

Meanwhile, Annalise sends Serafina to the palace with a message tied around her neck that will lead them to the dress shop (oh yeah, she’s locked in because, you know, indentured servitude is basically a glorified prison). But it’s intercepted by none other than Preminger and Annalise STILL DOESN’T KNOW he’s the bad guy. So when he shows up, she’s so happy to see him but then he takes her not to the palace but to the MINES.

Plot twist (for Annalise)! Preminger was the villain the whole time! SHOCKER!

Julian is also locked up in the mines (he went snooping around the cabin in the woods and got caught) and Preminger monologues about how he was going to marry the princess but “eff you bitch, imma eff your mom instead” and literally attempts to murder them by causing a cave-in in the mines.

Diabolical.

Then, oh no! The imposter is revealed! Preminger declares the princess to be dead, and says that Julian and Erika conspired to kill her in order to get Erika on the throne! She’s taken away to the dungeon. King Dominic is much confusion, poor lad. The queen is very sad.

And then Preminger TAKES ADVANTAGE of that sadness and desperation like a true sociopath by pressuring the queen into marrying him because, and I quote, “a recent business venture of mine was successful… you could say I struck gold.

The BALLS on this little French man!

Diabolical.

Meanwhile, Julian and Annalise escape the mine with the help of their animal friends, but not before Annalise straight-up confesses her love for him by showing him a geode and saying, “You’re like this rock: unassuming on the outside, but a treasure within.”

In other words, despite the fact that you’re a nobody with no status or rank, you’re valuable to me anyway because of who you are on the inside. 

How… sweet? Okay, Barbie, I’ll take it. Julian sure as hell does. 

MEANWHILE, Erika will not sit idly by while shit goes down! She mother effin’ escapes prison by singing a lullaby that puts the guard to sleep and then stealing his keys and making a run for it. #THUGLIFE. But wait! She’s caught by another guard!

But wait, it’s DOMINIC IN DISGUISE! And here we get an actual, canonical acknowledgment of Dominic’s weird-ass cosplay habit: “You… sure love disguises.”

And homeboy DOESN’T EVEN BOTHER to answer her, just gives her this look like, “I hope you like roleplay, because trust me, I will roleplay.” 

And then it’s time to crash the wedding, bitch! Princess, alive! Pauper, free from prison! Queen, free from marrying a sociopathic French man! Preminger tries to escape, but he’s foiled by a couple of girls and a horse. 

You know, people have gone so far as to say this is a feminist movie, and I’m really not one to throw the feminist card everywhere – especially these days – but eff it yeah this movie is feminist in the best possible way. It glorifies femininity and gives our female protagonists agency without compromising the integrity of the male characters. 

Look what happens when you don’t invert the binary opposition, people???

Our denouement begins. Annalise gets honest with her mother: she wants to marry Julian. Mom stans, but is still worried about, like, feeding her people and stuff. But Annalise has a solution: move over gold standard, and get ready for the AMETHYST STANDARD!

What they actually do with the geodes is unclear, they just call it a “new industry,” so I wanna believe that their currency is just a bunch of amethyst crystals now. In any case, best of both worlds! Kingdom saved! Economy stabilized! 

Erika, on the other hand, as much as she’s smitten by a literal king, is not gonna let no man keep her from pursuing her career, so with a heavy hearted goodbye wherein she refuses a proposal of marriage to a literal king, she leaves. Well, she kind of refuses. Like, he gives her a ring and she keeps it, but with the stipulation that this does not guarantee she’ll marry him, if you read into their odd dialogue there. Like, holy crap, Barbie movie.

Anyways, she goes on tour and sings… but home is where the hot king king, er, I mean heart is so she comes back and then it’s DOUBLE WEDDING TIME, BABY. 

DOUBLE WEDDING. DOUBLE WEDDING. Just for the record, my sister was always Annalise and I was Erika, and I don’t remember having an opinion on that – I think I was cool with it – but now that I’m an adult I like it even more because Erika’s badass and as much as I love Julian, Dominic is my favorite. 

Why does he love disguises? WHY? Who cares? He’s hot!

And that’s it. That’s the end. Oh, except for a blatant acknowledgment that the two cats, Wolfie and Serafina, multiplied like Catholic rabbits. Thirst QUENCHED.

It’s beautiful. In the words of one of my college music professors, “I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats.”

I mean, let’s be real: anything is better than Cats. The movie, at any rate.


Wow, I think I just literally gave an exaggerated plot summary there. Eheheh… spoilers?

Tune in next week (or thereabouts,) when I take a deep dive into the music and the themes. Yes, I have more to say, and I’m not sorry!

Featured image copyright Mattel Entertainment probably?

3 thoughts on “The Princess and the Pauper is Way Better Than You Remember: Part 1

  1. I love this movie, and I love the passion with which you defend and analyze it. Your humour is so infectious, too—I laughed through the video: “I hope you like roleplay because I will roleplay.” Beautiful. Can’t wait for part 2!

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