The Princess and the Pauper is Way Better Than You Remember: Part 2

Why hello! In case you missed Part 1 of this 2-part ridiculously in-depth analysis of Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper, you can check that out here!

Then come on over and enjoy Part 2 in all its… glory…?

As with Part 1, here is my full video, and then below that is a more-or-less verbatim transcript. It was, in fact, THE script!

Part 3: THE MUSIC A.K.A. THE PLOT AGAIN

Every song in this movie slaps way harder than it has ANY RIGHT TO. Compared to the original songs in most of the Barbie movies following The Princess and the Pauper, this is their magnum opus.

(Aside from the cheese song from Island Princess, that is objectively the best song in any children’s movie ever.)

And every song is not only musically competent, it propels the story in meaningful ways – which is what the music in musicals is supposed to do.

From the opening song Free, which is a classic “I Want” song (that I feel draws at least a little bit of inspiration from Beauty and the Beast) you not only establish the main characters, but their backstories and motivations – both of which are way more moving than you expect from two pretty Barbie lookalike protagonists. 

Erika is literally an indentured servant for a complete b-word of a dress shop owner and dreams of paying off her parents’ debt so she can literally be free and become a singer. 

Annalise is a princess, obviously, but every day of her life is dictated by others and when the story starts, she is being forced into an arranged marriage with a complete stranger when homegirl is OBVIOUSLY thirsty for the tutor.

So yeah, basically, you get a lot of insight into these characters through this song. And the he two singing parts for Annalise and Erika jive so well. Because while Eternal Barbie Voice Kelly Sheridan does the speaking parts for both Annalise and Erika (impressively, I might add, because she manages to make them sound like different people through their inflections), Melissa Lyons sings Annalise and Julie Stevens sings Erika. And they are both incredible.

And then the next song, THE VERY NEXT SCENE, is the villain song and is actually introducing our villain, Preminger, the advisor who’s been “off on a journey” when REALLY he’s been STEALING GOLD from the queen’s mines.

But this song. I could do a whole video on this song. It is honestly on par with some Disney villain songs for me. First, the title, How Can I Refuse? is a recurring motif throughout this movie and great insight into Preminger’s character. He’s a narcissist and a materialist, and I love this whole thread of him wanting the throne simply because he can’t resist it. It’s like a tasty morsel being dangled in front of him. And yeah, he wants the power, but most of all, he wants the THINGS. He wants the STUFF. He’s incredibly petty and materialistic and it’s amazing. 

But it’s mostly about the literal crown for him, let’s be honest. He just wants that sweet, sweet crown on his immaculately coiffed head. And who could blame him? It’s literally not being used (the queen is a widow) and he goes so far as to point this out and SAY TO THE QUEEN’S FACE. “I want this crown and you’re gonna give it to me because [Smeagol voice] it’s my birthday and I wants it.”

Okay, but what really makes this song great is Martin Short’s impeccable overacting. Mattel touched upon a stroke of genius by establishing a tradition in their 2000s movies of getting an A-list actor to play the villain. Tim Curry as the Mouse King. Anjelica Houston as Mother Gothel. Kelsey Grammar as Rothbart. They elevated their movies simply by getting these guys onboard.

But Martin Short takes the cake because he didn’t have to flex that hard with Preminger. It’s a Barbie movie, right? The primary demographic is 6 year old girls and their reluctant parents. Who gives a fuck?

Martin Short gave a fuck. And he went balls-out for the character of Preminger, resulting in this over-the-top ridiculous, borderline manic, and yet somehow ruthless and calculating little French man who sings like he’s going for the Tony award.

It’s seriously a fun performance and functions exactly how a villain song should and then some.

I’m skipping Written in Your Heart for now because it’s only for a few seconds and it comes back at the end. 

A Girl Like You is an earworm designed specifically to market singing dolls to little girls, but I don’t care because it’s a fun duet and I wanna argue that it kind pokes fun at Annalise’s plight (if on accident) when they’re comparing their terrible lives because she’s like “yeah I get pampered all day and I’m engaged to a literal king but it’s god awful what I REALLY WANT is to go READ SCIENCE BOOKS ALL DAY.”

Science rules!

And then, in a brilliant moment of logical correlation that has deeper implications than it should, as we will examine later, Erika declares, “I’m just like you.”

And Annalise knee-jerk reaction is to say, “You are?” 

AND THIS IS WHERE WE GET OUR COMMENTARY. 

Now, we can roll our eyes at Annalise’s plight compared to Erica’s all day, and it’s actually kind of unintentionally comical how trivial her problems are compared to the real oppression of Erika’s poverty, but the fact is, when you look past the opulence and privilege of royal life, it was its own kind of mental and physical prison, which just goes to show that there is more than one kind of oppression other than poverty. BOTH extremes are bad and unfulfilling, even if one LOOKS better on the outside, a person can be equally UNHAPPY on the inside.

To Be a Princess is too fun for words and just makes you love Julian and also wonder how does he know so much about being a princess I thought he was her science tutor?? But it doesn’t matter because this song is lyrically clever and sets up a great unintentional dynamic between Erika and Julian.

And it’s all worth it for this voice crack they purposefully decided to leave in the film for comedy when his thirsty ass gets carried away describing how beautiful Annalise is.

The Cat’s Meow is okay, it’s not my favorite musically, and out of every song in the movie it’s probably the most filler-y song, but it is a sweet allegory for being happy with who you are, which is a major theme throughout the movie, and she references Noah’s Arc which means there’s canonically God in the Barbie multiverse???

Aside from Barbie, of course…

If You Love Me for Me is an extremely sweet and heartwarming love duet. Like unnecessarily so. And I wanna say it’s in the style of, like, an English folk song? Or an English round? Like, it just sounds… from another era. It sounds like a Romantic Era poem. But… it’s not. It’s Barbie!

Not only is it extremely thematically relevant and ironic… (jeez, the amount of irony in this movie is honestly out the wazoo. Like, in a good way) it serves as a montage to convey the development of Erika and Dominic’s courtship in a short amount of time.

It’s brilliant because instead of this instalove moment, the movie actually TAKES THE TIME to show them getting to know each other as people and then conveys all the emotion and joy of genuinely falling in love in the process through this beautiful duet.

But also, with that irony in mind, there’s a hint of trepidation behind it, especially where Erika is concerned, because she’s not herself – she’s pretending to be someone else!

But for real I get chills every time that polyharmony hits. Like God almighty, movie, you didn’t have to flex this hard!

How Can You Refuse (reprise) is a clever twist where our villain is using this poor widowed queen’s desperation and vulnerability against her and saying she doesn’t have a choice but to marry him BECAUSE HE HAS MONEY (that he stole from her mines). So it’s really kind of chilling to watch, especially that last scene where she turns her head away as he puts the ring on her, like she cannot fathom having to share a bed with this man but she will do it anyway if it means saving her kingdom.

Then there’s a Written in Your Heart reprise during the wedding scene and it’s truly a great finale song where, instead of the solo version we got with Erika at the beginning, it ends, in true MUSCIAL THEATER FASHION, with an ensemble singing the final chorus. At this point you might as well do a curtain call. In fact, they do the Barbie movie equivalent of a curtain call by having our four main characters turn towards the audience at the end of the song.

Satisfaction guaranteed.

Even the end credits song, I’m On My Way by Sara Niemietz, is a total bop and to me has a little bit of a similar vibe to “Always Know Where You Are” from the end of Treasure Planet? Like, a girly, Barbie-fied version, but it’s still a completely enjoyable pop song.

I wish I had the chops to analyze this musically a little better but even with my little bit of background knowledge as a music performance minor I think I can confidently say that these are decently conceived and constructed songs that make for a great soundtrack.

Part 4: The Themes

Thematically, there’s actually a pretty clear throughline about following your dreams and doing what makes you happy, and sure it’s great and uplifting that everything works out for the protagonists in the end but come on, it’s a Barbie movie. It has to work out well for Barbie.

BUT there’s also a theme about duty vs. desire, vis a vis the line the princess and pauper sing during “Free” – “duty means doing the things your heart may well regret.” Both characters are bound by their obligations for good reasons – one is stuck in generational debt, the other royalty. They can’t just up and leave, and in fact neither of them express intentions to up and leave – they simply hold on to these bigger dreams in hopes that one day, they’ll be able to transcend their duties or otherwise find fulfillment without having to abandon their responsibilities. 

They both choose duty over desire. But because of forces outside their control, circumstances change… and so do their roles.

Now, plot convenient or not, the fact that both girls get what they want in the end can be conveyed in a positive light: sometimes you can have both. Sometimes you don’t have to settle. Annalise in particular finds a creative solution that allows her to have the best of both worlds. By thinking outside the economic box, she’s able to save her kingdom and marry her tutor – tradition and obligation in the social system are vanquished by youthful ingenuity and innovation.

STEM for the win!

Meanwhile, Erika’s arc is actually a little trickier. She gets what she wants because she happens to be in the princess’s good graces; Annalise pays off her debt for her, thus granting her her freedom (and ensuring that this woman is forever in her spiritual debt). But arguably, that favor would not have been granted had Erika not dared to consider them equals in the first place and boldly assert that she is, in fact “a girl like me.” 

WHICH LEADS ME TO THE SECOND, AND ARGUABLY MORE IMPORTANT, THEME. 

THIS MOVIE IS ABOUT EGALITARIANISM ON ACCIDENT.

Whether unintentionally or by some miracle of competent writing, there is an actual throughline throughout this movie of lower class individuals in particular rising above their station and bettering their prospects by refusing to bow to the social caste system. You’re not bound by your social class, the movie says. Social class is an illusion. 

All Barbies are created equal.

Exhibit A: Erika

Obviously we already know how she rises above her social class. She sees the humanity behind the princess’s status and acknowledges her as an equal, not as a superior, simply because they both have “somewhere else they’d rather be.” It doesn’t even matter to her that Annalise’s plight is so very trivial compared to her own, the fact that she is a young woman bound by duty who wants something more for her life is enough to put her on equal par with a pauper. 

Also the fact that they look alike, that… that makes them equals too. But arguably you can say that that’s just symbolism for their internal equality, if you want. On accident. The movie did not employ symbolism on purpose, I guarantee you. Except maybe the geodes. The geodes are pretty symbolic, but they literally spell it out in the dialogue so it’s kinda hard to miss.

Exhibit B: Julian

Like I mentioned, we learned in the “fresh air” scene that he was, in fact, a commoner who grew up poor, in the village, in a one-room apartment with his family. He says he “did all his studies there” which means homeboy worked hard to become a scholar.

Now, we don’t know his full backstory – did he fund his own college education? Did he find a sponsor? Did he find work at the palace? We don’t know. What we do know is that Julian is not a nobleman, or a courtier –  he is a poor man’s son who happened to be really smart and used his intelligence to better his prospects and rise above his socioeconomic status.

Exhibit C: Preminger

Yes, that’s right. Preminger. There is a line – practically a throwaway line – in his villain song wherein, upon learning Annalise was already engaged to a king, he declares, “No! I won’t let go! This peasant’s son won’t turn and run…”

Preminger transcended his social class. He’s not a nobleman. He’s not a courtier. He’s a poor man’s son. Now, once again, a lot of backstory is missing here. But based on the fact that he’s a villain and his lines at the beginning of the song wherein he admits, “I’ve been bowing / I’ve been scraping / I’ve been lying like a rug / And for ten long years I’ve had to pay my dues…” we can infer that he probably lied and cheated and connived his way to power. 

Maybe he started out as a palace servant, or a tutor, like Julian. Someone can go write that fanfiction backstory if they so wish. Doesn’t matter. What matters is, the social hierarchy in this universe is not concrete – or at the very least, this particular “kingdom on a mountainside” is undergoing some serious social and ideological change.

It’s funny because, based on the costume designs and the references they make throughout the movie, it’s obvious that we’re very much inspired by Rococo era (mid 18th century) France – a time of serious political and social unrest in the country. Liberty. Equality. Fraternity. Viva la revolution! 

Pair that up with the whole “princess and pauper” switching places thing and you have a story that accidentally says, “hey, you’re not bound by your social class. You can rise above – for better or for worse.”

And through Annalise’s perspective, we also learn the inverse: social class is a construct. You are only a princess in the context of the system you were born into, and what’s more, nobody outside the palace walls cares. Your problems, your needs and wants are peanuts compared to the plight of the common man, and furthermore, you and the common man are equal by virtue of having problems, regardless of how far apart on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs they are.

Serendipitously, this 2004 CGI Barbie movie intended for little girls aged 4-7 reveals something very intrinsic to being human: we all want to be fulfilled in our lives, and neither our social status nor our material possessions are going to cut the mustard. That’s a pretty powerful message to give little kids, even if they won’t get it at first.

Or maybe this is just a movie about some Barbie dolls singing platitudes and I’m just a twenty-something trying to fabricate meaning out of a movie that I’m already nostalgically biased to like.

Whatever. Fuck it. Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper slaps.

Appendix: Little Details That Slap

The mark of a good children’s movie is the little details that go over a child’s head but that you can appreciate in time as you mature and gain experience. These don’t have to be innuendos; in fact it’s pretty gross when they all are. While Princess and the Pauper knows its audience and isn’t trying to be anything above that, it does treat its audience with enough respect to include these subtle details anyway. 

I’ve already touched on the lyrical sophistication, especially in How Can I Refuse?, of making these historical references to Charlamagne, etc., but here are some other great little nuggets that this Barbie movie didn’t have to include but did anyway because somebody somewhere was a competent writer:

Fool’s Gold – it’s referenced briefly at the beginning when Annalise, little scholar that she is, correctly identifies it to an admiring, swooning Julian. Later, you see Preminger steal it off of Annalise’s desk. Fucking brilliant. He’s so greedy and materialistic he doesn’t even realize it’s fool’s gold, subtextually poking fun at the fact that he is a fool.

Precocious children will notice and will find it funny. We certainly did.

When Erika takes Annalise’s place and is first presented to the queen, Julian steals the queen’s spectacles so she can’t see clearly. Because of course she would recognize that Erika wasn’t her daughter, a mother can recognize her own daughter. It’s a very pragmatic detail and I appreciate that they don’t treat their characters like complete idiots… or the audience, for that matter.

That’s more than I can say for some other pieces of children’s media I enjoy.

The utter irony of Dominic masquerading as a page boy while Erika is masquerading as the princess and then confessing to her that he was disguised and then later, instead of falling into the plot convenient trap of being mad at her for lying to him, he understands because we’ve already established that he’s prone to disguising himself too therefore he has no room to talk.

Geodes as a metaphor for inner beauty? Lol despite the memes I’ve seen it actually is a really thematically relevant solution.

The lack of chill the villain has. There is seriously more “cursing” in this Barbie movie than in any other and it is gold. “You simpering simpleton” will never not be the best insult in any children’s movie ever.

And that’s it! That’s all I’ve got! If you have seen this movie or grew up watching it, what are your thoughts? And if you haven’t seen it… what are you waiting for? Have I not convinced you that you should watch it yet??? HOW CAN YOU REFUSE???


Featured image copyright Mattel Entertainment

3 thoughts on “The Princess and the Pauper is Way Better Than You Remember: Part 2

  1. Love it all! But on the topic of clever writing and details kids don’t notice—I literally just clued in to the fact that the lyrics “I’m realizing that every present comes with strings” is FIGURATIVE. As a kid I took it literally and thought it was kind of a lame line that was filler to complete the rhyme. Themes:

      1. Same here! This was a fun movie to dig into because once I started, I noticed all these things I hadn’t before and was like, “this movie is actually more clever than I thought???” It’s nice when something you liked as a kid actually holds water because God knows that’s not always the case! XD

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