The Barbie and the Rockers mini series is not currently streaming on any platform as of this writing 12/29/2016, however bootlegged recordings can be found on YouTube. The series lasted for two, 25 minute episodes, which were later combined into one 50 minute film.
A little Codename Sailor Earth trivia, this was the first ever tape I rented as a toddler. I was kind of an oddball however, as I didn't get into the same Barbie games as other little girls. I used to take weapons from action figures and tie them to my Barbie's hands, and make her fight other Barbies. Most of my Barbies were either diplomats, fighters or Barbies with jobs. And not those superficial jobs your kids are playing with, I mean REAL jobs like cop and firefighter. I wanted my Barbies to be tough and forward thinking.
So maybe that's why I missed out on the appeal of this film when I was little. In any case, I decided to revisit this special with fresh eyes, and I couldn't help but notice something... this is a cartanime. And kind of a historical piece for that genre.
Back in 1986 (HEY that's my birth year!) Mattel released a line of dolls called "Barbie and the Rockers" to combat Hasbro's Jem line. Jem was created specifically to appeal to girls of the 1980's and to take down Barbie. The ads made no bones about that. So this was Mattel's way of fighting back.
In 1987, Mattel inked a deal with DiC to produce a Barbie mini-series for television, with hopes of turning it into a full TV show. DiC outsourced the music to Saban, where Haim Saban and Shuki Levy created the score by updating songs made popular in the 1950's and 1960's while writing very few new lyrics themselves. Astounding that both would go on to dominate the mid to late 1990's with Sailor Moon and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers respectively, isn't it?
Well after a one-time run on syndicated stations, the two episodes were sold seperately on VHS as Barbie and the Rockers: Out of this World and Barbie and The Sensations: Rockin' Back to Earth, then re-cut and re-packaged as Barbie: The Movie or Barbie and the Rockers in select markets. After that, DiC and Mattel had a falling out, and DiC swore revenge on Mattel. Their first act of revenge was to take the remaining, leftover animation for the now shelved Barbie Saturday morning show, re-color a few characters and donate it to Hasbro's other, less popular girl line, Maxie's World, which was about a teenage reporter and mystery solver. The dolls looked like a younger version of Jem, but the cartoon is identical to Barbie, though with PSA's thrown in about eating disorders and smoking. This move would also strain relations on their joint production of Lady Lovely Locks and the Pixietales, which was another girl's series and doll line DiC did a series of with Mattel, and would later lead to their aggressive, anti-Barbie promotional material for Sailor Moon and Strawberry Shotcake, the latter of which would prove to be their last hurrah before folding mercifully in 2008. You just can't battle Barbie it seems.
This Barbie feature by the way was the very first Barbie "movie" of any kind. Interesting seeing as how she's been the #1 girl toy since 1959. I guess it didn't do so hot, because she wouldn't get another full movie until 2001. Italy is the only country in the world to have put it onto DVD, after the VHS went quickly out of print in 1989. Since a bulk of the music is owned by other companies and DiC was swallowed whole by Cookie Jar, which in turn got bought out by DHX, and the other half of the specials owned by Mattel with questions out of Saban, I can't imagine a bigger rights headache in trying to figure out how they "could" put this on Blu-Ray or DVD. You can try to call Mattel at 1-310-252-2000 and see if they have better information or beg for a re-release, but enough about the history, let's go to the show!
The special starts where Barbie is on tour with her 80's friends Derek, Dana, Diva, Dee Dee and her longtime boyfriend Ken. Barbie collectors remember this as one of those "I'm capturing my youth" eras of Barbiedom, where she skips out on Midge and her sister Skipper to make newer and younger friends. (This happens every decade.) Barbie sings all over the world with her band The Rockers singing pop tunes with as much 80's synth and neon lights as you can handle.
The concert tour ends and everyone decides to have dinner at a restaraunt quite litterly in the sky. Dee Dee is a bit sad at the end of the tour, so Barbie decides it's time to go to outer space........ because that's what Rockers do? Well we get a bit of a reason when Barbie gets invited to a World Peace Conference... HEY that's where Saban got the idea when they wrote off Trini, Jason and Zack on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers!! What a rip-off! Well somehow, the peace conference is going to hold a concert in the middle of outer space (DAH??) and it's up to Barbie and the Rockers to blast off and sing somewhere past Saturn. Wow. Way to go, NASA. You can't decide if the water on Mars is drinkable, but you can throw a concert between Saturn and Uranus.
So everyone blasts off for the space station, put on makeup, and then Barbie sings on the space station and tells people that today is the first day of world peace, and if you like it, then you can choose to keep it every day for as long as you like..... and um.... litterally, that's it. No war, no battles or magic crystal, just "Hey, I'm singing, so world peace!" and the world is like cool with that. Right. I can totally see that happening in real life.
Between the first and second specials, we see Barbie get back on her spaceship to sing and party with her crew - which is JUST THE BAND by the way as there are NO astronauts, scientists or flight crew up here at all - when suddenly Ken strikes a certain note, sending the ship back in time to 1959.... DAH??
The second special finds Barbie landing near Cape Canaveral, where she finds a simperingly sweet little girl named Kim and her father, who are totally fine with people popping in from the future. Like this doesn't bother them at all. So Kim takes Barbie and the Rockers out shopping, and Barbie re-names the band "The Sensations" both in keeping with the times and so that in case they make any music (which they do and quickly sell on records) they won't be confused with their future selves as The Rockers. We see the group enjoying a radical version of the 1950's where every town is mixed race, there are no Jim Crow laws, segragation, women wear pants and everyone just loves rock-pop music from the future 1980's. Very idealistic, but historically inaccurate to such a degree in which you can't decide if you should smile or cringe. It's not very clear how long they're here, but it must be for a good while as we see a montage of records go by.
Finally, Kim's father figures out that all they have to do is wait for the planets to align in a non-descript way, and have Barbie and Ken replay the song that brought them here, and the ship will *POOF* take them back to the 1980's. Right, because music = time travel.
Well Kim is sad, so Barbie gives her a picture locket as a token of their friendship. They play one last concert date, which actually sends the band back to the 1980's. As Barbie sings in the future, she finds Kim in the crowd as an adult, who now has a little daughter who looks identical to her.
The entire 50 minute special is mostly a musical montage. You never make it more than 120 seconds without Barbie breaking into song, so it feels like an endless music video. Depending on your feeling towards 1980's updates on the oldies, this will eaither have you singing along or grately annoyed.
It's a squeaky clean production, so if you're thinking of showing this video to your little ones, it is all ages, but there's not a whole lot of substance to it. The historical inaccuracies of the second half are troubling, but if you just need something girly for a child under the age of four, it may not be a deal breaker for you. It's superficial and heavy on makeup and fashion, but there's no fowl messages or underlying issues.
It's not really an anime, but it's not a cartoon either. It's a Cartanime, a hybrid of the two styles, usually incorporating Flash, Anime Studio, ToonBoom or a similar animation program. The series can come from Italy, Canada, Japan, America, Taiwan or Korea, and rarely, India!