Tween coming-of-ager breathes life into fashion dolls

Bratz

on August 03, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
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Based on the popular fashion dolls that have given Barbie a run for her money among the tween set, Bratz is not without its problems. With its emphasis on makeup and clothes, it endorses—no, encourages—superficiality among its vulnerable target audience. And, although it claims to embraced diversity—the four girls at the center of the story are Latina, black, Asian and white, although they're all pretty Anglo-looking—the film ultimately reinforces stereotypes. But, led by director Sean McNamara, who's carved a career out of such Disney TV fare as Even Stevens and That's So Raven , the cast and crew bring to the project the refreshing energy, pop and fizz of a cold diet soda on a hot summer day.

Hopping out of bed perfectly coiffed on the first day of high school, BFFs Yasmin (Nathalia Ramos), Sasha (Logan Browning), Jade (Janel Parrish) and Cloe (Skyler Shaye) consult via webcam on what to wear and agree to walk onto campus for the first time arm-in-arm. Their friendship suffers, however, as each girl goes her separate way: Sasha brings her hip-hop sensibility to the cheerleading squad, Jade joins the science club, and Cloe hits the soccer field, leaving Yasmin, a singer struck by stage fright, to fend for herself. Before they know it, two years have passed, and the girls no longer even speak.

When a food fight lands them in detention, however, they reconnect and vow never to be separated again. Unfortunately, their devotion to each other does not fit into the social order enforced by student-body president and principal's daughter Meredith (Chelsea Staub), who insists on strict adherence to one's assigned clique.

Not everything makes sense—the principal lives in a mansion, for example. But there's a modernity here that kids will recognize: In addition to the ubiquity of jump drives and MySpace, the girls' home lives include divorced parents, a single mom, mixed-race couples and an extended family all living under one roof.

Also at work is a sly wit. Decorated by banners that read “obey” and “submit,” the high school takes a page from a book called “How to Run a Prison,” which advises to first separate inmates into like groups, and is named after Carry Nation, the temperance movement leader known for smashing up bars with her signature hatchet. And when, in a bid to reveal her less-privileged background, Cloe stands in the middle of L.A.'s chic Grove shopping center and says, “I have nothing to wear,” one can't help but detect the tongue planted in her cheek. Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Nathalia Ramos, Skyler Shaye, Logan Browning, Janel Parrish, Chelsea Staub and Jon Voight
Director: Sean McNamara
Screenwriter: Susan Estelle Jansen
Producers: Avi ARad, Isaac Larian and Steven Paul
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG for thematic elements
Running time: 102 min.
Release date: August 3, 2007
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