Before we first rented one of the Barbie videos for my daughter, I was expecting them to be trite, over-commercialised, and over-sugary. However, I have been pleasantly surprised.
Yes, they do have a lot of commercial spin-offs and a high saccarine count, but the quality of the Barbie films we have subsequently bought or rented, including "12 Dancing Princesses," was significantly higher than I had expected. They have not just kept my children engrossed for hours - including my son as well as my daughter - but introduced them to some beautiful stories and truly wonderful music. On more than one occasion I have been listening to a CD of a classic such as Beethoven's pastoral symphony, or The Queen of the Night's aria from Mozart's magic flute, and my daughter has recognised and expressed appreciation of the music, and correctly remembered which Barbie film had used it. ("Magic of Pegasus" and "Mermaidia" respectively.)
The soundtrack to "Twelve Dancing Princesses" is mostly adapted from some of Mendelsohn's best work, including "A Midsummer night's dream" and the Scottish and Italian symphonies. It also includes a lullaby sung to the King by the 12 princesses which was based on a 16th century anthem by Byrd, the recording of which was sung beautifully by Melissa Lyons and the Women's Occidental Glee club.
The story is loosely based on the children's story. "Barbie" plays "Princess Genevieve", the seventh of 12 daughters of a widowed King (e.g. seven young women, plus a pair of twins who appear to be about 11 and a set of triplets who appear to be about 6.) Like the original, the story is about 12 princesses who having been banned from dancing, sneak off every night through a magic passage and take a magic barge to a special island where they can dance all night. However, in this version the killjoy who tries to stop them dancing is not the King their father, who loves them very much, but his cousin, Duchess Rowena, who he has brought to the palace to be their tutor. At first even the princesses do not realise quite what a bad mistake this was ...
As with many of the Barbie films, comic relief is provided by talking animal companions of some of the principal characaters. In this case Princess Genevieve has a pet cat, and the evil Duchess Rowena has an equally evil pet monkey, Brutus. The hero, who in this version is the royal cobbler, Derek, has a pet parrot, who for some reason talks with a greatly exaggerated Indian accent. (That's Indian from the subcontinent, not native American.)
Those people who enjoy criticising what the Barbie franchise represents will not have much difficulty finding things in this production to sneer at. If you, or more importantly your kids, are allergic to an excess of twee sweetness, then this film and the Barbie videos generally may not be for them. And the female characters are all on the thin side of plausibility: I'm not worried that watching this is going to give my daughter anorexia as she likes food too much and has a good sense of the difference between fantasy and reality, but if you are worried that your children may be forming an unrealistic idea about how thin a healthy body shape is, that is a concern with this film.
But on the plus side: it is beautifully made, it will hold the attention of most small children for long enough for the typical exhausted parent to clear the mess they have made in several rooms of the house or collapse for an hour's rest after doing so. Alternatively there are enough more sophisticated jokes thrown in that you won't be completely bored to death if you decide to watch it with your offspring. And best of all, the soundtrack is almost worth buying the film for on it's own.