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Barbie: The Pearl Princess

The Barbie CGI film franchise is still going strong, and in 2014 another mermaid film was added to the list - Barbie: The Pearl Princess.

When I heard about it I hoped that it would be connected to the Mermaid Tale films. As far as I can tell, the two stories could be taking place in different kingdoms of the same universe, but I didn't see anything spell it outright. Edit: It's been pointed out by commenter nana that in the final shot of the film with the family portraits, the pictures flanking the royal family are the ambassadors of the ocean from Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2, so the universes are indeed linked.

The main character of this film is Lumina, a teenaged mermaid who has been raised in isolation by her overprotective Aunt Scylla. Lumina has only her seahorse friend, Kuda, for company, and together they amuse themselves by playing around with Lumina's pearl magic. (Tangent: Kuda means "horse" in my mother tongue, so imagine my cackles of delight.) Lumina has never left her home or mixed around with other merfolk, so she's naive about the world.

Unknown to Lumina, she's actually a princess, and her Aunt Scylla is keeping a huge secret. When she was a baby, King Nereus and Queen Lorelei's general, Caligo, commanded Scylla to poison the young princess. Scylla pretended she did, but actually took the baby into hiding, where she secretly raised her and named her Lumina. Of course these kinds of secrets never stay secret for long, and they unfold over the course of the film.

While the Mermaid Tale films were sassy and modern, The Pearl Princess returns to the franchise's focus on softer fairytale sensibilities. They're both about hidden princesses discovering their heritage, but Lumina's character arc is more straightforward, and she's a wide-eyed young lass who longs for and is enraptured by the world that was denied her for seventeen years. (Think Disney's Sleeping Beauty.) Lumina also gets a prince, and the entire film takes place underwater.

It's really amazing how much the studio's animation has evolved in just two years, because this merworld is absolutely stunning and rendered in such rich detail. I particularly liked that they casually expanded how merfolk can move in ways humans can't - many of the rooms are tall and deep, the merfolk dance in three dimensions, and the crowd scenes have merfolk spread out vertically as well as horizontally. Another nice design touch is how the villain, Caligo, is half-shark, complete with dorsal fin and his tail swishes side to side instead of up and down.

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