“Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer” (1985)

by A.J. Hakari

What’s the deal with My Little Pony? Is obsessing over fashion the only Bratz personality trait? What the hell is a Strawberry Shortcake anyway? Not that boy-centric entertainment (or childrens’ media altogether) was never frivolous, but I’ve noticed that it’s hard to define what characters in movies, cartoons, and books ostensibly aimed at young girls actually do. It’s as true now as it was in the 1980s, when Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer arrived to a reception more ambivalent than hostile. It’s harmless enough, but it’s about as empty as a flick based off a flash-in-the-pan fad property can get, even worse off now because the ’80s have passed on and rendered it a commercial with nothing to sell.

You know all that stuff about Earth’s rotation around the sun causing the seasons to change and all? Yeah, that’s horseshit. It’s really the work of kids in Katy Perry outfits toiling in a parallel dimension. Our heroine, Rainbow Brite (voice of Bettina Bush), is given the task of ushering in spring, although she’s run into a mighty big hitch this year. A spoiled-rotten princess (voice of Rhonda Aldrich) wants to swipe the diamond-coated planet of Spectra and keep it for herself. The trouble is that all the light in the universe must pass through Spectra first, and moving it would mean plunging the cosmos into eternal darkness (or just a really, really long winter). With no time to waste, Rainbow Brite and her amazing technicolor horse Starlite (voice of Andre Stojka) ride off into the galaxy on a quest to save the planet from looking like Wisconsin in December forever.

I really don’t know where to begin here. Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer is the most confused I’ve been with an animated feature since the Yu-Gi-Oh movie. It’s such a product of its time and reflection of the circumstances under which it was made (in a hasty three months). Be you a Transformer or a Pound Puppy, if you were a toy or greeting card that had a modicum of popularity with kids, then dammit, you got a paper-thin movie of your own to help shift merchandise. It’s a wonder animation made it out of the ’80s alive with stuff like Rainbow Brite, which hammers stock lessons about togetherness and working with each other into our skulls when it’s not pulling characters, special powers, and entire worlds out of its aft end.

The only thing I can tell you about Rainbow Brite’s schtick is that her belt has what I assume to be every deus ex machina known to man tucked away inside. But aside from bickering over gender superiority with her token male counterpart, Rainbow Brite is actually proactive here, jumping at the first sign of trouble to go save her friends and spring as we know it. It’s more than can be said for the astonishingly flimsy antagonist, a princess of…something…whose sole motivation is that she’s spoiled and just wants something huge and shiny. That’s right, our villain is on the same level as those brats on “My Super Sweet 16,” only with a less cartoony temperament. Oh, and before you start on your retorts about Rainbow Brite is a kids movie and not meant to be read into, tell me exactly what age bracket it was meant for. It’s obviously way too kiddiefied for anyone in the double-digit range, but with its apocalyptic themes and abundance of evil robots/lizard people/sea monsters, the kindergarten set might seek out something less depressing, like Watership Down.

Just as GoBots fan groups thrive on Facebook, I’m sure that Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer has its share of defenders showing it to their own, presumably perplexed youngsters. I’d like to know how great of a part nostalgia blinders have played in this love, but I’ll admit that it’s certainly colorful and, half-assed as the plotting gets, never insults your intelligence. But the first wiseacre who tells me to review “Jem” next gets a knuckle sandwich.