I can’t say I was optimistic on hearing that Skechers shoes were going to be expanding their animated TV ads into feature-length direct-to-video movies. I’m not reflexively against merchandise-based cartoons, but shoes just don’t seem to spark the imagination in the same way that dolls, action figures, or even board games can. Consequently, it’s not much of an endorsement to say that the first Skechers movie,¬†Twinkle Toes, far exceeded my expectations, since they were pretty rock-bottom to begin with. Even so, it falls pretty well short as either entertainment or an extended ad for the shoes. To be honest, some of the original TV ads were more entertaining on their face than Twinkle Toes ever manages to be.
Twinkle Toes is the nickname earned by the lead character, Grace Hastings, for her sparkly shoes (which, it must be pointed out, she makes herself in her bedroom rather than buying from a store). Grace lives with her father and her best friend, Walter the Rabbit, with broad hints dropped of a tragic early end suffered by her mother. Her two defining characteristics in the movie are a deep, abiding love of dancing and an equally deep sense of stage fright whenever she has to do it in front of anyone else. One night at her evening job cleaning a dance studio, the studio’s owner catches Grace dancing alone in the dark, and manages to get her enrolled in the elite Performing Arts Academy, which seems to be some kind of magnet school for teenagers angling to become the next big pop star sensation. Before long, she makes friends and a mean-girl nemesis, while also getting her first taste of puppy love with Jordan, a boy seeking acting stardom. By the time the movie has ended, Grace has survived auditions, cyber-bullying, a budget crisis that threatens to shut down the Academy, and becoming the unexpected star of the show that raises money to keep the school doors open.
I will admit that Twinkle Toes does a decent job tapping into a lot of pretty current anxieties facing high-school kids today. However, the first big issue I have with the movie is its lack of cohesiveness. It doesn’t feel like a grand-scale story arc as much as a bunch of single incidents tied together loosely by Grace herself. As a counter-example, the original Toy Story movie ran all over the place too, but always managed to feel like one event was leading to the next organically. Twinkle Toes has a nasty habit of just jumping to the next scene, sometimes wrapping up a plot thread by chopping off before moving on. In addition, I have a major problem with how Grace overcomes so few of the obstacles by her own efforts. Every problem she faces is solved by other people, with the possible exception of her stage fright. The dance studio owner gets her into the PAA. Her friends Pretty Tall and Sporty Shorty team up with her would-be boyfriend to solve her bullying problem. She works through her stage fright at her big audition in the middle of the movie because of a suggestion from Walter the Rabbit. There is a major problem when your mute pet is better at solving your problems than you are. The underlying message seems to be that if you’re pretty and earnest, lots of people will run up and solve your problems for you, which is a terrible message to be sending to young girls, whether it’s Walt Disney doing it in Cinderella or this crew doing it in Twinkle Toes.
The movie’s animation looks like it’s being done in something like Flash, since characters have a certain lack of deformation and squash-and-stretch that comes naturally from hand-drawn animation. It’s fairly good animation, but I can’t say I’m terribly impressed by the choreography in a musical movie that pins so many hopes on dancing. The entire movie seems to have been done on a shoestring budget, but if they were going to be spending money on anything, I’d rather it was on a real choreographer to work out Grace’s dance routines and provide video reference. This movie’s idea of dancing is for Grace and her friends to jump around a lot and strike cool-looking poses on the downbeats. To be fair, there is one lovely sequence in the middle of the movie where we get to see Grace’s mental image of what dancing is to her as she leaps into an extended underwater flight of fancy. It’s a sequence that works beautifully in animation because the medium is not limited by the physicality of a real person. It’s the one scene in the movie that really shows some imagination and inspiration, and if there were more like it I might have been more positively inclined towards the film.
The movie is presented in an anamorphic widescreen image with 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks in multiple languages. Both are fine from a technical perspective, although that doesn’t compensate for the movie’s aesthetic shortcomings. There are no extras on the disc other than a set of trailers/ads at the start of the disc for Skechers shoes, a Skechers tie-in at the Build-A-Bear workshop, and (oddly enough) the Curious George TV show DVDs that are also published by Universal Home Video. Any single episode of that show is ultimately far more enjoyable than anything present here. The DVD also packs in a $10 coupon for a Skechers shoes purchase, which probably has more long-term value than the movie itself even if your teenager outgrows the shoes in a matter of weeks.
One ritual that Grace and her father share in the movie is “Mac and Cheese” night, where they chow down on comfort food while laughing at an abysmally bad movie on video. It’s not really a good thing that Twinkle Toes itself isn’t the kind of awful film the pair could wring an evening’s worth of entertainment by laughing at it. It’s moderately earnest and sort of ambitious, but in the end it’s still a pretty poor movie. The Hub has managed to produce several merchandise-based shows that are enjoyable enough to dodge the accusations that they’re just extended advertisements. If Twinkle Toes manages to dodge those same accusations, it’s only because it’s so hard to believe anyone would be driven to buy Skechers shoes from such an uninspiring product.