When you think of films based on toy lines, what comes to mind first? Transformers, with Shia LaBoeuf (well, the first three films)? Or The LEGO Movie series (2014-2019), or Playmobil: The Movie from 2019 (if you remember that). Or how about Barbie, the fashion doll bringing joy to young girls since 1959, and has showcased many careers, from astronaut to US president. Before this cinematic outing, there were the films that also aired on Nickelodeon in the US and released on video/DVD between 2001 and the middle of 2017 (They’re now released on Netflix, for those of you wondering.). You know, like Mariposa, the Fairytopia saga, and the sanitised reimaginings of fairytales such as The 12 Dancing Princesses, Swan Lake and Thumbelina. There was even one based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. But this Margot-Robbie starring, Greta Gerwig-directed flick is no Mariposa or Fairytopia, instead serving as a satirical, humourous take on the brand.
Robbie (Suicide Squad, Babylon) is stereotypical Barbie, who lives in the utopic, sunshine-and-rainbows Barbieland, where everything is great. Until she discovers that something is going wrong, such as her heels becoming flat, gaining cellulite and her shower being cold. Oh, and she falls out of her dreamhouse too. With the help of Kate McKinnon’s Weird Barbie, she sets out on a journey to the real world, along with stereotypical Ken (Ryan Gosling), to discover herself and find out what is causing her to malfunction and how she can fix this. Chases, hijinks and jokes ensue.
One of the best things about this film is how Gerwig has incorporated many aspects of the Barbie mythos, such as the different dolls, characters and careers, and how it has digs towards political correctness and the issues of body image, patriarchy and bro culture, particularly when one of the Mattel executives says, “We can’t say Jezebel now?” It’s not just about the banter and mockery of the brand and society though; the film also has its touching moments, such as Barbie’s interactions with the family she encounters, and a lady by the name of Ruth. Robbie brings a wide range in her rendition of Barbie, and the soundtrack (courtesy of Lizzo, Dua Lipa and others) takes you on an epic journey accurately reflecting the plot. When you watch it, you will understand why it was (and continues to be) so popular.