It’s A Barbie World Or Is It? – A Long Review
Find a comfortable chair and have a seat.
Hopefully, this is the last review of the Barbie Movie you will read.
Everyone has an opinion on this film, from The View to Fox News to anyone on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and X(Twitter). The media has inundated the airwaves with the good, bad, and ugly messages this film delivers from the moment the preview critiques hit the airwaves. I am simply a viewer with an opinion, not one of these critics. It was hard not to view the movie without a preconceived idea; even the bad reviews generated ticket sales - the “I have to see it to believe it” syndrome.
Setting the Stage –
I am a Boomer who owned one of the original Barbie dolls with a red one-piece bathing suit, dark brown hair, and a bubble cut. I was magically transported to an innocent, wholesome world created in my mind, not by Mattel. I never owned a Barbie Dream House or car. As for this movie, I want to make this clear - I did not purchase a ticket. I went with my 24-year-old daughter, who experienced a different era of Barbie. My daughter’s Barbie was directed more toward leading young girls away from a full-figured mommy doll and to the working woman who could be whomever they wanted to be. Her Barbie had an occupation and a life outside of the home.
After much thought and reading various reviews, I have concluded that viewers will either love or hate "The Barbie Movie" depending on where they stand philosophically, politically, spiritually, or all the above. I walked into the theater, skeptical but willing to give it a chance. Setting my preconceived ideas aside and surrounded by pink-clad women, teens, and children, I eagerly settled in for a trip to Barbieland.
In the beginning-
The opening scene is a 2001 Space Odyssey reenactment of the ape's scene but with little girls in drab clothes playing house with baby dolls. Gigantore 1957 Barbie arrives on the mundane scene to save the day like the monolith in the original movie. The little girls are enamored with the giant Barbie in her striped black and white bathing suit with a larger-than-life figure. They realize they want the Barbie doll and begin destroying their baby dolls and tearing off their kid-like aprons. Baby dolls and playing house must be destroyed! Being beautiful and full-figured is the goal. As the 2001 Space Odyssey music theme swells, the audience is slapped in the face by the tone of the underlying narrative of what is to come. Groan. Deep sigh. Can I sit through what I have already been told by reviewers who have gotten a sneak peek? Lord, give me the strength not to allow others' opinions to get in the way and give this movie a chance.
Barbie and Barbieland
We are then thrust into Barbieland. Yay! Everything is pink, friendly, and oh-so-Barbie with a lighthearted music change to match stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) in her pink Barbie car as she travels the pink streets saying hello. All the Barbies are there - Doctor Barbie, Vet Barbie, Lawyer/Chief Justice Barbie, Garden Barbie, Disco Barbie - I assure you they are all there. Phew! I might enjoy this movie.
But wait - then we meet the Kens and then pregnant Midge, who is made out to be a single mother and an embarrassment to the other Barbies. I loved Midge when I was little. She married Allen. They were a bridal set. When did she become a single mother? I had already forgotten that Mattel and the little girls destroyed that construct in the first scene - no playing house and, I guess, getting married, being a wife, and God-forbid having a baby was not okay in this script. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get hung up on Midge.
So, Barbie has a big dance party and thinks about death. Stop the music! Barbie can’t think about death – but she does, and the next morning wakes up with flat feet and starts “feeling.” She must return to the real world and look for her owner. A plan to return is devised by Weird Barbie, the doll that every little girl cuts and washes her hair and draws on her face. Stereotypical Barbie must find out why her owner is contemplating death and get her to change her mind. After flashbacks of a mother and daughter playing with Barbie dolls, we are dropped into the real world, where Barbie believes the girl, Sasha, now a teen, is her owner. Wrong! Barbie arrives at Sasha’s real-world school and gets dressed down by Sasha and her mean girl’s friends. I truly disliked Sasha and hoped this was where the story would go deeper. It didn’t. We discover that Sasha’s mother is the owner and has been thinking of pitching a doll design called “depressed Barbie or suicidal Barbie.” Really? But I digress… With the chase scene and all the subliminal messaging, I lost track of the storyline, which is weak and disjointed. I couldn’t focus again until all the Barbies were at Weird Barbie’s House strategizing to get back Barbie’s Dream House and the other Barbies whom the Kens had bewitched at the Mojo-Dojo-House. Are you confused? So was I.
Speaking of all the many Kens - there was only ONE Ken for the longest time, and he was Barbie's ride-or-die boyfriend. Ken loved Barbie, and Barbie loved Ken – but not in "The Barbie Movie." Ken is a hanger-on, in competition with all the other macho and even not-so-macho Kens, especially Asian Ken, who is a bully. Okay, I get it. Ken is not as masculine as G.I. Joe, but he was good, kind, and handsome when I was little. Mattel made Ken more and more feminine as the years went on and as they added more Kens to the posse. I blame it on the disco era and the Beach Boys. It didn't matter that he leaned a little feminine because Barbie and Ken got married in my Barbieland - they came in a set - she in her bridal gown and he in his tuxedo.
But wedding Barbie and Ken aren't mentioned, seen, discussed, or even alluded to in the film. In fact, after all the patriarchal, agenda-driven scenes with stereotypical Ken and his "boys" at the Mojo-Dojo Casa House, formerly Barbie's Dream House, Barbie tells Ken that they will never be together and that she can make it without him. Heaven forbid if the plot or one of the redemptive storylines was how Barbie could still be in all her independent glory and discover love or companionship with Ken. Maybe Ken could find that he had more depth than a cowboy hat, gold chains, Stallone fur coat-wearing pimp-like man who finds machismo through horses. I won't waste time evaluating this portion of the movie when Barbie returns to Barbieland to discover Ken has taken over her house. Most of these scenes were gratuitous, and the Kens musical dance scene was hard to watch, even with Ryan Gosling. I felt embarrassed for the man. I just wanted it to end.
Gloria and Lost Opportunities
The one redemptive part of the movie was the monologue given to America Ferrera to deliver. (https://youtu.be/xHJMWYq9ArA) It was powerful, relatable, and an eye-opening statement of why we can no longer define “a woman.” Today's woman is confused, tired, and doesn’t know what is expected of her. A powerful moment, but not used in any other fashion than to make this speech every mother and woman in the audience could relate to. I guess we are supposed to be happy with Ruth’s speech she gave to Barbie at the end, which I mention later in this review.
The storyline of the mother and daughter was a lost opportunity for a deeper and more meaningful look at these characters and their relationship. The writer or director should have given the audience time to grow to love these characters or want more for them. They were more concerned with getting the Woke message out than building their characters or tension, for that matter. I didn't realize Gloria was married until, at the last minute, they injected this wimpy guy learning Spanish on Duolingo into the mix. Where was he throughout the whole film? Another lost opportunity to build a meaningful redemptive storyline between husbands and wives in relation to their children. A deep dive into Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” would have helped the scriptwriter and director create characters and a storyline that would have pulled the audience in and never let them go.
But this is Greta Gerwig's Barbie world, not the imagination of older women or Boomers like me. The movie was geared primarily toward those raised with Barbie in the 90s and 2000s, not my generation. The age difference of the viewers may explain why Midge is single and pregnant, not the wholesome Midge of the 1960s. In the 90s, the pregnant Midge dolls were misunderstood and later taken off the shelves because they thought she was a teen mother, which my daughter had to explain to me during the movie. This was lost on me.
This I knew: Ruth Handler created Barbie and her friends for her daughter in the late 50s and 60s. The world was different; the role of women was beginning to shift with the growing modern feminist movement. Yet Greta inserts the ghost of Ruth Handler, who lives at the Mattel company in her 1950s kitchen. Barbie happens upon the doll's creator as she tries to escape the Mattel CEO (Will Ferrell) and the Mattel board, who want to put her back in her box. Barbie realizes who the older woman is in this scene. Still, it goes by so fast that I was curious to know why the scene existed other than introducing Ruth into the movie and setting her up for a later appearance like the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. Ghost Ruth Handler's speech at the end was another wasted opportunity to impart wisdom to young and older women and girls. Instead, Ruth's speech is limp with an empty "you do you" rhetoric with no crescendo, with the only takeaway being that Barbie was not meant to be perfect. Okay. What is she – what am I supposed to do with that? Oh, yeah, become human and go to the gynecologist. Oops, sorry, that's a spoiler and the end of the movie- ANOTHER missed opportunity to end the movie on a high note; instead, viewers are handed a facepalm moment.
The Cast and Set
I will admit the movie has beautiful and memorable sets and costumes when in Barbie-land.
Margo Robbie is the only person who can play Barbie, and she does it to stereotypical perfection.
I never owned a Weird Barbie, but my daughters did. Kate McKinnon's quirky, irreverent portrayal was on point. Still, it may have been a little scary for the little girls in the audience, which is one of many reasons why the film was rated PG-13, along with all the other sexual innuendos, LBGTQ, and anti-patriarchal agenda references.
You can lump character Allen in this pile too. His character is the ever-faithful gay sidekick for all the Barbies, though it's never really said by anyone, only assumed. Allen was my daughter's favorite character. Again, this character needed meat on his bones. Allen seemed just to be there. Michael Cera did the best he could with what he was handed.
Ryan Gosling, I fear, was handed the biggest mess. “Here, Ryan, go over there, look good, smolder when we cue you, and do this stupid musical number that is like Magic Mike but isn’t like Magic Mike.” Poor guy. You tried, Ryan, you tried.
As the Mattel Head CEO, Will Ferrell was like every other character he has played in the past – a buffoon. I have concluded that he may have needed a paycheck or royalty rights; otherwise, why play such a vapid character who runs through the scenes like he used to do on SNL? I wished that Barbie had returned to the real world and joined Mattel's CEO board. This way, she would never be put back into her box.
I know this truth:
I will never watch The Barbie Movie again. It lacked a strong script with a redemptive outcome. It did not deliver any hope or cause me to want to cheer for the main characters or want to see the flawed ones see the light. Read “The Writer’s Journey,” and you’ll understand. I entered the theater hoping everything I had read and watched was skewed or hype, but it was not.
The Barbie Movie is not for little girls or boys to view. It will confuse them. Parents/Adults: Do not think that the adult content will go over their heads. It won't. They will subliminally get it or register it in their fertile little minds. The fact that Mattel has marketed the film to children - dolls, Little People toys, t-shirts, bedsheets, towels - then still delivered a movie that kids couldn’t see means Mattel only wanted parent’s money and to get their ESG credits. They knew you would take your children to it if they drove up the excitement with toys and tchotchkes. Thanks, Mattel.
Suggestion to parents of little girls who love Barbie and want to see the movie: I would find Barbie's old, animated videos and have a home movie night instead. Dress up, eat popcorn, play Barbies.
The Barbie Movie allowed the director, writers, and producers to repeat a Woke narrative that would hopefully fly over young kids' heads but be on target with the adults in the room. Some adults would cheer, and others would groan, while others would boycott the whole thing. Everyone has their opinion, but because of this decision, they created a movie that will have little shelf life when they could have made a film that would be timeless.
The Barbie Movie could have been iconic, allowing girls of all ages to reminisce about the days we all lived in the Barbie-land of our minds – but it wasn’t iconic or memorable. “Toy Story” honored Barbie as the icon that she was and is, making her more memorable by having fun with the relationship between the doll and a child. This Barbie movie does not.
Lastly, I tried, my friends, not to be influenced by others' opinions, but it was a battle I lost early on. Forgive me. I am still trying to be open when reading the latest opinion batch – but it is what it is.
So with that - In the words of the iconic Tour Guide Barbie, at the end of “Toy Story,” I will conclude my critique and diatribe with “Buh-bye, Buh-bye, Buh-bye!”