You can be anything! An astronaut, a teacher, a president, a fairy, a princess, a pauper, a partridge in a pear tree. Why? Because Barbie’s been it all!
Barbie has not just been anything, she has been everything. When the sentient plastic She-E-O is not trailblazing workforces or populating shelves of a store near you, she is dominating Hollywood. Barbie has seen the success of countless films, television shows, video games, social media series, clothing lines, and every other possible commodity you could imagine. In the words of Kenan Thompson in “Barbie Instagram,” a 2018 SNL sketch, “Who is Barbie? Barbie is fun. Barbie works hard and plays thoughtfully. She has one boyfriend. She is impossible. She is ‘girl’ to the max.” This may have been satirical, but it basically hit every mark. Said boyfriend Ken is a loyal, fashion-forward himbo. Barbie and Ken are a package deal (twink sold separately). Barbie violates gender norms with an independence that Ken upholds and supports wholeheartedly.
Barbie was created on March 9, 1959, by toy company Mattel Inc. Members of Gen Z such as myself experienced the 2000s reign of the animated Barbie fairytale films in our childhood, ranging from “Swan Lake,” to “Rapunzel,” to “Magic of the Pegasus,” to perhaps the most widely revered one: “The Princess and the Pauper.” These campy, primitive CGI love stories are chock full of iconic outfits and fabulous songs. In the Barbie multiverse lore, Barbie is an actress playing the characters in each of these films (made more believable in the blooper reels seen in the end credits of some of them). In 2012, “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse” glamorously took center stage. “Dreamhouse” was still animated, but had documentary-style filming with confessionals and breaking-of-the-fourth-wall scenes. Barbie wasn’t acting — this was a window into her life in the dreamhouse, with Ken, Midge and the gang. Today, Malibu Barbie and Brooklyn Barbie (Malibu’s bestie) have taken social media by storm with their YouTube channel and TikTok account. Some fans ship the duo, made evident by my Google search suggesting “Malibu Barbie and Brooklyn Barbie gay” as I typed their names. If they are in love, someone please break it gently to Ken. He’s a feeler.
So what is our fabulous Amazonian blondie up to in the year 2023? If you aren’t living under a plastic Malibu pebble, you have likely heard about Greta Gerwig’s upcoming feature film “Barbie,” set to come out July 21. Gerwig is known for her success with films like “Ladybird” and “Little Women,” richly populated with endearing tales seen through the infrequently represented female gaze. Sound like another aforementioned trailblazer?
To fill the plastic shoes of Barbie and Ken, Gerwig has chosen none other than Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. The stars don’t stop there; Will Ferrell, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, America Ferrera, Ncuti Gatwa, Simu Liu, and Dua Lipa are just some of the film’s cast members. The publicity around “Barbie” has been sparking excitement for several months now, with its fast-approaching release date populated by a divulgence of more trailers and clips from the film. The social media team has stepped up in rubber stilettos, creating a widely spread trend via their “This Barbie is…” selfie generator.
The trailer frames the film almost as a live-action rendition of “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse.” Barbie goes about her fantastic plastic day-to-day life, full of pink and pink. There are gimmicks resembling the “Dreamhouse” tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that Barbie is a toy. However, fans and publications alike theorize that everything is not what it seems. E! News is one of several sources to point out easter eggs that seem to allude to “The Wizard of Oz.” Among these clues are Barbie’s gingham dress and a movie theater sign that says “Now Playing: ‘The Wizard of Oz.’” The intertextuality of alluding both implicitly and explicitly to “Oz” may be hinting that we should expect a fish-out-of-water tale. The difference is, Barbie is starting in a fantastical land similar to Oz. As Barbie and Ken drive down the pink road, a billboard reads: “Real World This Way.” Could “Barbie” be about smile addicts Ken and Barbie interacting with a cruel, boring world? My mind goes straight to the masterpieces “Enchanted” and “Elf,” which feature a princess and a Christmas elf, respectively, interacting with grumpy New Yorkers. What a recipe for prime comedic juxtaposition.
Barbie represents fun and femininity, but she also represents wisdom and success. For me, and so many others, Barbie has been an outlet for self-expression, inspiration and happiness. She defies statistics. She is a woman in STEM. She is level-headed and kind. She is covered in glitter. She is a toy and an icon that every person should be able to play with, engage with, and relate to, regardless of gender. She breaks down metaphorical walls, while surrounded by fabulously decorated plastic walls. So come on Barbie, let’s go party! I hope to see all of you at your local movie theater in July. I’ll be the one in the pink bell bottoms and the blonde wig.
“Barbie” is coming to a theater near you on July 21.
By Risa Bolash