In 1959, the world was first introduced to Barbara Millicent Roberts from Willows, Wis., a.k.a., Barbie. Creator Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel with her husband, launched the doll by advertising directly to children on TV. Barbie was the first “toy” commercial to appear during “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
In 1961, Mattel introduced Barbie’s ultimate “accessory” boyfriend, Ken, who is two years younger than his affluent sweetheart.
An alternative to the limiting gender roles of the time, Barbie was a freethinking, independent gal with the most colorful costumes ever. She’s had more than 250 careers and is limitless in opportunities. Barbie is the No. 1-selling doll in the world, with three sold every second. Her Dreamhouse is sold every two minutes.
If you’ve ever had a Barbie or just really enjoy Broadway shows and pastels, ready your imagination and your pinkalicious soul because the highly anticipated “Barbie” movie opens in theaters July 21.
Directed and co-written by Oscar-nominee Greta Gerwig (“Little Women,” “Lady Bird”), the film shows what happens when Barbie experiences an existential crisis. The story is smart and witty, with fast-paced dialogue, silly montages and emotional, introspective flashes between Barbie Land and the real world. And loads of costume changes.
Every protagonist embarks on a hero’s journey, and Barbie is no exception. Narrated by Helen Mirren, Barbie (Margot Robbie) begins questioning the natural order of life in Barbie Land, where extravagant dance numbers and beach parties are daily life. On the advice of Gymnast Barbie (Kate McKinnon), she ventures into the real world to find the person who may hold the key to her dilemma. Along the way, she is confronted by societal expectations, outsmarts Mattel’s CEO (Will Ferrell), rollerblades on Venice Beach and faces the reality of her legacy.
Oscar-nominee Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “I, Tonya”), who also co-produced the film, delivers an impressive performance as “Stereotypical Barbie,” diving into the role with full bravado and dedication. It’s reasonable to expect an actress to overplay the part of a real-life iconic doll, but Robbie skillfully balances her character’s congeniality with perception and good humor. Her work here may very well land the actress her third Oscar nomination.
Ryan Gosling (“The Notebook,” “La La Land”) struggles to keep up with Ken’s evolution at times but inevitably delivers a fun performance for the audience. Gerwig capitalizes on Gosling’s singing and dancing talents in several scenes, framing him as the classic lead star admired by the other Kens like an effeminate Danny posturing for the T-Birds in “Grease.”
Gerwig began fostering a connection between cast members before production started by throwing a slumber party for the Barbies at the upscale Claridge’s Hotel in London, where the movie was filmed (the Kens stopped by but were not allowed to sleep over). And the comradery continued during production. Gosling remembers how Robbie “left a pink present with a pink bow, from Barbie to Ken, every day while we were filming.” (Sigh)
Nurtured by a $100 million budget from Warner Bros., Gerwig gets everything just right, from the costumes to the Dream House. Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Babel” and “Brokeback Mountain”) created a special color template for the movie; Gerwig named it Techni-Barbie. Designers used so much fluorescent fuchsia paint making Barbie Land they contributed to a global shortage.
Ultimately, the “Barbie” movie is a nostalgic, highly creative and playful journey. It teaches us that self-discovery is an adventure and the important roles imagination and teamwork play along the way. And sometimes, a flashy dance number is just what we need to make life a little more fun.