How the Barbie Movie Could Set the Record Straight
The upcoming Barbie movie, directed by Greta Gerwig, has already developed a following thanks to the abundance of intriguing set pictures from shooting earlier this year. Then finally, the first official footage of the film was released earlier this month.
Featuring only a few shots and no dialogue — save for an introductory voiceover by Helen Mirren — this preview didn’t give fans much to analyze from the film itself. However, it did provide folks with a taste of the tone of the film, including its approach to the source material.
The bulk of the trailer consists of an introduction paying homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The aforementioned narration plays over a group of little girls with their baby dolls, explaining that said baby dolls have been a staple of young girlhood since the beginning of time. Margot Robbie’s titular Barbie herself then makes her debut, dressed in the same black-and-white swimsuit the original Barbie doll from 1959 wore. Finally, a few clips from the movie featuring Robbie and a few others in the all-star cast — including Ryan Gosling, Issa Rae, and Simu Liu — are briefly shown, along with the movie’s logo.
The few brief glimpses we get of the film make it clear that Barbie is taking a lot of inspiration from the toy line, from outfits to the brightly colored world itself. But it’s not just Barbie’s aesthetics that will be in the movie — it’s her spirit, or rather, the spirit of her creators. Barbie is largely viewed as the quintessential “girl toy,” and the brand has been criticized for being too conformist to society’s standards of beauty. But as the trailer points out, Barbie was and is a trailblazer in the toy industry, which is something that is often overlooked nowadays.
Before Barbie, as shown in the trailer, the “standard” toy for little girls was the baby doll. In addition to giving them something fun to carry around and dress up, the underlying message of these dolls being marketed to girls specifically reinforces traditional gender roles of women being in charge of raising children and being society’s caregivers in general.
So when Barbie stepped out onto the scene, she checked a different box. The character was older than her target demographic, meaning she was something to aspire to rather than take care of. She was a role model, which turned out to be both a good and bad thing, but it provided an alternative to baby dolls and the caregiving expectations that came with them.
Yes, Barbie ended up promoting a whole different set of gendered expectations — mostly in the looks department — but the brand also ended up being much more progressive than it is often given credit for. Beyond simply existing as a grown-up doll in a sea of baby ones, Barbie has continued to showcase women taking on roles well beyond motherhood (though there have been Barbie dolls focused on motherhood, including pregnancy). She’s played nearly every sport out there, from those traditionally seen as “feminine” like gymnastics and ice skating, to ones like hockey, basketball, and boxing. She’s had countless careers, such as doctor, chef, director, dancer, news anchor, entrepreneur, teacher, farmer, military officer, firefighter, astronaut, scientist, pilot, cowgirl, and beekeeper, to name a few.
Barbie has also become more inclusive over the years to those who don’t fit her original look of being white with blonde hair and blue eyes. The dolls first became more racially diverse, and more recently have also rolled out a wider variety of body types and abilities, with dolls with wheelchairs and even hearing aids joining the Barbie lineup. This is also something the movie will also include, with several different versions of Barbie and Ken being present, each looking radically different from one other.
While Margot Robbie watched The Truman Show and Splash to prepare for the role, the film Barbie is shaping up to resemble the most right now appears to be The LEGO Movie. This was also a film dedicated to bringing the world of a popular toy brand to life, but had a self-awareness that endeared audiences to it. It never got to the point of self-parody, but incorporated the unique aspects of the toy alongside elements of the way people play with and utilize it, as well as the culture surrounding it.
With Barbie being called subversive and the trailer giving audiences a taste of that, one has to wonder if the film will go as far as to criticize the brand itself (if not the way it is in the modern day, then at least its past of being less inclusive than it is now). This would push the boundaries further than the aforementioned LEGO Movie, though Barbie does look to be geared a bit more toward adults than that film was.
It’s also notable that Will Ferrell’s Barbie character has been reported to be the CEO of Mattel, which means that the brand itself will play a role in the film. That being said, it’s worth noting that Mattel Films itself is one of the production companies behind the project, so the movie may not end up being as critical of the toy company as some might hope. Still, with the film’s script being the top aspect of the film hyped to high heavens by those involved with it, surely something in Barbie will surprise audiences when it comes out.