Directed by Greta Gerwig.
Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, Ariana Greenblatt, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Hari Nef, Emma Mackey, Alexandra Shipp, Connor Swindells, Michael Cera, Helen Mirren, Simu Liu, Sharon Rooney, Dua Lipa, John Cena, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Scott Evans, Jamie Demetriou, Ncuti Gatwa, Nicola Coughlan, Emerald Fennell, Ana Kayne, Ritu Arya, and Annie Mumolo.
Warner Bros.’ expectations-breaking Barbie hits 4K Ultra HD in an edition that features a spectacular-looking movie but scant bonus features. Given the issues the film explores, it would have been nice to have a solid making-of documentary included here, but oh well.
This is a tricky review to write. My initial reaction to the existence of a Barbie movie was probably along the same lines as many others: “Why?” My daughter grew up watching a bunch of animated Barbie movies cranked out one after the other and telling the kind of storybook tales you’d expect from the brand.
But then word spread that this Barbie movie would be different. Featuring a script co-written by director Greta Gerwig and Wes Anderson collaborator Noah Baumbach, this was a live-action project that promised to upend expectations.
Did it? Yes, on a surface level, it definitely did. This Barbie movie opens in Barbieland, where various kinds of Barbies run everything and the Kens simply exist as their companions. However, when a basic Barbie (also known as “stereotypical Barbie”) played by Margot Robbie has strange things happening to her, she seeks out Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) for help.
Weird Barbie sends her into the real world, with a basic Ken (Ryan Gosling) hitching a ride in her pink car. That’s where she meets a mom named Gloria (America Ferrera) and her teen daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt). Sasha no longer wants to play with Barbie, but Gloria holds onto one of the dolls and begins projecting all of her fears and worries onto it, which caused basic Barbie to begin exhibiting those traits too in Barbieland.
Gloria works at Mattel, the toy company that produces the Barbie toy line, and its nameless CEO (Will Ferrell) tries to get her back into a box. Basic Barbie flees, eventually running into her creator, Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman) before returning to Barbieland to find that Ken has brought back many toxic male traits from the real world and reduced all the Barbies to subservient women. The final act of the story involves basic Barbie hatching a plan to deprogram the other Barbies, with help from Gloria and Sasha.
This isn’t the kind of story that many modern-day cynical filmgoers expected, especially the way it mocks corporate executives and tackles head-on so many of the issues that women face in modern society. However, it’s still easy to be cynical and assume that Mattel’s real-life executives were okay with this movie because they know it helps your street cred, so to speak, when someone is in a position of power and allows themselves to be ridiculed.
And while I appreciate the way the movie digs into the issues behind the way many men behave these days, it also has to pull its punches because, after all, this is still a Barbie movie. So a lot of the jokes revolve around the Kens behaving in ways that they believe are macho but are really just absurd. It would have been interesting to really explore the dark side of those behaviors, but, again, this is a Barbie movie.
In the end, while Barbie is a fun ride and has a great message at its core, it’s definitely preaching to the choir. It would have been interesting to see if Gerwig and Baumbach could have engineered a story that would have appealed to the men who need to receive this message, but that might have been a bridge too far for Mattel.
Warner Bros. has released Barbie in a 4K Ultra HD edition that includes a code for a digital copy, which has the bonus features too, but no Blu-ray platter. Given the movie’s recent release, it looks great in 4K, especially since the studio devoted a 100GB disc to it, giving it plenty of space to avoid any compression issues.
The extras are scant, unfortunately, which is a bit odd considering the way this movie pushed against expectations. There’s no making-of that gets into the history of the toy line and the way Gerwig and Baumbach decided to approach the material. Oh well. Here’s what you’ll find:
• It’s A Weird World (5 minutes): Plenty of young girls have defaced their Barbies to turn them into dolls who like they just attended a punk rock show, and McKinnon’s character is a nod to that phenomenon. The actress and others discuss it.
• All-Star Barbie Party (5 minutes): Cast members and producer David Heyman talk about the casting process and how much fun they had on set. Again, there’s not much digging in these extras.
• Musical Make-Believe (9 minutes): A look at the dance party sequence that happens early in the story.
• Becoming Barbie (6 minutes): We all know the jokes about Barbie’s physique that’s not representative of real women, and that subject gets a brief look here. (And I should note that Helen Mirren narrates part of the film and does address this issue early on.)
• Welcome to Barbie Land (12 minutes): Barbie Land is full of dream houses, vehicles, clothes, and other accessories that have been pulled straight from Mattel’s toy catalog, and this extra is a look at the movie’s production design.
• Playing Dress-Up (7.5 minutes): The costume design gets its turn in the spotlight.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★