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Welcome, World Travelers! The Barbie Movie: Life in Plastic is Fantastic!

Welcome, World Travelers! The Barbie Movie: Life in Plastic is Fantastic!

by James Coulter

It’s the end of July. Two of the hottest movies are playing in theaters. One of them is Oppenheimer, a dramatic biopic of the man who helped build the atomic bomb. So, you know which movie a self-respecting, red-blooded cis-hetero white dude like me is going to see?

That’s right! The Barbie Movie!

Barbie is a girl who needs no introduction. For more than 60 years, she has remained the doll most played with by little girls, to the point where she has become synonymous with American girlhood. So, it was only a matter of time until the little doll made her big debut on the big screen with her titular movie. But will it prove to be made of plastic and fantastic? Or will the film bomb bigger than the atomic bomb playing in the neighboring theater?

Barbie lives a perfect life in Barbieland. She wakes up every morning in her dream house. She gets dressed in her best clothes. She goes driving in her pink car. She goes to the beach to flirt with Ken. And then she and the other dolls finish the night off with a dance party. Life couldn’t be more perfect for the perfect doll.

Or is it?

Lately, Barbie has been experiencing existential dread about her “perfect” life—so much so that it starts affecting her and Barbieland. When she wakes up with “flat feet”, she learns she must travel to the real world to find out what’s going on. With Ken by her side, she travels to the real world, but will they find the answers they seek?

The Barbie Movie looks fabulous! Barbieland itself looks like a little girl’s toy set coming to life. Everything from the houses to the cars and even the smaller props appear perfectly toy-like and set to scale to the toys they’re based on. The movie crew evidently went to extreme measures to ensure the scenery looked perfectly pink—to the point where it actually created a real worldwide shortage of pink paint.

Moreover, the Barbie characters do an excellent job pantomiming how toys are played with, to the point where it feels like an invisible girl is playing with them. When Barbie gets into the shower, she bathes herself with no water. For breakfast, she pretends to eat her food. And when she goes downstairs to get into her pink car, she floats off her balcony, almost like how a little girl would lower the doll in real life.

Both Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling do an excellent job of playing Barbie and Ken respectively. Will Ferrel, Michael Cera, and Kate McKinnon also act like their hilarious comedic selves. And America Ferrera, while not playing a major role, delivers a superb soliloquy about the complexities and contradictions of being a woman.

The main story is The Lego Movie meets Legally Blonde. The crux of the film deals with identity. Both Barbie and Ken experience major character arcs in which they grapple with who they are both as toys and as people. Barbie starts to feel her perfect life isn’t all that perfect, and she learns the importance of not having to be perfect. Ken, meanwhile, feels inadequate always playing the “and Ken” part of his “Barbie and Ken” relationship, and learns to be his own man with his identity separate from Barbie.

Of course, as Barbie has served as a symbol of womanhood, the movie inevitably has a feminist message. When Barbie ventures into the real world, she discovers it isn’t as ideal as Barbieland. She learns that being a real woman is much more complex and complicated than her perfect life in her perfect world. Through her journey, the “perfect” role model for little girls learns to be her ordinary self and not always strive to be extraordinary.

Of course, also inevitably, the film’s feminist message has stirred up quite the controversy and instigated a culture war. One right-wing political pundit even burned a Barbie doll before his 40-minute polemic against the movie. Many male critics (and I use this term generously) have accused the movie of pushing a “woke” and “anti-male” agenda and hating men. This could not be further from the truth. As a man who watched this movie, I can attest this movie is not “anti-man.” Quite the opposite. And the proof lies with Ken.

In the movie, Ken undergoes a character arc that mirrors Barbie’s. He considers his relationship with her inadequate and feels he’s not getting enough respect in Barbieland. He, like, Barbie, goes on a journey of self-discovery, and while that journey has him pick up some unfortunate toxic masculine ideals, he inevitably sheds those ideals by learning that he can be his person outside of Barbie—that he can be, as his new slogan puts it, “Kenough!”

In the end, The Barbie Movie is quite the hilarious romp that simultaneously both tickles your funny bone and tugs at your heartstrings. Girls young and old who grew up playing with the doll will experience both a love letter to a childhood classic and a thoughtful deconstruction that explores what it means to be a woman. Overall, life in plastic proves to be simply fantastic!

One minor disclaimer: though the movie is based on a little girl’s toy, it is rated PG-13. Though the movie isn’t completely inappropriate to show little children, the more adult themes will go over their heads and some of the jokes are rather suggestive. There are even several words you’d never imagine hearing someone say in a Barbie movie. They’re not swear words, by any means, but unless you feel like explaining to your child what a “gynecologist” or the “patriarchy” is—let alone what’s a penis, vagina, or genitalia!—perhaps consider watching this movie without the little one.

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Allison

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