Movies based on toys – there are more of them than you may think – have to fight an uphill battle from inception to release. The idea to make a full feature film that boils down to advertising for plastic is inherently cynical, even more so than other films which try to do their own thing and have toy lines accompanying them to ride the hype train.
Barbie, however, changed many people’s minds as it was slowly revealed to the public. The first time you hear Margot Robbie as Barbie say “Do you guys ever think about death?” during a dance number you know you’re in for something different.
As the main trailer below reveals this isn’t just a movie for fans of Barbie, it’s a movie for people who aren’t fans of Barbie too. This meta approach to the entire ordeal, in combination with what looks like an impeccable set and costume design, has been successful in driving interest for the movie.
All of this doesn’t even mention the symbiotic relationship that this movie has with Oppenheimer, the new Christopher Nolan flick that is releasing around the same time as Barbie bringing up the same Doom / Animal Crossing feelings we had several years ago.
So with all this positive spin going into the theatre, how did Robbie, Ryan Gosling as Ken, Greta Gerwig in the director chair and others do? Well pretty damn good honestly.
Starting with an extended aping of 2001: A Space Odyssey (which has been released officially, see below) you know that you’re in for a ride with Barbie.
As the trailers and synopsises reveal, our main Barbie finds herself deviating from the Barbie ideal and needs to venture into the real world to find out what’s going on and how to fix it.
We mentioned it in the headline but we have to bring up The Lego Movie now. The Lego Movie is the absolute gold standard for toy movies and, like Barbie, really shattered people’s expectations for the entire concept when it came out in 2014.
The comparisons don’t stop there either. Both movies share immense reverence for the source material seen in the attention to detail of the plastic worlds, both rely on meta commentary for their stories, both are packed with jokes that land even in a theatre of adults, both have that real world visit premise that we mentioned and both even feature Will Ferrell as a businessman that impacts the story.
Where Barbie differs is in the fact that it’s definitely more adult-focused. From the “beach off” mentioned in the trailers to a lot of serious commentary about the real world that may not be for some kids, it’s clear that this movie is aiming at those a bit older. This isn’t a bad thing, we just have to differentiate as we move away from the LEGO comparisons.
Robbie once again delivers a great performance in the leading role. There’s a lot riding on her in this movie and she didn’t disappoint. Gosling similarly impresses and he even gets to do some singing, which we really didn’t expect.
Most of the cast gets a lot of great dialogue too. We were impressed by just how many jokes they managed to stuff into the script. A lot of these jokes are just one liners which some may find groan-worthy, but others are longer running and some even depend on you knowing obscure titbits about Barbie, Mattel and toys in general.
The real downer to the entire experience is the third act which is definitely the weakest part of the whole movie. It’s not bad, just not as good as the start and middle of the movie. At points characters talk directly into the camera to explain their thoughts and themes of the movie and, while it is central to the entire story, there had to be a better way to weave this dialogue into the story than long, uninterrupted speeches.
The other real let down is the absence of the famous song Barbie by Aqua. The song not appearing in the movie was reported on months ago and given how Mattel took legal action over this music we can kind of understand it, but it is still irritating. It’s even worse because the song was sampled in a truly abysmal Nicki Minaj track that is in the movie.
Hilariously this makes Barbie the second movie of 2023 that was seemingly meant to use Aqua’s song but didn’t. The Flash has a scene that references the song followed by music that doesn’t fit.
Back to what is in the movie and what’s here will make a lot of people happy. We’re glad to report that a hype train has pulled into the station without being derailed and all the promises of a subversive idea in movie form, based on Barbie of all things, has turned out so well.
FINAL SCORE: 8 OUT OF 10.