4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:
Box Office $635.68 million;
DVD $19.99, Blu-ray $24.99, UHD BD $29.99;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for suggestive references and brief language.
Stars Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Kate McKinnon, Will Ferrell, Michael Cera, Issa Rae, Alexandra Shipp, Emma Mackey, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa, Scott Evans,Rhea Perlman, Helen Mirren.
The Barbie doll, when introduced by Mattel in 1959, was initially intended as a platform to sell clothes and accessories for girls to dress it up. Other characters followed, and backstories were created as Barbie’s circle of friends and family grew, but the driving force for their popularity remained the ways the girls playing with them could unlock their own imaginations. This is reflected in many of the “Barbie” animated movies that project the characters into various preexisting fairy tales and other adventure stories.
For a live-action film based on Barbie, director Greta Gerwig could have chosen any number of approaches, not the least of which would have been a conventional narrative depicting the lives of the “Barbie” characters as if they were real people working in the fashion industry or something mundane. But Gerwig has made a career of bucking convention, so her vision of Barbie is something much more complex — a movie about the doll’s relationship with the real world.
Interestingly, her screenplay (co-written with her partner, Noah Baumbach) employs a story structure that pays homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey of all things, and not just with a prologue that directly parodies Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic.
As fourth-wall-breaking narrator Helen Mirren explains, the introduction of Barbie shifted the landscape of playing with dolls away from girls practicing for motherhood to fostering ambitions of achieving any goal in life despite background or hardship.
And thus it is that the Barbies seem to exist in their own pocket dimension in which women run society, but all the variants of “Barbie” and “Ken” and other associated characters represent that type of doll in the real world, and some sort of metaphysical psychic link between them can influence what happens in either reality.
Actually, though, any attempt to parse logic from the cause-and-effect of how Gerwig’s Barbie universe works is a futile gesture, as even the characters in the film joke about how warped the story’s reality is. It’s only the genuine emotional connection the characters have with each other that provides structure to the various story arcs and keeps it all from spinning out of control — an impressive achievement of directorial balance on Gerwig’s part.
In Barbieland, a fantasy realm dominated by plastic and pink, where the backdrops are painted and all the buildings are designed like Barbie playsets, Margot Robbie plays the “stereotypical” Barbie — the Barbie that first comes to mind when one thinks of Barbie. Her life is an idiosyncratic routine of perfect days enjoying visits with the various professional Barbies and hanging out at the beach with Ken (Ryan Gosling). Nights are filled with disco parties.
The various Kens only exist to seek the attention of the Barbies, and seem to have no other purpose. Where they actually live is a question raised but never actually answered, since the Barbies don’t really care.
When Robbie’s Barbie begins to experience anxiety and symptoms of aging imperfectly, she is told she must venture into the real world to confront the girl playing with her in this manner. Gosling’s Ken joins her on this convoluted journey, and while Barbie finds those responsible for her unwanted emotions, Ken discovers a world in which men have purpose and respect.
When Barbie is taken back to Mattel headquarters, because that’s the kind of Meta this movie is, Ken returns to Barbieland with the intention of introducing the patriarchy and improving his and the other Kens’ lot in life.
And thus Barbie and some newfound friends must return home to restore balance to the matriarchy that Barbieland has always known.
In framing Barbie as both an individual living in her own reality and a concept with influence in the real world, Gerwig has crafted a film that tries to meet several conflicting expectations for what a Barbie movie could be.
Gerwig’s Barbie is presented as both iconic and problematic. The behind-the-scenes interviews with Gerwig included with the home video extras show a director who reveres the nostalgia of what Barbie meant to her childhood, while the film’s story seems to lament that the lessons gleaned from Barbie’s worldbuilding didn’t reflect her worldview.
So we get the lavishly designed, fantastic-looking Barbieland sets of life-sized dollhouses that give the film most of its visual flair. We get intricate musical numbers that speak to the stream-of-consciousness fantasy nature of Barbieland’s existence. But we also get a treatise on the relationship between feminism and the patriarchy, using Ken’s journey to satirize a kind of over-the-top interpretation of toxic masculinity. The end result isn’t so much a film about Barbie as it is Metaphor: The Movie.
Regardless of what the filmmakers’ intent was, the exploration of these competing attitudes blended with a storytelling style that borders on expressionism gives the viewer some leeway to imprint whatever message they want to take away from the film, which may account for its massive success despite complains of overt political messaging. Ultimately, the film is as much a comedy poking fun at the Barbie brand’s eccentricities as it is a loving tribute to its legacy.
The aforementioned Barbie home video extras include six bonus featurettes totaling 45 minutes of typical behind-the-scenes material.
The 12-minute “Welcome to Barbie Land” covers the creation of the real-life Barbie Dream Houses, and the seven-and-a-half-minute “Playing Dress-Up” focuses on the costumes. The six-and-a-half-minute “Becoming Barbie” deals with how Robbie and other performers approached playing the legendary doll, while the five-minute “All-Star Barbie Party” marvels at the assembled cast. “Musical Make-Believe” is a nine-minute featurette about the film’s musical sequences. Finally, the five-minute “It’s a Weird World” examines Kate McKinnon’s quirky “Weird Barbie” character.
The extras are offered with both the digital and disc versions of the film. However, the disc versions aren’t offered as multidisc combo packs, with the 4K and regular Blu-ray versions configured separately (though each includes access to a digital copy, while the DVD version does not).