At this point, liking the unreleased ‘Barbie’ movie is basically a personality trait. (And a good one.)
In these uncertain times, all people really want is one thing: tickets to the Barbie movie. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the iconic doll franchise is hitting theatres July 21, 2023. And while I cannot tell you exactly what the film is about (read more details here), I know enough to be utterly obsessed.
With each new crop of behind-the-scenes pictures or viral teasers, there is no discernible storyline — just a hit of dopamine and a Pepto Bismol-dipped dose of childhood nostalgia. On these vibes alone, Barbie has managed to captivate the world.
The latest trailer, released April 4, is an intoxicatingly chaotic viewing experience. It starts with a shot of Barbie (Margot Robbie) slipping off her feather mules, only for her bare feet to be permanently gelled in a pointed position. Right away, this flagrant disregard for foot health pokes fun at the unrealistic body standards that have come to define Barbie’s It girl image. And it serves as a harbinger of many delightful oddities to come.
Throughout the nearly two-minute sequence, everything looks sticky and bright (as it should). We have pink sand, cartoon buildings and plastic convertibles. The casting spans from Dua Lipa to Issa Rae to Canadian actor Michael Cera. We have a sea of saturated preppy styles and resort wear, including sugary tweed separates, retro menswear hotpants and lots of gingham. The costumes, conceived by Jacqueline Durran, are seemingly void of designer labels to further capture the make-believe nature of Barbie Land. But this extensive world-building doesn’t stop at the film’s marketing. Barbie is not just a movie, it’s a pop culture movement that is traversing industries. Look no further than the posters.
Everyone knows the most important step in achieving world domination is becoming a meme. Enter the now-ubiquitous Barbie banners. The minds behind the project have created an AI selfie generator, using science for good by allowing anyone to insert themselves into the Mattel world. As a result, in a few short days, Barbie has usurped nearly every other cinematic universe. The Devil Wears Prada may as well have been shot in Barbie Land. The Succession cast is suspiciously believable as respective plastic dolls. Pearl, the budding horror character du jour (played by Mia Goth), somehow seamlessly fits into the peppy branding. Even inflatable rats are getting a sparkly main character moment. And if they haven’t been made into Barbie, beloved pop culture figures have been brought into the Barbie multiverse as fans, from The Hunger Games characters to Scream’s murderous villain Ghostface. It’s a meme with a clear message: everyone is currently enthralled with Barbie.
The Barbie-fication of pop culture pushes back on the unattainable exclusivity that has historically overshadowed the doll’s legacy. By embracing its over-the-top essence and doubling down on its unrealistic campiness, the Barbie film has concocted an interactive lore that compels us all to get involved. Barbie is for everyone because Barbie is for no one. By reclaiming all its tired tropes, the Barbie movie is democratizing the ultimate symbol of aspiration. And for a franchise that has long been viewed as “girly” and therefore less important, Barbie’s 2023 ubiquity is pretty radical. The sheer excitement has even inspired a cultural revisiting of decades-old animated doll-centred movies — nay, “ancient texts.”
It’s not hard to see why we’re all glomming onto Barbie Land now. Yes, the Barbie movie offers a “look, pretty!” reprieve from the slog of every day. But with self-aware jokes and over-embellished artificial visuals, it also promises deeper commentary. The marketing of the film is intentionally vague and void of plot points. Margot Robbie has been notoriously tight-lipped about the project, apart from the occasional “expect the unexpected.” As such, each sneak peek is a fever dream of candy-coated nothingness, in which characters bask in blissful ignorance. And I think that’s the point. Barbie is a genetically modified carrot being dangled in front of us all, only to sneakily deliver a real message when we least expect it.
Social media profiles everywhere have been replaced with make-shift movie posters, the franchise’s hot pink is still a trending colour, and there are ample sleuthing series dedicated to decoding hints from the film’s marketing. Gerwig’s refreshed version of Barbie is heading for global domination, and there’s no end in sight. One day, perhaps nothing else will exist — the world will be only Barbie. And you know what? I’m OK with that.