When I was younger, I was always clad head-to-toe in Barbie. I wore Barbie boots every year until the fifth grade, which is when my parents decided that it was time for me to grow up and wear mary-janes like everyone else. Back then, my mom would joke that if I ever got lost in the mall, the intercom would say that the child wore a Barbie top, pants, and boots (and that was exactly what it said when I did get lost).
At home, I’d park myself in front of the family desktop and play whichever PC Game we had (you guessed it — Barbie). An endless amount of hours were spent on the Barbie website, from dressing her up to giving makeovers.
Somewhere between the ages of 9 to 14, I decided that I didn’t want to be “like other girls.” From then on, I loved Barbie in secret. The love slowly waned through each passing year, but now there’s still a special place for her in my heart that manifests in delightful ways, from my love of pink to my favorite drag queen.
Is this my way of not being able to grow up? I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist. I just really love what I love and I know I’m not alone either. And since times are bleak, nostalgia has been a hell of a drug more than usual because nothing feels better than reliving our best hits from the past. So imagine my joy whenever I see tweets like this:
not to be controversial but i’m right pic.twitter.com/NHL3JyLRcM— mads 💫 ceo of hoth han (@poessunflower) April 3, 2020
Recently, someone discovered that all the Barbie films were uploaded to YouTube, awakening the Barbie stan in all of us. And while these films were essentially marketing pieces for Barbie’s latest line of toys, you can bet we ate them up every time.
Here, we explore the Barbie Cinematic Universe (BCU) that could rival even Marvel’s superhero franchise.
The BCU began with Barbie in the Nutcracker back in 2001, with the latest film in the series, Barbie: Dolphin Magic, released in 2017. Barbie has starred in 36 films over the course of those 16 years. What began as simple fairytale and ballet adaptations has since grown into a universe full of magical adventures, which not only provided the blueprint for many a modern film universe but also gave us a heroine to root for.
A lot of the earlier films were framed as a story that Barbie tells her sisters as a way to inspire them through tough challenges. These films always star a brave, sometimes shy but adventurous Barbie doing everything in her power to spread good and stop evil. She is these films’ moral compass, and never relies on a prince or man to fulfill her goals. In the BCU, Barbie always has the power of friendship and magic on her side, standing next to her ultimate power: the power to believe in herself.
Barbie is even more feminist than, dare I say, the Disney Princesses, a lot of whom were damsels in distress until recent years. And while you could argue that those were all fairy tale adaptations, it’s important to note that Barbie started that way too. Her first film was based on Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. But rather than keeping Clara an audience surrogate, they fully put her in the heroine role to defeat the Mouse King.
With the success of The Nutcracker, Mattel rode the adaptation train hard by releasing Rapunzel (2002), Swan Lake (2003), and Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses (2006). But what really changed the game was Princess and the Pauper (2004). Barbie got ahead of gender-flipping roles as Anneliese and Erika in this film, which was also her first musical.
Princess and the Pauper is considered one of the best Barbie films by far (just go online, it’s nuts). Even I named usernames after the protagonist Anneliese (spelled wrong). Mattel was aware of its success too; having tried to replicate it with Princess and the Popstar (2012) and going as far as to rehash some of the songs.
Directly after that, another type of Barbie film emerged. Fairytopia (2005) was the first film to have an original story and is their only film universe within a film universe. Spanning three films and a two-film spin-off, adventure films became the name of the game as Barbie’s character, the wingless Elina, faced challenges, formed new friendships, and found confidence within herself through many trials. Her sidekick Bibble becoming a meme many years later was just a bonus.
Barbie kicked off the 2010s with a new look as Mattel ushered in a new wave of films with a more cartoony and younger-looking Barbie. Starting as the surfer Merliah in Barbie in a Mermaid Tale, we witnessed how her DNA was essentially the same, but with a significant change to Barbie’s character: she became self-aware.
Fashion Fairytale (2010) and Fairy Secret (2011) really took this to heart, with Barbie starring as herself in both films. As in, Barbie the world-famous actress who’s dating Ken and is frenemies with Raquelle, which is all just so deliciously meta.
At this point, Barbie’s princess adventure films were still a thing but naturally, they had to diversify. Barbie now starred in films like Spy Squad (2016), Starlight Adventure (2016), and Video Game Hero (2017). Her sisters eventually joined in on the fun with their own series of adventure films starting with Perfect Christmas (2011) and ending with Barbie: Dolphin Magic (2017).
Come 2018, even Barbie couldn’t resist the strength of having an online presence. Enter: the Barbie vlogs. Think of these as the Barbie Diaries, the one-off back in 2006, and is the only Barbie film to depict her as a regular teen. The vlogs accompanied the show Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures and while it has your typical YouTuber hijinks,some of it isweirdly profound. They’re amazingly good, empowering, and contain advice that is exactly what I think little girls need to hear.
I find it admirable that the scriptwriters never changed Barbie into something that she wasn’t. In all of her films, Barbie never fell into the well-worn territory of strong female characters needing to act all tough and manly. She loves pink, glitter, and rainbows. She loves her friends and she’s open about her emotions. She’s unapologetically feminine, which is something I really love about her now that I’m older.
And now, Barbie’s core values are stronger than ever despite shifting mediums over the years. Do I miss the “golden age” of Barbie films? Part of me probably does, but I’ve also accepted that it’s not my content to consume anymore.
A new film called Barbie: Princess Adventure is due to release in the fall, but with things as they are, who knows when that will be. Are Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach still making that live-action film with Margot Robbie? Dear God, I hope so. Until then, I’ll just be here rewatching all my favorite Barbie films.
Header art by Kitty Jardenil
In-line images via Barbie Youtube channel
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