‘Barbie’ live-action movie adds sparkle to franchise


Graphic by Evelyn Shue

‘Barbie,’ starring Margot Robbie as the iconic titular doll and Ryan Reynolds as Ken, is set to release on July 21 this summer.

Sophia Fang, Senior Arts Contributor

This year, Barbie is breaking out of animation and stepping into live action. In July, a new movie directed by Greta Gerwig will be released, starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken. 

“I’m super excited about the new Barbie movie… I’m actually so hyped,” sophomore Johnell McConell said. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about the Barbie universe,” senior Kevin Baer said, “I think that, you know, Barbie itself will always be a very divisive character.” 

This is not the first Barbie movie released. During the Digital Revolution in the 2000s, Barbie led the way of modern animation with the release of the movie “Barbie in the Nutcracker” in 2001, paving the way for CGI animation. Since then, there have been 40 Barbie movies released—which cover a variety of fairy tales and themes, from fairies and mermaids to spies and video games—and five seasons of the show “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse”, featuring Barbie and her friends’ day to day life in Malibu.

“My favorite Barbie movie was Fairytopia [because of] Bibble,” McConnell says.

In 2014, Sports Illustrated featured Barbie on the front cover of their swimsuit edition, clad in her iconic zebra print one-piece. Her model career was furthered at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week runway show in 2009, where top designers such as Calvin Klein and Vera Wang brought their Barbie-themed looks to life. 

Despite her age, Barbie has always stayed up-to-date with the latest trends and is a common figure in pop culture. In 1986, Andy Warhol did a portrait of Barbie as a gift to BillyBoy, his muse and a collector of Barbies, owning over 11,000 of them. There were also Barbies created in the likeness of celebrities, starting with supermodel Twiggy in 1967, later going on to include other stars such as Audrey Hepburn. 

Aside from celebrities, Mattel has also released Barbies in honor of inspirational historical figures with their “Inspiring Women” collection. This collection stars women such as Amelia Earhart and Katherine Johnson.

Mattel also created Barbies in different careers to help children explore careers and recognize that they too, could be inspiring women. Astronaut Barbie, launched in 1965, went to the moon four years before Neil Armstrong did, and Executive Barbie broke barriers in 1963, a time where women were almost completely absent from top company positions.

To make Barbie more relatable, friends and family were created. Ken Carson, Barbie’s boyfriend, was introduced in 1961, and Midge Hadley, her best friend, was created in 1963. Barbie’s little sister, Skipper Roberts debuted in 1964. 

But before her glamorous life and massive enterprise, Barbie was simply the creation of a mother who wanted to prove to her daughter that women were not just restricted to the baby dolls she played with, and could be so much more. 

Barbie was created in 1959 by Ruth Handler, co-founder of the renowned toy company Mattel, Inc. She noticed that her daughter played with baby dolls but had to turn to paper dolls if she wanted to play with adult dolls, unabling her daughter to imagine the future of women beyond girlhood.

After a trip to Germany, Handler was inspired by the Bild Lilli doll, an adult doll based off of a German comic, to create an adult doll herself. This led to the creation of the first Barbie with her iconic blonde hair and zebra print one-piece swimsuit. 

She debuted at the American Toy Fair in New York City that year, and was an instant hit, with more than 300,000 dolls sold the first year. Her popularity led the makers of Bild Lilli to sue Mattel for copyright infringement, but Mattel resolved the issue by buying the rights for Bild Lilli in 1963, leading to more than a decade of Barbie’s popularity.

An icon of the 21st century, the popularity of Barbara Millicent Roberts—better known as Barbie—has made her one of the biggest celebrities in the world. Her popularity spans across generations, from baby boomers to Generation Alpha.

“The first time I was introduced to Barbie was in the car with all my DVDs driving to Vermont…” McConell said. “I was like, I think, in second grade.”

However, 64 years of Barbie craze was filled with much criticism as well, the biggest criticism about the lack of diversity in Barbie dolls, of which Mattel responded by releasing an official African American and Latina Barbie (among other international Barbies) in 1980.

The Barbie Fashionista collection released in 2016 tried to further diversify Barbie portrayals, releasing Barbies in different body types, skin tones, eye colors, and hairstyles. Ever since, this collection has been becoming more inclusive such as the 2019 collection including two dolls with physical disabilities and the 2022 collection including a Barbie with a hearing aid and a Ken with vitiligo. Furthermore, on Apr. 25, Mattel announced it would be releasing a doll with Down Syndrome.

Since Barbie’s debut in 1959, she has remained popular and will likely to continue to retain her celebrity status as Mattel adapts with the times and continues to release more diverse Barbies.