As if we weren’t already obsessed with Barbie—just the idea of it, a Barbie movie with THAT collection of talent in front of and behind the camera—yesterday Barbie released FANTASTIC character posters (you can make your own, too!) and a bomb-ass trailer and now we are EVEN MORE OBSESSED. And by “we” I mean “me”, although you are welcome to throw yourself off this cliff with me and be extremely in our Barbie Era for summer 2023. Welcome to Barbie Girl Summer.
This trailer is everything. It’s JUST RIGHT. Just the right amount of sincerity, mixed with the right amount of humor, it’s silly but there is obviously a structure to it all, even though they’re hiding the plot (the character posters seem like in-jokes that will make more sense once we see the movie). And the production value! Not only does it look great, not only am I already obsessed with every single costume, but the details are spectacular, like Barbie’s permanently arched feet and the way her pink Corvette’s wheels move but the steering wheel doesn’t—just like the toy! This is cinema!
I didn’t grow up with Barbie, my mom didn’t like them, so they weren’t part of my toy arsenal, but I have a weird fascination with Barbie thanks to my childhood friend Stacy. Her mother is a SERIOUS Barbie collector, with a collection that lives in a humidity-controlled storage facility, that’s how much Barbie stuff she has. When I was a kid, though, the collection was more modest, and lived in a spare bedroom at Stacy’s house. We were not allowed to play with Barbie. Many of the Barbies were still in the box, preserved perfectly as-is, shelved and cataloged, like the spare room was a little Barbie museum. A few Barbies were purchased in duplicate, and the second dolls were removed from their boxes and posed around various Barbie accoutrement—Malibu Barbie and Malibu Ken posed with the Malibu Dream House, Western Barbie riding her golden palomino, Dallas (with brushable hair!), a Barbie for the Corvette and a Barbie for the Jeep.
The impression this left on me was that Barbie was not a toy, Barbie was art. Barbie was observation-only, a small sculpture for display in your spare room. Barbie was to be admired from a distance, Barbie exists in a world that has no need for human interaction. And Barbie was to be learned because there is a wild history of failed and one-off dolls, and let me tell you I YELPED when I saw Michael Cera as the auburn-haired Allan. His character poster says, “There’s only one Allan,” because there was only one! Allan was introduced in 1964 as Ken’s pal and was quickly discontinued because no one gives a sh-t about Ken’s inner life—which seems to be part of the movie’s DNA, too—so he doesn’t need friends. Same for the character poster of Emerald Fennell as Midge, Barbie’s pregnant friend. I remember that early 2000s controversy, parents complaining that a pregnant Barbie doll packaged alone meant Barbie supported “non-traditional” families (in case you thought today’s moral panic was anything new, it’s not).
The inclusion of failed dolls like Allan and Midge makes me wonder what other Barbie one-offs the movie might include. Like…could we see Earring Magic Ken? The fabled early 90s doll was discontinued when Dan Savage, then writing for Seattle’s The Stranger, explained that Ken’s pendant necklace was, in fact, a cock ring, his whole look inadvertently ripped off from the queer club scene. Earring Magic Ken was a record-selling Ken doll—driven largely by gay men buying the doll as a collectible—but it was discontinued and recalled, because of the dust up about the cock ring necklace. I’m already here for Barbie, it looks great in and of itself and it captures so much of my strange second-hand fascination with Barbie, while also embracing the spirit of imaginative play, with all the dolls greeting each other and the “beach off” and Barbie and Ken one step away from mashing their faces together in a plastic, closed-mouth kiss, but the chance of Earring Magic Ken making it to the big screen… It’s delicious to contemplate.