As a child, I was always enthralled by toy commercials, especially, those for action figures. They all had a similar format of children manipulating dolls within little plastic sets (usually replicas of castles, caves, and dungeons that may or may not be sold separately).There was always a cutaway of a slack-jawed kid in disbelief at how awesome the figures were.As a child, these carefully constructed scenes felt immersive and fun and made me want the toy of course! That was the point after all.
I think a lot of us have special relationships with toys.Boomers were the first generation of children from the burgeoning (and since obsolete) middle class to benefit from their parents' disposable income.This combined with the development of cheap production methods and the advent of plastic and rubber, saw an entire industry born specifically targeted to youths.It started with magazine ads and quickly moved over to the TV screen where Saturday morning cartoons became launching off points for products marketed directly to kids.More often than not those products were toys.
I believe Boomers wanted for their children what they pined for as youths themselves.Toys, toys, and more toys.As a child, I spent countless hours after school and on the weekends playing with my X-Men and Power Rangers figurines. There’s a familiar, sentimental feeling even now as I recall those early formative years with my collection of play items.A feeling successfully captured in Toy Story.
Which brings me to Barbie.This movie could have easily been a bust.It could have turned into a poor, shallow, uninteresting dud.Or been a mess of an IP (intellectual property) adapted for the screen.There’s a reason you don’t remember titles like GI Joe and Power Rangers. Then there are those you wish you could forget like the Transformers sequels and Masters of the Universe (that’s right. A deep dive and one that I actually kind of appreciate in its own way).
This is different.Written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, Barbie is a thought-provoking, highly original film.It acts somewhat like a trojan horse: taking a popular brand and infusing it with deeper ideas. It tackles heavier topics in a way that is not burdensome for the audience or preachy in intent.There’s a lightness throughout, both in color and tone, that simply makes serious subjects like toxic masculinity, objectification of women, and the drab effects of commercialism easier to digest and comprehend.
This movie is also a spectacle.A high budget visual feast for the eyes.Barbie is filled with big dance numbers, large colorful set pieces, bright costumes, beautiful people, and catchy original songs.In a way, it’s a throwback to the old musicals from Hollywood’s past like Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz and An American in Paris.While those films largely lacked the irony embedded in Barbie, they were at their core monumental cinematic events with size, ambition, and visual flare. Much of it being live-action (like the aforementioned toy commercials).