HomeEntertainmentWhy we can’t look away from the ‘Barbie’ movie’s fever-dream-like trailer

Why we can’t look away from the ‘Barbie’ movie’s fever-dream-like trailer


If you didn’t play with Barbie, you knew someone who did. That’s the leap of faith by the creators of the Barbie movie, who filled the film’s visually striking world with the toy’s iconic accessories and settings: roller blades, cars, perfect pink doll houses and the beach.

The second trailer for Warner Brothers first live-action Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie, released to a huge response Tuesday.

Some are curious about the film’s world-building. Others are captivated by the humor, and many are probably watching the trailer out of nostalgia. Then there are the actual fans of Barbie, an American icon who was created in 1959 by Ruth Handler, who later co-founded the toy manufacturing company Mattel. Film and media experts said that the 105-second trailer is polysemic — with each demographic interpreting the hyperbolic visuals using their own unique lens and finding meaning in it.

“It’s a hyper-real version of reality, an exaggeration of what we imagine to be the trappings of girl worlds and the Barbie aesthetic,” Samantha N. Sheppard, a professor of cinema and media studies at Cornell University, said of director Greta Gerwig’s hyper-saturated, bright, technicolor world. “But at the same time, it’s completely aware of its exaggerated aesthetic, and that’s how you know the creators are in on the joke.”

The joke, Sheppard said, is that historically Barbie has been criticized for being too feminine, too exclusionary, “for being a representation of white womanhood.” And here she is in this trailer, an exaggerated parody of herself, in a world filled with Barbies and Kens of all shapes, sizes, colors and professions.

However, while the cast does appear to be inclusive, the center of the universe is still a white Barbie, desirable in a very specific way, being hailed as the idea of perfection, Sheppard said.

“We would have to see where the plot goes, before we can deem it inclusive,” she said.

Barbie has a sense of humor

Humor in the trailer plays a big role in pulling audiences, media experts said.

To make Barbie funny, you have to understand her legacy and how she was castigated for not keeping up with the times, said Rebecca Hains, a professor of media and communication at Salem State University and author of “The Princess Problem.”

The trailer appears to deal with that critique by creating a list of the world’s exaggeratedly impressive jobs for all the Barbies in the film: award-winning book author and president are some examples.

“The sense of humor works because Barbie is a legacy brand and the filmmakers understood that,” she said. “And the scene when Ken asks Barbie for a sleepover and she asks ‘To do what?’ is hilarious in a more obvious way.”

Haines notes that children’s movies have a long history of jokes that kids wouldn’t understand and keep adults engaged.

Some experts said the trailer used nostalgia as well, paying homage to the ’90s version of Barbie, capitalizing on millennials reminiscing about playing with the dolls and baby boomer’s memories of watching their children play with them.

“You can’t look at the Ken that Ryan Gosling is playing and tell me that is not the Earring Magic Ken from 1992,” said M.G. Lord, the author of “Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll.” “He has the lavender vest and the whole look.”

Earring Magic Ken was Mattel’s attempt at making Ken cool by coiffing his hair, piercing his left ear and adding a controversial necklace.

“To see him return to screen completely blew me away,” Lord said. “This movie really is all about fantasy, and that’s why people are excited.”

Other experts, however, maintained that Barbie from the trailer is a product of this era, not a throwback.

“The trailer is hyper-aware of the current moment in visual culture,” Sheppard said. “The film knows that its consumers are self-aware, self-obsessed and a product of the ‘Get ready with me’ moment of pop culture.”

“Get ready with me” videos on social media involve influencers picking out outfits, doing their makeup, making their hair — it’s only a few steps away from how children play with Barbies, Sheppard said.

Barbie is one of the few blockbuster toys that has survived by constantly reimagining itself but also staying true to Handler’s vision of Barbie: someone who must follow the trends of her era.

Carol Spencer, a fashion designer for Barbie from 1963 to 1998 and the author of “Dressing Barbie,” said the visuals in the trailer are “very fun and very current.”

“The visual elements and aesthetics of the trailer are today,” she said. “Barbie changed as we changed, subtle changes tweaked yesterday’s Barbie into today’s Barbie. She kept up with the trends.”

One personality trait of Barbie, iconic to her world, is her pink color palette.

“We may not know that we recognize Barbie pink, but we do,” Haines said. “It’s a very specific shade of pink and we have all seen it on the merchandising and that evokes memories for audiences.”

For the first decade of Barbie’s life, “fuchsia pink was not a thing in the original Barbie universe,” Lord said. “The toxic fuschia pink entered her world in the 1970s.”

That may be why Barbie, and the film, embraced the color so wholeheartedly: It’s impossible to look away.

Even apart from the Barbie pink, almost every frame in the trailer is oversaturated with color, and some experts think this could be a hint to the plot.

“Everything is perfect in this oversaturated world, and that could be a hint that something sinister is lurking under this pristine, white world,” Sheppard said.

The one-line description of the trailer also hints that everything and everyone is perfect in Barbie Land, unless someone has a “full-on existential crisis.”

“Yeah, maybe she will go into a spiral,” Sheppard said. “Bad b—-es can have bad days too.”

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