The Barbie Movie – Is It the Biggest Cultural Moment in Toy History?

There have been any number of fads and frenzies in toy history. The Hula Hoop in the 1950s, Rubik’s Cube in the 70s, and Cabbage Patch dolls in the 90s, to name a few. But I cannot recall anything like the support Mattel has garnered for Barbie. I earlier listed 34 companies working with Mattel to support Barbie (“Barbie Makes New Friends – The Gap, Microsoft, and More.”) There is purported to be 100.

Barbie, who has been part of the culture and defined by that culture, has been with us since 1959. Somewhere along the line, Mattel lost control of the narrative and social critics turned Barbie into a cautionary tale for girls. Her body and her ability to be and do anything were perceived as unrealistic and therefor damaging to little girls self-esteem.

How bad did it get? Here is a June 30, 2015 quote from Time Magazine with the headline: “Bye, Bye, Barbie: 2015 Is the Year We Abandon Unrealistic Beauty Ideals.”

It may be time for Mattel to roll out Retirement Barbie. Friday morning, the toymaker announced that the doll’s sales dropped 16% in 2014, marking Barbie’s third consecutive year of falling earnings.

In 2016, Mattel attempted to take back the narrative, introducing new body types and races. The reception was good, and the table was set for the Barbie movie by making the brand far more inclusive. Mothers who in the past complained about Barbie now embrace Barbiecore, which means literally living in a Barbie World.

What is inspiring is that the Barbie Movie is a critical success as well. Here is how CBR describes its reception on Rotten Tomatoes:

Over at Rotten Tomatoes, a flurry of early reviews have come in from approved critics ahead of the release of Barbie in theaters this weekend. As of this point, there have been 57 reviews submitted, and they result in an aggregated approval rating of 93% fresh.

Barbie Debuts Strong at Rotten Tomatoes With Early Reviews, Jeremy Dick, CBR, July 18, 2023

The result is a movie that is capturing the world’s attention and is predicted to be a major box office success. Some are even talking about Mattel, with 45 films purported to be in development, challenging Disney for the family movie crown. Here are some of the movies we can expect from Mattel : American Girl, Magic 8 Ball, Major Matt Mason, Matchbox, Masters of the UniversePolly Pocket, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Uno, and View-Master. 

Kudos to Mattel management and all the folks who work on Barbie for not just turning around a brand but turning Barbie into a global cultural icon and a big box-office, a box-office that may change the very nature of Mattel from a purveyor of toys to a force in Hollywood.

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