Pretty in Pink: Barbie fans detail the important tropes, villains and romances in the Barbie Cinematic Universe

It’s Barbie’s world. We’re just living in it. Illustration by Samm Ruppersberger.
It’s Barbie’s world. We’re just living in it. Illustration by Samm Ruppersberger.

Before Greta Gerwig’s dolls come to life, Letterboxd members who have ranked every animated Barbie movie fill us in on the best songs, funniest villains and hottest cottagecore lesbians in the Mattel fashionista’s universe.

“Barbie movies are always tight as FUCK,” writes Inigio in a four-star review of Barbie as Rapunzel, featuring Anjelica Huston as the voice of Mother Gothel. It’s one of dozens of movies based around Barbie and her friends, with banging ’90s-style soundtracks, famous guest voices (Tim Curry! Martin Short!) and low-key (sometimes high-key) queer sub-plots.

Many Barbie stans argue the best of the animated Barbie films were made during the Elana Lesser and Cliff Ruby years of the early 2000s, with some fans even briefly petitioning Mattel to let the pair write again. (These were also the years when songwriting stalwarts Amy Powers and Rob Hudnet pumped out arguably the biggest Barbie jams.) But it’s another real-life couple who have penned the new live-action Barbie, which is rollerblading its way onto neon-soaked big screens this July. 

Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach are suspected to have drawn inspiration from cinematic gems such as Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and the ‘80s fish-out-of-water rom-com Splash (among other films listed on Margot Robbie’s “Watch for Barbie” Letterboxd list, R.I.P.). That’s to be expected from the filmmakers behind movies such as Frances Ha, Lady Bird, Marriage Story and multiple Wes Anderson collabs.

But Barbie fans will be watching closely in the hopes that the film also honors the tropes, jams and dramatic stakes of the animated Barbie canon. Because, among the many things Letterboxd is good for, it’s watching how members enthusiastically catalog and rank all the Barbie films made so far—and we didn’t have to work too hard to find some of you to talk to about why you’ve watched every Barbie movie, and what, if anything, this experience did for you.

We spoke to Sydney, Zara, Adeola, Cherry, Richard and his podcast co-host/our own video editor, AJ, to better appreciate the mammoth task that Gerwig, Baumbach and their star-studded cast and producers have undertaken.   

Our Investigative Journalist Barbies getting the scoop on Barbie fever.
Our Investigative Journalist Barbies getting the scoop on Barbie fever.

First things first: Why have you watched every Barbie film?
Sydney: The Barbie films have always allowed me a sense of comfort growing up. When I feel like life is going haywire, Barbie is my go-to. It’s the perfect mix of nostalgic animation and good storytelling to cheer me up.

Zara: It was motivated by both love and curiosity; Barbie and her films have been a lifelong interest of mine but which, for several years of my life from late childhood to mid-teens, I hid. However, when I was around sixteen I decided to fully embrace it again, which coincided with me joining Letterboxd and seeing the years of Barbie film installments I’d missed, so I created a list to keep track of them and have been watching and over-analyzing them since.

Adeola: Barbie movies are so much fun. I feel like movies aren’t fun in that way anymore, and even though that may be my nostalgia talking, I think it’s important to have light-hearted movies that don’t take themselves too seriously. Barbie movies are a nice way to escape the stress and craziness of everyday life.

Richard: For my podcast, Cult Popture, where we watch and discuss a different film franchise every episode. Barbie was our white whale for a long time, and when we finally tackled it, it resulted in an eighteen-hour podcast that we had to release in three parts due to file-size limitations, much to our chagrin.

AJ: The mammoth Barbie franchise had been hanging over our heads for years, and in late 2020 we decided to finally tackle it, with guest appearances from comedians and podcasters from all over the world.

Cherry: I used to watch them whenever they were on TV and begged my parents for the DVDs. My favorite was Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus, where you got your own 3D glasses in the package. I think it might’ve introduced me to classic literature like “A Christmas Carol” and “The Three Musketeers”. In my teenage years, being “girly” was seen as a weakness, so I got rid of everything associated with Barbie and pink and so on, even though it brought me so much joy. Once I rekindled my love with Barbie, I was thrilled to see that the BCU (Barbie Cinematic Universe) was still alive and well.

Princess Annika (Barbie) flies high in Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus (2005), featuring a sixteen-year-old Brie Larson singing the theme song, ‘Hope Has Wings’.
Princess Annika (Barbie) flies high in Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus (2005), featuring a sixteen-year-old Brie Larson singing the theme song, ‘Hope Has Wings’.

How have these viewing experiences impacted your life, for better or worse? Adeola: Growing up, most of the movies targeted towards young girls featured a female character as either a love interest or a princess. While many Barbie movies end with her getting married to Ken or some random guy, getting married or falling in love wasn’t her end goal. Love was just something she found along the way to what she really wanted. Barbie movies helped me to grow up valuing myself and my different friendships over a romantic relationship, because at the end of the day, “She’s everything, and he’s just Ken.”

Sydney: Everyone knows me as “the Barbie Girl”, a name I’m quite honored to have! The films still teach me lessons at my eighteen years of age—ones of courage, kindness and teamwork—and each film does it in a unique way. That is why they’re so dear to me.

Cherry: It’s strange that Barbie has given me so much comfort, confidence and security, yet also played a part in my insecurities—and confusion, perhaps. Even though the doll’s history has many, many issues, the point of Barbie was always to show the audience that you can be anything; you can be brave and kind and strong and smart just like Barbie, and still wear a ball gown or a pair of jeans or a crown and kick ass.

Zara: The wonderful friendships I’ve found through a shared interest in Barbie and somehow, subtle notoriety I’ve gained from it on Letterboxd?! I very rarely check my Letterboxd notifications but sometimes, particularly if I’ve written some all-lower-case, thousand-word ramblings, I am always surprised and touched by a couple of positive comments I see, usually a week later. It’s a weird feeling to know that people read, and I suppose, care about my thoughts on what is essentially clever marketing for a children’s toy, but it’s heart-warming and makes me feel better about my own love for them.

Richard: If you had asked me at the time, while watching them over the course of a month and a bit, I would’ve said that it was ruining my life. Now I think it’s the most interesting thing about me. I love meeting people who grew up with the movies and connecting over knowledge of the franchise, who are often bewildered that a 30-year-old man is sharing this interest.

AJ: I think I know a lot more about cheaply animated straight-to-DVD movies made mainly for eight-year-old girls than your average 30-year-old man. While Barbie has been a contentious issue for years in regards to setting weird beauty standards for girls, they’ve pivoted recently to promoting the idea that, just like Barbie, you can be an astronaut or a painter or a musketeer if you want to be. One of the later movies even saw Barbie as a video game coder. I think that’s really cool.

Adeola with just one of her many beloved Barbies.
Adeola with just one of her many beloved Barbies.

In your ranked Barbie watches, what came out on top, and why?
Adeola: Narrowing it down to my top ten was hard enough but narrowing it down to one favorite was absolutely brutal. I put Barbie in A Mermaid Tale in first place, but it could’ve easily been Barbie as The Princess & the Pauper or Barbie: Princess Charm School. I think I put Mermaid as number one because I watched it, like, a billion times when it came out. I was obsessed with it when I was younger (I even had a Merliah Barbie with color-changing pink hair). I also appreciate the fact that she doesn’t have a love interest in both the movie and the sequel.

Sydney: I didn’t even have to check my list to recall my top five: Princess and the Popstar, Fashion Fairy Tale and Princess Charm School, followed by Three Musketeers and A Fairy Secret. This question is a little challenging, actually, since I rewatch so often and they switch around places all the time, but the common theme in all of these (although two of them have heavy romance subplots) is friendship. For so long I’ve been told that the “normal thing” for girls to do is to fall in love, get married. These films highlight friendship more than romantic relationships in a world where that’s a radical take.

Cherry: Barbie in The 12 Dancing Princesses has always been my go-to, and it’s still just as magical. I love how the sisters all have their own little interests and quirks, so that everyone watching will most likely find one they can resonate with. I especially connected with the triplets, being the youngest sibling myself. Also, Rowena is by far one of the best BCU villains—equal parts evil and hilarious!

Richard: Barbie and the Diamond Castle. It’s a beautiful, queer, polyamorous love story and has, in my opinion, the best music in the franchise. It’s the platonic ideal of a Barbie movie, but with a fun extra layer of queer subtext.

AJ: A lot of the more recent films have improved in animation quality; some were about space travel or spies or superheroes and other things which tend to appeal to the little boy that I secretly still am. However, if we’re talking the best Barbies, we’re talking Princess & the Pauper and Diamond Castle—both are musicals with legitimately good Renaissance Disney-eque sound-alike songs, and both feel like a little more time and effort were put into them.

Zara: I find ranking to typically be an arbitrary exercise, personally, as art is so subjective. However, hypocritically, I have one ranked list and it is for adaptations of The Nutcracker, and Barbie in The Nutcracker does hold the top spot.

Barbie in The Nutcracker (2001): many fans’ gateway into Barbie Land.
Barbie in The Nutcracker (2001): many fans’ gateway into Barbie Land.

What are your Barbie hot takes?
Sydney: I’ll stick to two so I don’t get jumped but... NOT EVERY BARBIE FILM IS GAY! There are some films that have very heavy queer messaging, whether they were intentional in the studio or not and I think they’re all beautifully written. But also beautifully written are the films that highlight genuine friendship and bonds between girls just growing and learning together.

Secondly, the better switcheroo film is Barbie: The Princess & the Popstar, NOT The Princess & the Pauper. This one is going to get me in trouble, I know, but the reused ‘To Be A Princess/Popstar’ theme is even better in the remake! In The Princess & the Pauper it breaks my heart that Erika had the chance to sing for the world and still came back for a man. In The Princess & the Popstar, our prince is SIDELINED! The film is all about our girls having fun together, but then it also comments on classism and corruption in a really delicate way. It’s a work of art.

Adeola: I know so many people that don’t like Princess & the Popstar simply because it’s “ripping off” Princess & the Pauper. I understand being nostalgic and having preferences, but I think it received way too much hate. I have another hot take that literally no one agrees with: I don’t really understand the hype around Bibble. Like, yeah, he’s a cute little character, but I just don’t get the cult following he has or the role he plays in meme culture. He has some really funny moments, but I just don’t get why so many people are obsessed with him the way they are.

Zara: I think Barbie and The Diamond Castle is better than Citizen Kane, personally (and Citizen Kane is a phenomenal film, obviously—don’t get mad at me, fellow Letterboxd citizens). I also believe that Mattel fumbled the bag extremely with Barbie: Star Light Adventure. There could have been a real investment in “girly sci-fi”, especially when you consider the influence of the 1965 and 1985 Astronaut Barbies, as well as the 2010s pull away from the high femme appearances of the dolls—particularly the hot pink Barbie look of the 2000s—and the push for more “normal” Barbies, in roles that are typically not traditional for women to be represented in. Star Light Adventure feels like wasted potential with this context in mind.

Cherry: There seems to be this idea that the newer movies are bad, and I strongly disagree with that sentiment. I think movies like Barbie: Princess Charm School, Barbie: Spy Squad and Star Light Adventure expand Barbie’s scope on genres and trends, while still having that same magic I always sought out as a child. I love how the Netflix Barbie movies include her sisters, as well! Besides that, I personally think the Fairytopia trilogy does not deserve as much hype as it gets. I loved Barbie Fairytopia: Mermaidia (I love mermaids), but I think having the same villain three times got old pretty quickly. I always preferred the Mariposa movies, myself!

Richard: The Barbie Diaries not only isn’t bad, it’s one of the best films in the franchise. The early films, like Nutcracker, are nowhere near as good as what comes later, and people only think they’re good because of nostalgia.

AJ: According to my Letterboxd stats, I’ve seemingly rated every Barbie movie lower than average, so I guess that counts as a hot take?

Barbie in Barbie: Star Light Adventure takes one small step for “girly sci-fi”.
Barbie in Barbie: Star Light Adventure takes one small step for “girly sci-fi”.

What is your favorite trope in a Barbie movie and why?
Adeola: My favorite trope is when Barbie finds out that she was a princess at the end of a movie. That piece of information somehow manages to resolve any remaining conflicts or plot holes. This happens in Princess Charm School, Barbie as Rapunzel and Barbie as the Island Princess. Although this plot twist is usually very obvious, it makes rewatching the movie more interesting because you have more context and a different lens to look at it through. In the scene in Barbie as the Island Princess when we find out that Ro is a princess, Ro and her mother sing ‘Right Here in My Heart’ as a duet and the harmonies are so beautiful. When this trope is done right, it is so good and so effective.

Sydney: I love when Barbie films touch on discovering and learning more about oneself. To see her struggle and even cry about trying to do too much at once or not understanding what she’s trying to do is so validating, and to see her work things out by the end is a little message of hope for the viewer.

Zara: I do love a good romance between Barbie and her Ken-insert, particularly because Ken is a bit of a flop. Just a nice guy whose job (sometimes literally, as is the case in the series Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse) is to love and care for Barbie like he’s her trophy boy. I think that Barbie in The Nutcracker’s Prince Eric set the tone for all future Kens because he was following that ideal model of the fairy-tale prince: he has a curse, he’s charming but a little sad ’cause he’s kind of cringe-fail, but his heart is good and he loves Barbie. Also, makeovers. I’m just a classic girly-girl at heart. I love a good outfit wardrobe change.

Richard: My answer to this is because of how it’s subverted. In a lot of the films, especially the early ones, Barbie tells a story in modern day and we see that story acted out with Barbie in the lead role. For Barbie in A Christmas Carol, the Ebenezer Scrooge insert, Eden Starling, looks like Barbie but is played by a different actress—presumably because they didn’t want people to see Barbie as the curmudgeon from the first half of Dickens’ opus.

Cherry: I know many Barbie pets have been meme-fied to oblivion, but I still love how her pets and animal friends have so much impact on the plot—sometimes even more than Barbie herself. Besides, in what other movie would you ever see a cat that barks?

Erika (Barbie) sings ‘The Cat’s Meow’ to her barking cat, Wolfie, in Barbie as The Princess & the Pauper (2004).
Erika (Barbie) sings ‘The Cat’s Meow’ to her barking cat, Wolfie, in Barbie as The Princess & the Pauper (2004).

What kind of dramatic stakes can we expect from a Barbie film?
Sydney: I like how a lot of the Barbie stakes are the loss of friendships. Rough patches are so real, and Mattel doesn’t treat every relationship like a walk in the park even though these are technically children’s films. Each film shows you can work things out in some way or another, and they don’t often go for the miscommunication trope (the worst trope in history), so I think they’re all good lessons, too.

Zara: The dramatic stakes of Barbie films have shifted and evolved slightly over the years, as we’ve been through four different eras of Barbie films at this stage. I’d argue all of them, to some extent, follow the hero’s journey format: you will have Barbie, our heroine, face off against a threat of some kind, and she’ll save the day. Sometimes romance is also involved, sometimes it’s just about friendship or “friendship”—wink-wink.

With the 2001-2009 and 2010-2015 era of films, there was also typically a much more clearly defined villain that Barbie would face. Now in the 2017-onwards era, the villain role is less literal and, if there is one, they’re more sympathetic and not a genuine harmful threat, which I think has been a consequence of Barbie’s entire animated output pivoting towards more slice-of-life, low-stakes television.

Richard: Usually it’s something to do with worrying that someone will find out that two unrelated but identical looking people will be found out that they switched.

AJ: It’s either all or nothing: in some films the stakes are like, ‘Barbie might not make it to the dance rehearsal in time,’ and in others it’s like, ‘If Barbie fails, she will forever be trapped in a surreal dream world where she’ll never die but never be able to escape.’

Adeola: You can expect to see Barbie saving someone from an antagonist. In most movies, she has to make extreme judgment calls and life-changing decisions quickly. In the new film, I imagine her biggest struggle would be deciding whether she should return to Barbie Land or stay in the real world.

Cherry: Believing in yourself, and that you can be and do anything you put your mind to. Besides that, the Barbie movie plots are usually pretty bonkers, especially films such as The Island Princess. But hey, she’d beat Tom Hanks from Cast Away in a fight any day!

What is the best Barbie jam?
Adeola: Barbie movies always have killer soundtracks. The movies from the 2000s definitely have the music; the lyricism and orchestration are gorgeous in the older movies. My favorite songs would have to be ‘Free’ from Princess & the Pauper and ‘Need to Know’ from Barbie as The Island Princess.

Richard: ‘Two Voices, One Song’ from Diamond Castle. There’s a rock version available, too, which slaps. Also, ‘I Wish I Had Her Life’ is an underrated song from Princess & the Popstar, a later entry in the franchise.

Sydney: It’s obviously the entire Princess Charm School soundtrack and Fashion Fairytale soundtrack. They both live in my Spotify liked songs and they hit. EVERY. TIME!

Zara: I have to be cliché: in terms of original output, it’s ‘I Am a Girl Like You’ from Princess & the Pauper. It’s an immaculate piece of musical theater. In terms of non-original output, Sharon Lewis’ cover of The Beatles’ ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance with You’ from Barbie and the Rockers: Out of this World is such a banger—I wish it was the full song.

AJ: I’d say it’s ‘I Am a Girl Like You’, though I do wanna shout out these lyrics from Pauper’s opening song, ‘Free’, where Princess Anneleise (played by Barbie) sings: “You would think that I’m so lucky that I have so many things. I’m realizing that every present comes with strings.’

Cherry: This question is torture! Genevieve and Derek dancing to ‘Shine’ in The 12 Dancing Princesses is one of my favorite scenes, ever. The melody is so beautiful, and when they start soaring up into the sky with all the flowers glowing around them, I think it could still make me cry to this day. I love ‘On Top of the World’ from Princess Charm School and ‘Keep on Dancing’ from Barbie in the Pink Shoes. Those are by far my favorites in terms of lyrics.

Rowena and her baggage in Barbie in The 12 Dancing Princesses (2006).
Rowena and her baggage in Barbie in The 12 Dancing Princesses (2006).

What qualities make an ideal Barbie villain?
Sydney: Jealousy in a Barbie villain is going to hit every single time. Jacqueline? Eris? Bro, Mother Gothel?! Jealousy ties into every Barbie villain’s motives in one way or another, whether it be for power, love, riches. It’s worth it to add that although each villain usually has a “gotcha” moment, not all of them turn around and say sorry for their actions. Now that is realistic villain writing.

Adeola: They’re usually wealthy, self-absorbed, stuck-up and cruel to their lackeys. Most of them speak very nasally or in a high-pitched voice.

Cherry: The humor in them lies in how massive their failure is. You have to be a perfect mixture of Rowena from 12 Dancing Princess—where her evil is balanced out by absurd humor, not necessarily because we’re supposed to find her funny, but because she’s so overdramatic in her scheming—and a ridiculous talking monkey who steals ballet shoes.

Zara: Modern Barbie suffers from a similar problem to modern Disney: where’s the fun, where’s the camp, you know? The best Barbie villains are from the 2001-2009 era, such as Tim Curry’s The Mouse King, Anjelica Huston’s Gothel, Kelsey Grammar and Maggie Wheeler’s father-daughter duo of Rothbart and Odile, Martin Short as Preminger. The qualities of an ideal Barbie villain are defined as one who represents everything Barbie does not stand for—limitations, greed, meanness, misogyny, etc.—which is why the villains of the 2001-2009 era are still so iconic and memorable. Plus, they all had a great celebrity voice actor behind them.

Richard: The voice of Tim Curry.

AJ: You gotta go total evil. You need to contrast the relentless optimism of Barbie with the most despicable, rotten, evil villains. I hope the Greta Gerwig movie has a truly repugnant villain.

It’s Nina (Natalie Portman) vs Krystin (Barbie) in a Black Swan (2010)/Pink Shoes (2013) showdown. 
It’s Nina (Natalie Portman) vs Krystin (Barbie) in a Black Swan (2010)/Pink Shoes (2013) showdown. 

Which film would win in a fight between Black Swan and Barbie in the Pink Shoes?
Adeola: Barbie in the Pink Shoes. Easily. She’s literally Barbie, and in this movie, she has incredible stamina and strength. Barbie defeats the Snow Queen with sheer will and, mid-fight, she takes a break to change into a completely different outfit. Barbie beats her so badly that the Snow Queen turns into a puff of smoke. Black Swan is just some girl. Barbie is Barbie.

Richard: Barbie in the Pink Shoes.

AJ: Barbie in the Pink Shoes is, believe it or not, a multiverse movie, which I think would come out on top—at least at the box office—in today’s multiverse-obsessed pop cultural landscape.

Sydney: I admit I haven’t seen Black Swan because horror films freak me out. I’m going to have to go with Pink Shoes here. Natalie Portman doesn’t have sparkling shoes, does she?

Cherry: Pink Shoes, obviously. I’m probably biased since I never liked Black Swan and I’ve never been a fan of Darren Aronofsky in general. In the Pink Shoes was an amazing ode to ballet, and I loved every second of it, even though I’ve never danced myself. It also has so many good Easter eggs for those of us who grew up with Barbie!

Zara: I hate to say it, but Black Swan. Barbie in the Pink Shoes was a bit disappointing to me—I thought it kind of failed to properly pay tribute to the original incomplete Barbie Tchaikovsky trilogy (Nutcracker, Swan Lake). But in terms of their lead characters? Barbie in the Pink Shoes’ Kristyn would absolutely beat Black Swan’s Nina Sayers. Nina is such a goddamn mess; that girl needs psychological help and a good support system, and I know Kristyn would provide that for her. She’d help a girl out.

They finally gave Barbie swords for her most feminist animated installment, Barbie and the Three Musketeers (2009).
They finally gave Barbie swords for her most feminist animated installment, Barbie and the Three Musketeers (2009).

Who is your favorite Barbie? Is it Goth Barbie or Sarcastic Barbie or Feral Barbie or another Barbie altogether?
Zara: Those are all great choices, but my favorite Barbie is Swan Barbie, aka Odette, from Barbie of Swan Lake. My girl has a little bit of anxiety, and it takes a little bit longer for her to be brave compared to her fellow Barbies. I just love her kindness and her dress.

Adeola: Goth Barbie, because I love the shopping montage in A Mermaid Tale where she becomes goth for a minute. I also adore the pink streaks in Merliah’s hair.

Richard: BLM Barbie.

Sydney: It’s gonna have to be Feminist Barbie in Barbie and the Three Musketeers for me. Corinne and the girls spend the whole film just showing off and challenging norms, and me personally, I love that.

AJ: The best Barbies are the ones that are most similar to her canon characterization; it’s when the films want to have a slightly altered protagonist that things get a bit weird. Barbie as The Island Princess always stuck out as a weird one to me: Barbie is essentially filling the role of Tarzan, but because Tarzan is traditionally the opposite character archetype to Barbie, I felt like this film didn’t make sense. You’re supposed to have this feral jungle Barbie, but she still speaks and acts like a classy gal.

Cherry: Barbie’s character in Barbie: The Pearl Princess is probably closest to Feral Barbie, and the only exception to her always being compassionate in all her movies. She argues with her animal friend quite a lot in this movie, and I think it was fun, maybe refreshing, to see her be a little cocky and unlikable. It made her character development all the better!

Alexandra Shipp (third from the left) is Writer Barbie in the new Barbie.
Alexandra Shipp (third from the left) is Writer Barbie in the new Barbie.

Which Barbie/Ken are you?
Adeola: Writer Barbie. I love to read, and I’m so excited to see more of that character in the film. I am a huge, huge fan of Alexandra Shipp, and she plays Writer Barbie in the movie. I wish I could say that I would be Raquelle, but I’m not as incredible or powerful as she is. If I was any version of Raquelle, it would be from Barbie: A Fairy Secret, not Life in the Dreamhouse, because no one can be as Raquelle as Raquelle is in Life in the Dreamhouse.

Sydney: Is it too much to say Blair/Sophia from Princess Charm School? She starts out doubtful but open to learning a new style of living in order to make life better for those she loves. She feels like giving up halfway through, but she sticks with it and is better because of it. I can think of so, so many times I’ve seen myself in Blair Willows.

Zara: I would love to say I’m like my fave Odette from Barbie of Swan Lake, but I think I’m more of a flop. I’m like if Ken was a girl-fail lesbian, so probably a bit more of a Prince Eric, an Aidan, somewhere on that cringe-fail Ken spectrum.

AJ: I wanna be one of those scuba diving Barbies where, if you hold their legs under cold/hot water, they change from bare legs to wetsuit legs. That always looked like magic to me. In researching for the podcast, I learned that toy technology is actually super impressive with innovative stuff like that.

Cherry: My dream is to be the Clara Barbie from The Nutcracker. In the movie, she goes on this great adventure and discovers how brave and resilient she is—all in slippers and a nightgown, by the way. I’d like to think my own Barbie style icon is the R2D2 Barbie, from the Star Wars-inspired doll collection!

Richard: Hairy Ken.

“Help us, Greta Gerwig. You’re our only hope.”
“Help us, Greta Gerwig. You’re our only hope.”

What is the gayest Barbie movie and why is it The Diamond Castle?
Adeola: Barbie and the Diamond Castle is so gay. They live in a cottage together, sell flowers and their dresses are the lesbian and bi-pride flags.

Zara: Absolutely, The Diamond Castle is the definitive gayest Barbie film. There’s a lot of elements of the Barbie films which inherently lend themselves to a queer, particularly sapphic reading. As a product of the 2001-2009 era output, it follows the now near-standard Barbie format of the fairy-tale/fantasy with the narrative entirely built around the relationship between the film’s leads Liana (Barbie) and Alexa (Teresa). They have entire musical numbers about their love for each other, such as the song ‘Connected’, which is a banger.

Sydney: Alexa and Liana literally fight like lovers. They live the Twitter cottagecore fantasy. It seriously feels like they slipped the words “friends” in the script because of fear of backlash.

Richard: For a time, Wikipedia even listed Liana and Alexa’s relationship as a “friendship” in quotes, making Diamond Castle the obvious answer. Although, shoutout to the surprisingly sapphic Three Musketeers.

AJ: What more can I say that hasn’t already been said? There’s all sorts of rainbow imagery in it, and the two male characters who you think might be the love interests for the two main Barbies are basically written out of the story towards the end.

Zara: As a lesbian Barbie lover, there has been no representation for myself or others in my community within Barbie, so I think many of us found representation within the subtextual, and we have rallied around it for how insanely obvious it is.

Cherry: Diamond Castle will always be gay to me. The men were useless, the day was saved by the power of friendship (homosexuality), and the girls went straight back to living in their little cottage in the woods instead of the giant magical castle. They’re absolutely in love.

Adeola: I also think Barbie: A Fashion Fairytale had so much potential to be gay. There is a lot of tension between Barbie and Alice (Marie-Alecia), but instead of pursuing that, they made Ken’s journey to find Barbie the movie’s subplot. We could’ve had a movie about Barbie being gay in Paris, but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be.

“Alexa’s (Teresa) dress being the bisexual flag colors and Liana’s (Barbie) being the lesbian flag ones just give it AWAY!” —Sydney
“Alexa’s (Teresa) dress being the bisexual flag colors and Liana’s (Barbie) being the lesbian flag ones just give it AWAY!” —Sydney

What is the most problematic Barbie movie and why is it Swan Lake?
Richard: I initially scoffed at this suggestion, thinking, ‘It’s not Barbie of Swan Lake; it’s the one with Rothbart voiced by Kelsey Grammer who is a very offensive Jewish caricature’. I then realized that that film is Swan Lake.

Sydney: The Barbie community rarely ever talks about this. Swan Lake is so visually appealing, and the age-old story is told really well (or as well as a weird story like that could be told), but then our villains are drawn with distinct anti-Semitic characteristics. I understand it was one of the earlier films, but I don’t really grant that an excuse.

Cherry: Swan Lake is probably one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen, looking back on it as an adult. All aspects, like the villains and the woodland creatures that turn into humans… I cannot fathom why Mattel decided to take these creative decisions. Also, it all happens in a matter of what, three days?

Zara: Barbie of Swan Lake is my favorite Barbie film; I have loved it since I was three or four years old, and [inspired] my username on Letterboxd and other social media, so it holds a lot of meaning to me, personally. Someone pointed out that Swan Lake does play into a lot of anti-Semitic tropes; I agree with that, and it should be criticized. In good faith towards the production team of the film, I don’t believe this was intentional, but rather an unfortunate side-effect of engaging with fairy tale tropes and character designs that were built on and influenced by these pre-existing anti-Semitic ideas. It’s something that should be engaged with and discussed, and hopefully by people who are better equipped than myself as a non-Jewish person.

AJ: It’s definitely there, but it was also in plenty of Disney films and things around the time as well. I’m not sure how intentional this would have been, and it’s certainly something I think the modern, progressive Barbie movies would have caught and changed before release.

Adeola: I think Barbie as the Island Princess is very problematic, too. It’s very pro-colonialism, and watching it back, it just feels weird.

Princess Anneliese (Barbie) plays with her non-barking cat, Serafina.
Princess Anneliese (Barbie) plays with her non-barking cat, Serafina.

What’s the best Barbie movie and why is it Barbie as The Princess & the Pauper, which is based on the 1881 Mark Twain novel and is the highest rated Barbie film on Letterboxd?
Cherry: I respectfully disagree, since The 12 Dancing Princesses will always be the gold standard to me. But The Princess & The Pauper is an excellent musical, and definitely made the concept of Barbie being an actress in her own cinematic universe—with all the meta elements—so much stronger and well established.

Sydney: Don’t ask me! It’s not even in my top ten!

Zara: I think it is largely considered the best Barbie film because of just how incredibly well structured it is. It comes in at a very tight 85 minutes, and manages to deliver multiple great plot-driven musical numbers, delicately balancing two very great romances with an iconic voice performance from Martin Short as Preminger. It is a genuinely great, fun musical film, and a better musical then some of the stuff that’s made it to Broadway. I would stand by that.

AJ: It’s hard to explain exactly, but this one just feels like the closest they ever got to emulating a Disney film. The songs are great, the characters are fun and the story is based on a fairytale that has yet to be given the Disney blockbuster treatment. I think it’s clear that a lot more care was put into this one, and it’ll always be The Godfather of the franchise.

Adeola: Princess & the Pauper is an objectively good movie. Putting aside my bias towards A Mermaid Tale, if there was one movie that could make any Barbie hater a fan, it would be this one. The music, the plot and the characters are all so good. It was Barbie’s first-ever movie musical, and I don’t know if there has been one since then that has a soundtrack that is better.

Richard: Another hot take: it’s not Princess & the Pauper. Forgetting the Barbie connection, Barbie & Her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure is actually a really decent movie. I could quite happily watch it at 7pm on local television on a Saturday.

Did you play with Barbie (or Ken) growing up?
Sydney: Yes, I did! I’ve always said my collector spirit started with Barbie dolls, since at eleven-years-old I already owned 53. I’ve moved around a lot, so unfortunately I don’t have them anymore.

Adeola: I totally did! I have tons tucked away at my parents’ house.

Zara with her Swan Lake and MJ Barbies.
Zara with her Swan Lake and MJ Barbies.

Zara: Absolutely! I had so many Barbies growing up. I would first spend ages setting up my little house (sadly I never owned a dream house; we couldn’t afford it), and then, only when the entire set was ready—from a little blanket on the plastic bed to cups in the kitchen—would I enact storylines with my Barbies. And Kens. Ken wasn’t left out of playtime, but he was sidelined in favor of me making my two Barbies kiss. But Ken is an ally, so he understood.

AJ: My younger sibling had a bunch of Barbies, which I’d occasionally play around with when I was a kid. We had a couple of Action Man action figures, too, so our Barbies were usually dating him instead of Ken—until he’d cheat on Barbie with a Bratz doll.

Cherry: I pretty much grew up with Barbie! I think Barbie played a crucial part in both figuring out my sexuality and my gender identity. As soon as I hit puberty, I entered my angsty teenage phase: I got rid of everything pink, everything with glitter, you name it. As an adult, I really do regret that decision. It was tough cutting off a major part of my life, but it ended up giving me confidence and making me comfortable in being nonbinary. I realized that I could be a princess and love pink and still be exactly who I am. My dream is to own my own edition of “Earring Magic Ken”, as well as any doll from the Star Wars collection. After all, it’s a combination of two of the things I love the most.

Richard: I was an Action Man kid.

What are your greatest hopes for the live action Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie as a Barbie, which opens worldwide in cinemas on July 21, 2023?
Sydney: More than anything, I hope it dives into similarities to the original doll, which I’m already seeing with hands on car wheels and shoes stepping out of heels. Only going off the trailer, it seems like it’s going to be really good nostalgia bait—and I can’t wait to bite.

Richard: That there will be some kind of reference to Bibble or Shiver or something that I can recognize and feel like I didn’t waste all that time.

AJ: I am very much looking forward to the movie. I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek nature of it, and the colorful, campy tone it is unapologetically going for. I’m a little worried it’s gonna be too meta—another The Lego Movie clone which goes, ‘What if a Barbie doll found out about the real world?’ but I’m sure there are still interesting ways it could go with that.

Zara: My greatest hope is that it is authentic to Barbie and everything her character means: her kindness, her bravery, her cleverness, her femininity, her unwavering ideal that she can do anything and can have it all. Anything more than that is a bonus. I have a lot of faith in Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie to do right by this long, complex and treasured history of the character.

Cherry: The trailer and Greta Gerwig’s past works gives me the idea that she’ll continue to create stories about girlhood and womanhood, and that Barbie’s plot will definitely be a coming-of-age kind of story. That would definitely resonate with my own struggles with my identity. Also, I very much hope Mattel will be portrayed as a villain here, given Will Ferrell’s role.

Adeola: I just want it to have the same light-hearted and joyful energy that typifies any Barbie movie. I hope that they keep the importance of female friendships central to the message. I hope that it’s empowering to viewers regardless of their gender or way of gender expression. I also hope to see some bold and fun wardrobe choices. I think the casting for this movie is so good, and I’m beyond excited to watch it!

If you were invited to submit a treatment for a Barbie movie, what would your one-line pitch be?
Zara: Barbie Halloween Special. I think it would be spectacular, something that would be in line with Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King. It baffles me how Barbie has done two Christmas films but never a Halloween film, and it makes me wonder if Mattel avoided it so as to not compete with Monster High’s branding, as they started releasing films in the 2010s.

The 2008 Black Label ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds’ (1963) Barbie.
The 2008 Black Label ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds’ (1963) Barbie.

Cherry: I like the idea of Barbie as a film noir detective, a private investigator, maybe as a side-hustle to her regular princess duties. Also, how has Barbie not been in a horror movie yet? The Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds-edition Barbie doll is already there!

Richard: I would pitch that we bring back William Lau to inject the signature Lau style back into the franchise. Also, Multiverse Barbie feels like an inevitability.

AJ: Across the Barbie-Verse.

Adeola: Barbie realizes that life in plastic isn’t always fantastic.

Sydney: Raquelle solo movie.

‘Barbie’ is in theaters worldwide July 21. 

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