With the “Pink Carpet” premier this weekend, Barbie is set to bring back moviegoing as a thing. If “Top Gun: Maverick” got Netflix junkies to put one foot in the door at the local cinema, “Barbie” promises to have ticketholders sashaying down the aisles.
Hollywood needs this. Hollywood is banking on this.
Barbie has universal appeal. The doll, her entourage and endless accessories are sold in over 150 countries.
Staying power? That too. After 64 years, Barbie continues to be the top-selling doll worldwide with more than a billion sold — 100 every minute. Her Dreamhouse flies off the shelves at the rate of one every two minutes.
It’s been an impressive run with a major motion picture premiere hanging in the balance this weekend.
But can the Mattel magic reach as far as Wyoming?
If the movie industry or the toymaker has fingers crossed about Barbie’s reception in the least populated state in the Union, they should rest easy.
We crunched the numbers.
If a sample size of two — ranging 80 years in age — is to be believed, Barbie is batting .500 in the Cowboy State. And at least one local Barbie booster will be sitting front row Friday when projectors crank to life.
Tianna T., who we will introduce later, likely won’t be alone. Until further notice, expect Wyoming’s signature prairie gold to turn electric pink.
It’s Barbie’s world and we’re all just living our best lives in it.
Box Office Barbie
There are 3,000 fewer screens in America from 2019 pre-pandemic levels. Streaming subscriptions soared during COVID-19 lockdowns and shelter-in-place mandates. The entire movie industry suffered greatly.
Hollywood execs are hoping Barbie-mania will bring a much-needed shot in the arm to the box office.
Far from accepting their demise, cinema operators began pivoting laterally coming out of COVID, investing in basics like sound and picture improvement, with upcycled seating, and enhanced food and beverage offerings. The objective is to improve the baseline experience for moviegoers across the board.
Out of the ashes is a new and improved sleeker version of the local cinema house. As a general rule, 12-screen multiplexes are giving way to triple-screen theatres; 30-screen megaplexes are getting chopped to 10 or so screens, tops; and the streamlining is paying off.
Already the industry is seeing improvements in ticket sales. To date, the 2023 box office has tallied $958.5 million in revenues, up nearly 50% compared to last year and down just 25% from 2019, according to data from Comscore.
This weekend’s take should spike season numbers considerably as “Barbie” will be up against the highly anticipated “Oppenheimer” starring Cillian Murphy in a pink-on-black showdown already being memed “Barbenheimer.”
How big is this project? Mattel agreed to give director Greta Gerwig and her real-life partner and co-writer Noah Baumbach free rein to create the story they wanted despite fears the couple would use the movie as a “woke” platform and attempt to press their admitted pro-feminism agenda.
Quite a leap of faith for Mattel. After all, this is the same toy company that sued Aqua for its “Barbie Girl” song. Which, apparently, will not be in the movie for the lingering bad blood.
The end result, according to several fans who attended pre-screenings, is a Barbie very much about girl power with plenty of glam and glitter ... and pink, of course.
So much pink, the studio created a worldwide shortage of Pantone 219, the specific Barbie shade of the color. Set design was so fantastically technicolor in the style of 1940s old Hollywood musicals (watch for Oscar nominations here) that “Barbie Land” was the favorite hangout for cast members of “Fast and Furious,” which was shooting next door in a London studio.
“'You've never seen so many grown men finding excuses to come to the set,” Margot Robbie (Barbie) told Daily Mail.
Gerwig spared no expense in time or money to bring back a look and feel of vintage Hollywood in its heyday. Shunning CGI for the most part, Barbie’s dream world Malibu set is a physical life-sized version of everything Mattel has ever sold in Barbie accessories.
Life In Plastic, It’s So Fantastic
The first thing Warner Brothers et al had to address is the Barbie image and what it means for generational leagues of blossoming young ladies struggling to find their way into adulthood and into a size 0. And producers, reportedly, tackled it head on.
The movie often makes fun of itself, using comedic relief to address things like Barbie’s perma-molded high heel pedi posture. There are no flat feet in Barbie world.
Face it. Barbie is impossibly snatched — plastic clotheshorse with an infinite rotation of sparkling outfits. Translated into real numbers, the 11.5-inch doll would flesh out to be 5-foot-9 with a 39-inch bust, 18-inch waist and 33-inch hips. She would wear a size 3 shoe.
Barbie-in-the-box might present difficulties that perpetuate an unattainable body image. But Barbie is also an icon. For many girls, she stands for more than her figure. The doll’s venturesome life opens a world of infinite possibilities for young minds.
And talk about female empowerment? Barbie and her friends run the world while men like Ken are mere props.
To its credit, the Mattel machine has responded with expanded ethnicity and varied body types through the years. But no matter the tweaking, fleeking or adjustments to the Roberts family legacy, Barbie remains symbolic of the carefree American teenager living in a perfect plastic bubble protected from real-world ugliness.
Since 1959, that original blonde bombshell prototype continues to connect with all types of people, kids and adults.
Test screenings, including those on men, have been extremely encouraging with an unheard of 95% approval rating. That has Warner Brothers execs already scrambling for a sequel (will Skipper, Stacie and Chelsea fans finally be appeased?).
Barbie Buzz In The Equality State
Cowboy State Daily set out to find two diametrically opposed Barbie fans to get a feel for the Barbie buzz in a state where proper young ladies spend more time in the saddle than in the salon.
Tianna T. is a 7-year-old splitting time between Minnesota and Wyoming. Blonde, sassy, silly— she is the quintessential Barbie-in-waiting. Mattel’s target audience to a “T.”
Contrast Tianna with Gap P. The grizzled 87-year-old cowboy has been an outfitter his entire adult life. During his decades of guiding hunts for bear, elk, sheep, moose, this Jackson Hole mountain man has killed pretty much everything that has walked this earth.
Back To The Movie
Just to see this movie hit the big screen is an achievement. A 2009 Universal Pictures iteration to star comedian Amy Schumer as Barbie went nowhere and eventually sold to SONY. Anne Hathaway reportedly signed on, but the project optioned out and landed with Warner Brothers.
A renewed search for the perfect 19-year-old Barbara Millicent Roberts turned up Margot Robbie, 32. Robbie is joined by Ryan Gosling as lovestruck Ken. Pop icon and model Dua Lipa has a brief role as a blue-haired mermaid Barbie.
The film also features at least seven other ‘Barbies’ including a real-life trans actor (Hari Nef) and a played out version brought to life by comedian Kate McKinnon; as well as several Kens like the swole John Cena, the less swole Michael Cera, and an arch-nemesis Ken hilariously played by Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu.
The movie is narrated by Oscar-winner Helen Mirren. It stars Will Ferrell as the boss of the Mattel Co. and America Ferrera as a human character Gloria.
The movie’s tagline — “She’s everything. He’s just Ken” — pretty much sums up the world’s opinion on the doll franchise.
In fact, Gosling said he accepted the role of Ken after seeing his daughter's Ken doll lying face down in the mud next to a squished lemon. He took a photo of the doll and sent it to director Gerwig with a note saying: "I shall be your Ken. His story must be told."
The movie follows Barbie as she experiences a full-on existential crisis and embarks on a journey of self-discovery into the real world with her boy toy Ken. The pair soon discover life out of plastic is not so fantastic, and beauty is more than skin deep. Barbie learns the harsh reality of flat feet, for instance, as she is chased down by Mattel exec Ferrell who desperately tries to “get that Barbie back in the box.”
Expect plenty of onsite movie marketing at local theatres for the major motion picture premiere of the year on July 21. Thousands of cosplay Barbies will be dressed the part and queuing for a selfie with life-sized cutouts. Do not attempt to adjust your glasses, your popcorn may be pink.