Dolls on Film: 6 Shows and Films to Watch Before You See Barbie

Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie, a documentary directed and produced by Andrea Nevins, takes an inside look at Mattel’s struggle in recent years to adapt its flagship product to a changing world.
Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie, a documentary directed and produced by Andrea Nevins, takes an inside look at Mattel’s struggle in recent years to adapt its flagship product to a changing world. Courtesy of Mattel
Barbie is coming. After years in development, the movie based on the iconic fashion doll will finally be released next summer, and film buffs can hardly contain themselves.

No, this is not a bit or a meme. There is genuine hype surrounding this kids' movie, and when you look at the team behind it, it’s easy to see why. From the moment Academy Award nominees Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie were signed on to direct and star, respectively, fans realized there may be more to this project than meets the eye.

The plot is still being kept under wraps, but the Barbie teaser trailer, which affirmatively answers the question of whether a camp Stanley Kubrick homage can be done successfully, has made it clear: This is Barbie’s world and we are all just Barbie girls living in it.

Those who want to get serious about Barbie's cultural influence and delve into the history of her unrealistic body proportions and enviable life, can check out the documentary Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie. But some of us just want to get lost in a fantasy valley of the dolls sometimes.

For those ready to live life in plastic, here are some Barbie and Barbie-adjacent films and shows to mentally prepare for what will surely be the cinematic event of 2023.

1. The original Barbie movies (all 40 of them)

As anyone who grew up in the early 2000s or any time before that can tell you, Barbie is hardly Barbie’s first film role. Mattel has spent the past 20 years building a sprawling direct-to-video cinematic universe that sees their main girl playing princesses, mermaids and, in a meta twist, herself as an actor in a world where all of these movies exist. The Barbie-verse is a major undertaking, and even dedicated completists may have trouble sitting through more forgettable entries like Barbie Diaries. If you just want the gist of Barbie’s range, we suggest checking out Barbie of Swan Lake and Barbie As The Princess and the Pauper.

2. Life-Size

Though she is now best known for her crimes against humanity on America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks was once a supermodel who used those skills to play Eve, a Barbie-like doll who’s brought to life in the Lindsay Lohan movie Life-Size. Released in 2000, Life-Size reflects on the impact made by dolls like Barbie (and supermodels like Banks, at that) and makes a case for them in a modern world where young girls want role models who have more to offer than glamour. The case basically boils down to vague platitudes about inner beauty and believing in yourself, but the funny, self-aware performance from Banks and the parallels to the plot of the upcoming Barbie movie make it worth revisiting.

3. Toy Story 3

While Barbie had a memorable cameo in Toy Story 2, her role is greatly expanded in the third movie. Here, she’s a fully developed and dynamic supporting character who gets in some of the movie’s funniest lines. (We’re still waiting for the talking doll that says, “Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from threat of force!”) Iconic voice actor and The Little Mermaid star Jodi Benson lends her voice to Barbie, likely making her the most famous actor to play the doll until now.

4. The Most Popular Girls in School

This popular 2010s web series has the distinction of being the raunchiest and least authorized addition to this list. The show stars a cast of stop-motion dolls formerly known as Barbie playing a delightfully deranged clique of high-school cheerleaders, including Deandre (the new girl with no arms), Saison Marguerite (who everyone knows is from Montreal) and Brittany (who gives second-rate hand jobs). Though she’s not credited, Barbie delivers in these roles her usual vacant smile masking animalistic teenage rage. Margot Robbie has big tiny plastic shoes to fill.

5. The Simpsons: “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy”

Like Life-Size, this fan-favorite Season 5 episode of The Simpsons explores Barbie’s impact as a role model and what should be considered aspirational for young girls. When a talking version of Barbie stand-in Malibu Stacy is released, Lisa is distraught to hear her favorite doll speak exclusively in sexist catchphrases such as “I wish they taught shopping in school.” Unlike Life-Size, The Simpsons opts for a more cynical ending, with Lisa advocating for more empowering dolls and learning the hard way that change doesn’t happen overnight.

6. Bratz (2007)

Barbie’s haters have always been her motivators, and this list wouldn’t be complete without a shoutout to her greatest rival. Like Barbie, Bratz sported a stacked team of prestigious artists. Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight stars as Principal Dimly, and the director, multiple Daytime Emmy-nominated children’s programmer Sean McNamara, brings a cinematic panache that only the man who made The Even Stevens Movie can provide. The film was a commercial and critical bomb and was the least popular movie based on a toy franchise released in 2007. Barbie appears to be a creatively ambitious project with a lot to prove. Thanks to Bratz, though, the bar for doll-centric major motion pictures is basically on the floor.
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