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Barbie 2023


In Theaters


Home Release Date




Emily Tsiao

Movie Review

She’s just a Barbie girl living in a Barbie world—Barbieland to be exact. But life in plastic isn’t so fantastic right now.

Usually, every day is a great day for Stereotypical Barbie. She wakes up with perfectly coifed hair and fresh breath. Her shower water is the perfect temperature. Her heart-shaped toast pops perfectly onto her plate. And everything about her life makes her happy and fulfilled.

Until suddenly, for reasons unknown to Barbie, she starts thinking about death. And when she asks the other Barbies if they ever think about it, things literally screech to a halt.

Embarrassed, Barbie plays it off. The party resumes. But Barbie goes to bed that night ill at ease.

And the next day is decidedly not a great day. Barbie’s jolted awake by loud music, her breath smells foul, her shower is the wrong temperature, and her toast is burnt. Worst of all, Barbie’s feet, perfectly, permanently arched for high heels, go flat.

You’re malfunctioning, her friends tell her. You have to go see Weird Barbie.

So she does. But what Barbie learns doesn’t comfort her. Weird Barbie tells her that there’s a connection between Barbieland and the real world where humans live. What humans do with their Barbie dolls in the real world affects what happens to their counterparts in Barbieland.

For instance, if someone playing with a stereotypical Barbie doll in the real world feels sad and lonely, then Stereotypical Barbie might transform into Existential Dread Barbie or Depressed Barbie.

But Stereotypical Barbie doesn’t want to become Depressed Barbie. She wants things to go back to feeling normal.

To do that, she’ll have to travel to the real world and cheer up the girl playing with her. But, of course, Barbie has no idea that the real world isn’t what she imagined it to be.

You see, in Barbieland, female Barbies have positions of authority and prestige, like being the president or members of the Supreme Court. Or maybe a pilot or doctor. In Barbieland, women run everything, while the Kens, well, they don’t really do much.

But when Barbie and Ken (her boyfriend) get to the real world, it’s like nothing they’ve ever experienced before.

Good luck in reality, Barbie.

Positive Elements

You almost can’t talk about the Barbie film without addressing the original doll created by Ruth Handler in 1959. Barbie was designed after Ruth realized the only dolls on the market were baby dolls (intended for little girls to imagine themselves as future caregivers). And Ruth wanted her own daughter (whom the iconic toy is named for) to know she could be anything she wanted to be.

Now, as we know, the invention of Barbie didn’t suddenly make it possible for women to achieve all their goals. And there’s also some controversy surrounding Ruth Handler (more on both those topics in Negative Elements). But Barbie did spearhead a movement that allowed little girls to dream of whatever sort of future they wished.

So, for the past 64 years, Barbie has acted as the everywoman, representing women from multiple different career paths, ethnicities and even body types. (Though that last one only came about after years of parents complaining that the stereotypically thin Barbie was ruining their children’s self-esteem.)

And this film reflects that history. The cast is quite diverse and inclusive. And while there are some caveats in that (see Sexual Content), for the most part, it’s a good thing.

The film’s most poignant message isn’t delivered by a Barbie, though, but by Gloria, a mom from the real world. Gloria’s relationship with her teenage daughter, Sasha, is fractured due to Sasha’s feelings of hopelessness about the world (many of which Sasha blames Barbie and the company responsible for her, Mattel, for) and Gloria’s perceived contribution to it (since she works for Mattel).

But Gloria isn’t blind to Sasha’s concerns. She speaks into how women, including her daughter, often feel extreme social pressures. And women often have to navigate double standards in their relationships with both men and other women. Gloria tenderly voices how some of these expectations are admittedly self-imposed (often because of poor self-image). And she acknowledges that even someone who perfectly embodies all of society’s ideals—Barbie herself—can feel this way.

Then, she challenges that status quo.

At this point, we should note that the film employs extreme and satirical stereotypes to make some of the following points. But it does so because Barbie herself is an extreme stereotype.

Gloria realizes she’s part of the problem—it’s why she and Sasha have drifted apart. But she refuses to let the “sexualized capitalism” and “rampant consumerism” (Sasha’s words) enhanced by Barbie’s existence to continue to rule her life.

Gloria helps the Barbies learn that who they are isn’t determined by some CEO on the top floor of an office building in Los Angeles. Rather, each individual Barbie has the ability to choose who she wants to be and what she wants to do.

This new knowledge not only frees the Barbies from the societal constraints they thought they had to live by, but it helps them to recognize and reconcile with members of their community they had inadvertently ousted, such as the overlooked Ken dolls and discontinued Barbie dolls.

Speaking of Ken, he has an important moment of self-realization as well about his identity and what will ultimately fulfill him, leading him to become a much kinder and more gracious man.

In the end, Barbieland, much like the real world it reflects, doesn’t necessarily get everything perfect. But its residents’ desire to keep trying—to make the world a better place for everyone—is a pretty nice message.

Elsewhere, characters apologize when they realize they’re in the wrong. When things go poorly for Barbie (to the benefit of Mattel’s pocketbook), Mattel’s CEO tries in earnest to fix the problem since Barbie represents the dreams of little girls everywhere. Characters are encouraged to honestly express their emotions. They also learn that it’s OK to make mistakes and show vulnerability.

Spiritual Elements

There’s a reference to The Shining when two women begin experiencing each other’s emotions.

[Spoiler Warning] Barbie eventually meets the ghost of an old woman living, apparently, in Mattel’s headquarters. It’s none other than Ruth Handler, and she takes Barbie on something of a spiritual journey as Barbie ponders whether or not she wants to become completely human or remain a doll. Ruth is referenced as the “creator,” and, indeed, she has something like the wisdom one might expect of a creator deity.

Sexual Content

When Barbie first arrives in Los Angeles, multiple men stare and catcall her. Barbie, who’s never been objectified in her life, states how self-conscious this makes her feel. She opposes this behavior by announcing, “I don’t have a vagina.” Then she looks at Ken and adds, “And he doesn’t have a penis.” Ken is embarrassed by this statement and counters it with the lie that he does, in fact, have male bits.

Elsewhere, Weird Barbie (played with oddball aplomb by Saturday Night Live alumni Kate McKinnon) makes it clear that the lack of certain anatomy doesn’t deter her.

As the film progresses, Barbie and her friends are repeatedly objectified. We’re shown a montage of men putting their arms around women to “help” them with simple tasks. Many unhealthy stereotypes are portrayed to demonstrate other unwanted attention from men. And Barbies even trick some Kens through flirting, ultimately pitting the Kens against each other for the Barbies’ affections.

Barbies occasionally wear swimsuits and other outfits that bare some skin (including cleavage). Many Kens like to walk around sans shirt, and the camera makes sure we notice in Stereotypical Ken’s case. There’s a poster of some Miss Universe contestants in bikinis. We see one Barbie from the shoulders up as she showers and later wrapped in a towel. One of Barbie’s outfits has stars on her backside.

As mentioned above, Ken pines for a romantic relationship with Barbie. However, she only sees Ken in a platonic way. Therefore, whenever Ken tries to kiss Barbie, she rejects him. When Ken asks to spend the night at her house, she denies his request. And Ken admits that he doesn’t know what they would do if he slept over, only that it’s expected of couples.

We learn that some Barbie dolls were discontinued because of ill-advised concepts, such as a Ken doll called “Sugar Daddy” (because he has a pet dog named Sugar), a “Growing Up Skipper” doll whose breasts grow and “Earring Magic Ken,” which many consumers nicknamed “Gay Ken.”

Another doll, Pregnant Barbie Midge, had a short shelf life because, we’re told, the marketplace just thought the concept was too weird. (We see pictures in the credits of the original packaging that show a preborn baby in the credits.) Barbie historians will know that Midge’s husband was Allan, who also shows up here (though isn’t connected to Midge in the film) as an ally to Barbie, and basically the only male character who doesn’t look or act like a Ken.

Sexual orientation, per se, isn’t directly addressed in Barbieland itself. However, some Barbies and Kens are portrayed by members of the LGBT community, and this occasionally comes through in their portrayals. Some male characters here could be seen as being quite effeminate, too.

Parents should note that Hari Nef, a trans performer, plays one of the female Barbies. We see a same-sex couple flirting in the real world. During a dance sequence, several Kens embrace, and two kiss Stereotypical Ken on his cheeks. One of Mattel’s lowly office workers asks the question, “I’m a man with no power. Does that make me a woman?” Another double entendre repeated multiple times between Kens involves the phrase, “I’m gonna beach you off.” One Ken eventually says, “I’m gonna beach both of you off.”

So while there’s little here that’s explicit, some will identify LGBT subtexts in winks in certain moments throughout the film.

Someone describes Mattel’s office building as “phallic.” The CEO boasts about their “gender neutral” bathrooms. A man calls a woman “Jezebel” (a reference from the Bible used as an insult to imply a woman is licentious) after which many people question if they’re allowed to use that term anymore.

Violent Content

As Barbie is being objectified in the real world, she notes that there’s an undertone of violence (which Ken, pointedly, is impervious to since he’s a guy). Moments later, a man whacks Barbie on her rear, and she spins around to punch him in the face (which she’s arrested for).

Gloria also talks about this, pointing out how ridiculous it is that women are expected to tell men when they’re acting inappropriately, but not in a way that causes a scene or else they might become a target.

Dozens of Kens go to “war” against each other in a battle of the egos (which is the only thing that gets hurt in this fight). Using plastic lacrosse sticks and tennis rackets, they shamelessly whack each other into submission. One Ken is put into a headlock. Another receives a purple nurple. But the only real injury is a human’s arm, which winds up in a sling after he’s caught in the crossfire.

Stereotypical Ken gets jealous when he believes Barbie is texting another Ken. He snatches her phone from her to prove it.

Despite not appearing particularly strong or masculine, Allan gets into a fight with several Ken dolls, brutally beating them up. (But again, no lasting injuries, just bruised egos.)

Other slapstick pratfalls turn up, too.

One scene depicts several little girls smashing their baby dolls to bits after the creation of Barbie, an homage to a similar scene with monkeys and bones from 2001. A girl plays roughly with her Barbie doll, chopping off its hair, coloring its face with permanent marker and then kicking the doll in the crotch after bending its legs into the splits. (As a result, this Barbie’s counterpart in Barbieland sports a choppy haircut, strange facial markings and is perpetually stuck doing the splits.)

A Barbie car “crashes” a couple of times. But the vehicle is undamaged and the passengers unharmed.

Several of Mattel’s top executives chase Barbie through their corporate office, leaping at her (and missing) in an attempt to stop her from escaping their custody.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is bleeped out in one scene. We hear a single use each of “h—” and “d–n.” God’s name is misused seven times and Christ’s name is abused once. In the credits, we hear rapper Nicki Minaj’s song “It’s Barbie B–ch,” with that titular line being repeated several times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

After traveling to the real world, Ken starts drinking “Brewski Beers” and demanding that Barbie and her friends to serve the drink to him and the other Kens. It appears that many executives have alcoholic beverages during a meeting. Someone drinks from a wine glass at a party.

Other Negative Elements

As I mentioned before, many of the good points addressed in Barbie come through the use of extreme stereotypes. But those stereotypes also create problems we have to address, too. Here’s what I mean:

Barbies believe that Barbieland is a perfect reflection of the real world, i.e. that women run everything. So when Barbie arrives on the scene, she assumes a woman is in charge. And she’s shocked to learn that none of Mattel’s top executives are female. (And Mattel’s current CEO blusters about two women who ran the company in the past.)

Additionally, the lack of female leadership makes an already vulnerable Barbie (made self-conscious by the overt objectification she experiences from men) feel even more helpless. And she’s heartbroken that women in the real world aren’t inspired by her and even seem to hate her.

In contrast, Ken loves the real world. He believes that men rule everything (after visiting an office building seemingly run by men) and strives to learn everything he can about patriarchy. He takes his knowledge of patriarchy back to Barbieland and begins using it to flip the gender dynamic there.

He and the other Kens “brainwash” the Barbies into believing they should serve men. They become incredibly condescending to the Barbies, demanding things like drinks and foot massages. And they change everything to “expand and elevate the presence of men” since Ken believes that’s what the real world does.

The film uses these exaggerated and obvious expressions of male chauvinism and sexism to show what many women experience, an element of the story that will likely resonate with many women. But unfortunately, that resonance often comes at the expense of men. Their portrayal here—even if it’s arguably intended for satirical effect—is often demeaning and belittling. We see men depicted as vain, selfish, self-centered, abusive and generally narcissistic, with precious few examples to the contrary. And even as men are called out for their bad behavior, similar behavior among the female Barbies is, at times, celebrated as women turning the tables.

Ken is, himself, the biggest example of a man who’s depicted as insecure and needy one moment, but ruthlessly willing to use women once he undergoes his own patriarchal transformation.

Before visiting the real world, it’s stated that Ken only has a good day if Barbie looks at him. He spends all of his time trying to impress her and win her affection. After his journey, he becomes your worst idea of toxic masculinity. And when the power is taken back by the Barbies, he’s reduced to a sobbing, pouting mess. (Though admittedly, he eventually confesses—whilst crying—that he never wanted to be in power to begin with. He just wanted Barbie to respect him and went about it in the worst way possible.)

We’re told, in a sense, that in order to stop “patriarchy,” women need to rise up and take over everything. In fact, Stereotypical Barbie is even encouraged to hurt Ken (emotionally) because of how he rudely treated her. Which is exactly what the Barbies do. And the Kens docilely submit to the Barbies.

Actions are taken to make amends and create a more equal society in Barbieland. However, the film still makes a point about men vs. women. Because when the Kens request to serve in Barbieland’s higher government, they’re pointedly denied since “Kens will have more power in Barbieland when women have more power in the real world.”

Families should also be aware of the unrealistic beauty standards upheld by this film. Yes, Barbie and Ken (the dolls) have become much more diverse over the years. And the film makes a lot of good points about how these are terrible standards (and while their focus is female-driven, you can’t look at Ryan Gosling as Ken and not see the unrealistic standards there, as well). But it doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of actors and actresses cast in this film are still really pretty people. (A point not lost on the filmmakers since the narrator herself pokes fun at it.)

Gloria also speaks into the beauty conversation, commenting on how women are told to be “thin but not too thin,” but they can’t say they want to be thin but “healthy,” but they still need to actually be thin, according to society. Again, this is touted as a bad thing, but then one of the main reasons that Barbie visits the real world to “fix” herself is that she’s developed cellulite.

Barbie also tries to poke fun at depression and anxiety, and not in the kindest way. In addition to Barbie beginning to experience these emotions both for herself and through the human playing with her in the real world, we see an ad for Depression Barbie. The doll is depicted looking tired with no makeup and tangled hair.

A plastic Barbie dog (based on a real toy) “poops” plastic turds. Many Barbies gag and dry heave when they learn Stereotypical Barbie’s feet have gone flat. Barbie yaks after “drinking” expired milk. Ken uses a barf bag.

Sasha (Gloria’s daughter) calls Barbie a “bimbo” and a “fascist.”  (She’s also pretty rude to her mom on several occasions.) A few people lie. Some characters make bets. There are some racial comments. We learn Ruth Handler (Barbie’s creator) was arrested for tax evasion. Barbie and Ken are arrested after stealing clothes from a store (though they didn’t know they had to pay).


Ever since Barbie was first announced, I couldn’t help but think “Welp, I wonder how Hollywood is going to ruin my childhood this time?”

But the film defied my expectations, even as it had some problems I hadn’t expected.

Let’s hit on the things I thought would be the worst offenders first. I expected there to be a ton of unnecessary profanity and gross sexual content. There’s actually not a lot of gratuitous content here.  Language is pretty limited (a single f-word is bleeped out though, and Nicki Minaj’s end credits song is repeatedly profane). And sexual content, while present, is mostly constrained to a handful of verbal suggestions and double entendres.

But let’s talk about why that is.

Barbie (the doll) has been a topic of sexual objectification almost since her inception. Women want to look like her. Men want to be with her. She’s the ideal of society’s beauty standards. And yet, she’s always been impervious to these ideas because, well, she’s a doll.

By bringing Barbie to life, she begins to embody what it actually means to be a woman. She voices how uncomfortable objectification makes her. She shuts down attempts to flirt with her. She discusses the impossible standards expected of women by society. And she begins to feel a sense of dread because even though she’s done nothing to warrant this treatment (and everything to prove she’s somehow “worthy”), she and the women around her are still subject to it.

But therein lies a serious problem with the film. At its core, I truly believe Barbie wants to teach girls to stand up for what’s right, to hold true to their beliefs and especially to support other women. And these are great aspirations. Unfortunately, the way the message is delivered shines Ken (and all men) in a really bad light.

Because Barbie uses extreme stereotypes to make a point, it fails to show how the average man behaves toward women. And it even sorta blames guys for all the negative emotions women have ever felt about themselves or other women.

The Kens of Barbieland are simpish and weak. Then they take power and become obnoxious and crass. So if Barbieland is supposed to be a reflection of the real world, then there’s no space for a man who respects women but also respects himself. And there’s also very little suggestion that men can use their strength and masculinity in selfless ways—ways that might protect and defend someone who’s genuinely vulnerable.

For families who are interested in this film, I believe these are navigable issues. That said, I would highly recommend that if your teenage daughter wants to see Barbie, go with her. Because if nothing else, the film can serve as a catalyst for conversation about societal expectations, feeling unworthy and yeah, the perception that our world is inherently male dominated.

Sending your teens off to see Barbie alone is definitely risking some indoctrination into the narrative that being a good man is synonymous with being submissive or weak. Or the idea that good men themselves are as rare as a unicorn. This narrative also suggests that women have to rise up and seize control if they want to be respected.

Those narratives aren’t true, of course. But without a little hand-holding, it might be hard for teens to remember that their value and worth isn’t based on their appearance, whether or not they have the respect of their peers or even on their accomplishments. (All things characters falsely believe at difference points throughout the film.)

Rather, the Bible tells us that we are valuable because we were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), because He loved us before He even created the universe (Ephesians 1:4), and because Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for us that we might be redeemed through Him (Ephesians 1:5-7).

That might feel like a bit of spiritual draw for a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with faith. But for me, whenever I experience the anxieties that Barbie, Gloria and Sasha all face in the film, it brings me a lot of comfort to know that God made me for a purpose and that I am fulfilled through Him.

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.