A live-action Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken will be released in 2023. Although I’m excited about the new adaptation, seeing the news brought me back to my childhood, especially the movies. animated Barbie of the 2000s. For me, these films have the Barbie that is closest to my heart: the nostalgic Barbie of fairy tales.
After all, how many sick days have I spent watching “Barbie Mariposa and Her Butterfly Fairy Friends” at home, marveling at cute fairy dresses with a pot of chicken soup? How many times have I dressed up as Barbie in “Barbie of Swan Lake” or “Barbie in the Twelve Dancing Princesses”, wanting to be Barbie herself?
Old Barbie movies hold a special place in cultural awareness, especially for those like me who grew up watching them. Head to YouTube and you’ll find video compilations of iconic villain Preminger from “Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper,” or sassy best moments from “Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus.”
Even though the animation of the Barbie movies has improved dramatically over the years, the transition to more contemporary settings means that we no longer get the fairy tale that inspired the original movies. Mattel, the toy company that created Barbie and its associated entertainment, has shown its ability to adapt with its new versions of popular originals (see: “Barbie: The Princess and the Popstar”). Still, I would argue that the Barbie movies of the 2000s captured a certain experience of growing up that the current Barbie movies don’t, or at least not as effectively.
When it comes to feeling this, I am not alone. According to a Buzzfeed article by Sara Thompson, these Barbie movies, such as “Barbie in 12 Dancing Princesses” and the “Barbie: Fairytopia” series, make up a large part of the media that represents “2000s girl culture.” . It’s proof that, for many, the old animated Barbie films contributed to some sense of identity formation. (Even if it’s not true for you, they serve as a time capsule for the past.)
In light of this, fans have greeted the changes to more recent Barbie movies with anger and disappointment. In a lukewarm IMDb review for the 2013 film ‘Barbie Mariposa and The Fairy Princess’, user @ninjathesecond writes: “For some reason 2 years ago Mattel changed and created a modernized Barbie and everything became a matter of laptops, the internet, web blogs, etc.” The user goes on to comment that the company chose to “push” into everything popular and that it would be more beneficial to emphasize “old school Barbie.”
A Change.org petition started by Sidra Khan titled “Return Barbie movies to their original standards” has reached nearly 1,000 signatures so far and states that “newer movies have lost their charm” and that plots of these films have become “basic.”
“We need the old Barbie back,” the petition aptly concludes.
Considering the fact that Barbie was meant to be a role model for young girls, the original Barbie movies had a substantial impact on how they redefined femininity. In an article for Rappler, Mikaela de Castro dissects individual Barbie films for their “empowering” messages.
De Castro analyzes how “Barbie as Rapunzel” shows Barbie breaking free from her oppressor and how “Barbie as the Island Princess” embraces what it means to be different. Obviously, as Castro writes, Barbie’s insertion into previously patriarchal fantasy settings allowed Barbie to rebel against those norms and become incredibly iconic.
I echo the thoughts of others in wishing that instead of making modern stories, Barbie would go back to her classic fairy tale roots. While we appreciate the merits of the old Barbie, it must be said that I’m not advocating a return to the old style of animation. Technology has advanced, and I’m sure most people would rather look at a well-fleshed Barbie than the relatively rigid block of the past.
It should be noted that sometimes the appeal of old Barbie movies stems entirely from nostalgia. For those growing up in the 2000s, the Barbie movies might just have been a fundamental part of our childhood that we can’t recreate now that we’re older.
Yet the Barbie movies of yore resonated with many because they showed us a new kind of happily ever after: staying true to tradition while maintaining authority over the narrative. “Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper” had the most memorable soundtrack ever, truly Broadway quality, and likewise, I still remember a lot of the music from movies past even now. There’s a lot of gold to be found in extracting beloved stories and telling them in an inspired way that doesn’t necessarily hinge on what’s hot right now.
As the evolution of the Barbie movies shows, a movie doesn’t necessarily need microphones to amplify its magic. Nostalgia can have its own stage.
Valerie Wu is a junior student writing about animation and digital arts from a contemporary perspective. Its “Animated” section airs every other Friday.