Barbie Blu-ray Review: When Worlds Collide

Director/co-writer Greta Gerwig was granted access to Mattel’s Barbie franchise and created a subversive blockbuster that explores gender politics, but while Barbie reveals modern society’s problems, the story’s resolution unsatisfyingly finds almost everything return to the status quo.

After opening with a 2001: A Space Odyssey homage that suggests Barbie was as transformative a doll as the monolith was to mankind, viewers are taken to Barbie Land, which is free from all the troubles that plague women in the Real World. Almost every girl doll is named Barbie, except for Midge and Skipper, and the Barbies are in charge of everything. Meanwhile, all the Kens are on hand simply to be the good-looking, platonic friends, but one Ken (Ryan Gosling) wants to be boyfriend and girlfriend with Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie), even though she has no interest. There is also one Alan (Michael Cera).

During a big choreographed dance number at Stereotypical Barbie’s Dreamhouse, surprising even herself, she asks, “You guys ever think about dying?” bringing the party to a halt, briefly. In the morning, something has changed for Stereotypical Barbie as the Barbie Land theme song lyrics (sung by Lizzo) indicate. Her feet are flat! The other Barbies tell her she’s malfunctioning and needs to see Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who had been the most beautiful until someone played with her too hard in the Real World, which is shown. Weird Barbie tells Stereotypical Barbie a portal has opened between the two worlds and she must find the girl in the Real World playing with her and help her with these sad thoughts.

Ken secretly tags along. In the Real World, they each take a moment to focus and both are thrilled with the results. Barbie learns the girl she seeks is at a school while Ken discovers men rule the world, sending them on very different paths. Barbie finds Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), but she doesn’t like Barbie or the impact she has had on society. Turns out, Sasha’s mother Gloria (America Ferrera), who works reception at Mattel, has the connection to Stereotypical Barbie and has been having those sad thoughts.

Ken discovers the patriarchy and wants to be part of it. He can’t make much headway in the Real World so he takes what he learns and brings it back to Barbie Land. Somehow, Mattel begins mass producing and selling new items related to Ken’s takeover. Even odder, all the Barbies have given way to new, submissive roles under Ken’s patriarchy, but no explanation how or why?

Barbie returns home with Gloria and Sasha, and discovers the dramatic changes. Gloria makes a grand, thoughtful speech, expanding on Tammy Wynette’s lyric “sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.” This speech breaks the spell over a Barbie who was mesmerized by Ken and his patriarchy ideas. They then turn the Kens against themselves, which results in a fantastic dance number/fight sequence anchored by the song “I’m Just Ken” led by Gosling. With the guys distracted, will the Barbies regain their power and return to the way things were?

The script, co-written by filmmaker Noah Baumbach, is very funny, filled with meta jokes that range from discontinued Barbie dolls to teasing the film itself. However, too much time was spent stating the obvious, such as “women have it tough in the real world,” but little time exploring how it happened or how to change it.

Also, the logistics of how anything works doesn’t make any sense. Why would the creation of toys manifest this magical world? Why would there be only one doll type in Barbie Land when there’s countless in the real world? If Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman) invented Barbie, how could Barbie Land cause Mattel’s factories to produce toys? Why would Ruth still be around the Mattel offices? Also, why did all the Kens and especially all the Barbies give into Ken’s patriarchy? Somehow Alan is the only one to escape it. Why didn’t the Barbies learn from their subservient roles and give the Kens even one judge on the Supreme Court? It seems to stem from the screenwriters having points they want to make when the film would be better served having a cohesive story.

Gerwig’s direction is imaginative and inventive. She clearly has a love of Hollywood musicals as seen in the staging of the dance sequences. She and the producers assembled a highly talented crew to bring her vision to the screen. Barbie is definitely a visual standout thanks to the teams of cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, costume designer Jacqueline Duran, and production designers Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer. The cast is also very good. Robbie captures Barbie’s innocence and her changing perspective. Gosling is hysterical as Ken, the villain who is the hero of his own story, with a comedic performance that will long be remembered.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at the original aspect ratio: 2.00:1. The colorful pastel production design in Barbie Land pops off the screen while colors in the Real World appear in natural hues. Blacks are inky and whites are accurate, contributing to a strong contrast. The ornate textures of the costumes, props, and locations are evident under the camera’s sharp focus and image’s clean rendering.

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack defaults down to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 but the front-heavy sound design doesn’t have as much to offer as the visual design. Dialogue is clear. The songs and score can be heard throughout the surrounds along with minor ambiance, but there’s not a great deal of sound positioning and panning to enhance the experience. Bass is supportive but limited.

The Special Features are:

  • It’s a Weird World (5 min) – Talk about the Weird Barbie character and her gang.
  • All-Star Barbie Party (5 min) – A look at casting.
  • Musical Barbie (9 min) – Executing the dance numbers, including the Kens battle.
  • Becoming Barbie (6 min) – Bringing the character to life through different departments.
  • Welcome to Barbie Land (12 min) – A look at the sets.
  • Playing Dress-Up: An Extended Look at the Costumes of Barbie (7 min)

Gerwig’s Barbie should be considered the film of 2023. It is #1 film at the box office, bringing in over $1.4 billion, and is critically acclaimed. While the story stumbles in places, the film gets so much right, it is well worth seeing. The Blu-ray, surprisingly not in a pink case, showcases the film’s stunning visuals. The Special Features just skim the surface of the film’s making and only whet one’s appetite. The production components deserve a deeper dive and fans deserve a commentary track from Gerwig.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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