Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

1000+ Barbie Commercials Provides Context for This Summer’s Pinkest Blockbuster (1959-2023)


The Barbie movie has captured the popular imagination in a big way.

The New York Times can’t get enough of the recently opened summer blockbuster. Between reviews, fashion round ups, interviews, box office reports and op eds, it has published over two dozen pieces tied to this massive cultural moment.

Even those who don’t feel a burning need to catch Barbie at the multiplex are likely aware of the Barbenheimer phenom.

But what about those who grew up in feminist homes, or sisterless cis-males of a certain age?

Will a lack of hands-on experience diminish the cinematic pleasures of Barbie?

Not if you immerse yourself in BarbieCollectors’ chronological playlist of Barbie commercials before ticketing up. That’s over a thousand ads, spanning more than six decades.

The 1959 ad, above, that introduced the glamorous “teen age fashion doll” to the public clears up the misperception that pink has always been Barbie’s de facto color. It’s black-and-white, but so is the diagonal striped swimsuit the film’s star, Margot Robbie models in the film’s opener, a tongue in cheek homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

(Astute observers may note the similarities between some of the sophisticated ensembles original flavor Barbie sports here and the outfits Robbie donned for the pink carpet prior to the Screen Actors Guild strike.)

In the battle between pink and historical record, pink is destined to come out on top in the Barbie movie. Director Greta Gerwig and her design team punch up Barbie’s early 80’s Western look with a wide pink brush, lowering the neckline but keeping the wink.

The doll came with a working autograph stamp Robbie may consider adopting, should Barbie mania continue on into fall.

One of the most thrilling design elements of the movie is the human scale Dreamhouses occupied by Barbie and her friends, the majority of whom are also named Barbie.

The Dreamhouse has taken many architectural forms over the years – townhouse, cottage, mansion – but it always comes without a fourth wall.

Another cinematic treat is the roll call of vehicles Barbie commandeers on her journey to the real world with her hapless boyfriend, Ken.

Some of the film’s deeper cuts are jokes at the expense of misguided releases, Barbie sidekicks so ill-conceived that they were quickly discontinued, although 1993’s Earring Magic Ken became a bestseller, thanks to his popularity in the gay community.

Look for Barbie’s pregnant pal, Midge, her yellow Labrador retriever, Tanner (whose scoopable excrement was quickly deemed a choking hazard) and Growing up Skipper, the little sister who goes through puberty with a twist of the arm … “which is something you can’t do,” the commercial’s narrator taunts in a rare reversal of the “girls can be anything” ethos Mattel insists is part of the brand.

Of course, one can only cram so many knowingly-placed products into one feature-length film.

Are those of you who grew up with Barbie hurting from any glaring omissions? (Asking as a child of the Malibu Barbie era…)

Those who didn’t grow up with Barbie can play along too by sampling from BarbieCollectors’ massive chronological commercial playlist, then nominating your favorites in the comments.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.





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