Barbie: Big City, Big Dreams review – Malibu Barbie finally meets her match
A live action Barbie movie directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie is on its way; in the meantime there’s this: the 39th animated feature for the improbably proportioned fashion doll. And you thought Rocky had a lot of sequels. Since 2001, when Mattel first discovered a computer-animated film franchise could be used to drive up doll sales, Barbie has swum with dolphins, joined a spy squad and had more “princess adventures” than Meghan Markle on a wilderness trek.
This time, she leaves her Malibu Dreamhouse to spend the summer at a performing arts programme in NYC, and no sooner has her yellow taxi crossed the Hudson than she’s making forever friends. Her main new pal is Barbie’s doppelganger in all but skin tone and hair texture. Since they even have the same name (“It’s cosmic destiny!”), they decide to go by home town monikers. And yes, Brooklyn Barbie is already available at all good toy retailers. “Malibu” and “Brooklyn” then prepare to perform at the end of term show, with a little help from a flamboyant fashion student and, for some reason, a cute puppy.
It’s a backstage musical in essence, spiced up slightly with a subplot about a teen pop sensation struggling to break free from her controlling father. (Remind you of anyone? #FreeBritney.) The animation is flat and garishly pink, but the writing does demonstrate some effort to answer Barbie’s critics on diverse body-image issues. Which is to say, there’s no substantive challenge to beauty norms but Brooklyn Barbie does wrap her afro hair at night. It’s also a plus that the R&B-pop songs actually bang, especially a Gwen Stefani-esque number about overwork. If the accompanying dance routines seem cloddish, that’s only apt: Barbie doesn’t bend at the knee or elbow joints, after all.