I wasn’t expecting to be bombed with scenes presenting classism, gender issues, and even bits of criticism to capitalism when I decided to binge-watch some of my favorite childhood Barbie movies to relax. Hopping from one movie to another, there’s always some type of symbolism, lecture, or allegory in the movie which leads to some “adult problems” that I could only point out now as an 18-year-old. Least to say, it was a more gloomy experience than I initially intended it to be.
If you didn’t watch one of the many Barbie movies growing up because of the stigma of them being too “girly” due to our society’s misogynistic perspective or any other reasons, boy, you’re missing out a lot. Although these cartoons weren’t as advanced as animations from Disney quality and graphic-wise, I’d argue that the plot and the storytelling of most of these movies are some of the most iconic and memorable ones. Contrary to popular perception about children’s movies, most, if not all, the characters in Barbie movies are three-dimensional characters that are almost never repetitive throughout all of the different installments; although the main characters are almost always the same ol’ Caucasian, blond-haired blue-eyed girl.
Take the topic of corruption in Barbie: The Princess and the Pauper, for instance.  Wrapped with a fun musical number sung by various cast, this adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper reveals a twisted conspiracy taking place in a kingdom corrupted by a villain and his two sidekicks. However, as children we might not have caught on on the heavier side of the movie’s message since the scenes between the villain and his sidekick are used for comic relief.
Another iconic movie, Barbie and the Three Musketeers, brings up the topic of gender equality and equal opportunity. Corine, whose father was the palace’s musketeer, has to face lots of trials and judgment when she applies for the same position. She’s been repeatedly rejected and looked down upon for her ambition because of her biological sex to the point that she lashes out at the prince for laughing at her wish. In the end, she and her other friends succeeded in becoming musketeers by protecting the prince from another conspirator. The story echoes Disney’s Mulan in how a woman manages to get a profession typically saved for a man, sending the message that a girl can do and achieve anything she wants, even in a male-dominated space. Of course, these female protagonists have to go through lengths just to prove themselves as capable as their male counterparts, even more. Therefore, these types of stories become solid role models for our young girls to look up to.
Now, this is where it gets spicy. One of my favorite movies of all time has to be Barbie: Princess Charm School, also arguably one of the movies in the collection involving most symbolisms of social criticism. The plot follows Blair Willows, a commoner who wins the lottery to become one of the students in Princess Charm School, a school where princesses and lady royals all around the world study to become a true royal. It seems like a simple and straightforward plot for young children, but of course there’s more than what meets the eye. This movie showcases classism and how the high class manipulates those lower than them in order to maintain their privilege. This topic may seem heavy and complicated, but Barbie manages to deliver it and wrap it within a world filled with magic and little fairies and a school for princesses with spas and glitters.
The scene that made me grab my laptop and write this piece as soon as I watch it is one that is pretty forgettable if you are a child, but will leave you questioning “How could I miss this?” when you are old enough to understand. It is when Delancy Daven, the heir of Gardenia, was talking to one of her friends about how she despises commoners infiltrating their elite school. In that scene, she took her friend’s cake, calling it the ‘specialness’ of the Charm School’s students, saying that if a commoner like Blair took all of the cake, there won’t be enough cake for the other students. She then ate her friend’s cake, and when her friend calls her out for it, Delancy conveniently blames Blair for it. The act that follows made my eyes unable to blink because of how accurate it is in representing our society right now. That friend says, “How dare she (Blair). I wanted that cake.”
Her friend did not question Delancy, even though she saw that it was Delancy who took her cake in front of her own eyes. This scene might just seem like some comedic relief or a tool to make the audience hate Delancy as an antagonist, but I believe this represents more than that. The power imbalance between Delancy, who is a princess-to-be of Gardenia, with her friend, was already prominent from their introduction. But what we don’t realize is HOW big is that power imbalance, paired with how that friend of hers lacked critical thinking abilities. That small scene somehow echoes what is happening and what has been happening in the world for centuries. The rich and powerful manipulate those below them to suppress those at the very bottom in order to hold their own place at the highest in the fragile hierarchy. The rich and powerful are able to rob others’ “cake” and get away with blaming those in the lower social strata for the disappearance of said cake.
One thing that stood out to me is how subtle yet loud the filmmakers are in crafting this one scene alone to showcase how twisted the world can be to their young audiences. I finally realize what they’re doing: they are familiarizing children with the patterns of behavior in exploitation and manipulation that exist in our current society.
In Barbie: Mariposa, we get introduced to a world where butterfly fairies never dare to leave the place lit by lanterns of flowers lighted by their queen’s power. Here, Mariposa, a book nerd, becomes the odd one with her dream of exploring the world outside of the lights’ comfort. This desire for exploration and adventure is also a recurring theme in a lot of other Barbie movies such as Barbie and The Magic Pegasus, Barbie and The Diamond Castle, etc. In these movies, the main characters are mostly uncomfortable with the status quo or were forced to take action to change the status quo. Their stories taught us to never be content with stagnancy or accept injustice, and that we should not wait for a savior because we should be the ones to spark the changes in our own reality.
It’s not a new thing for children’s movies to deliver heavy messages for children to obtain from a young age. It does, however, hit differently when you grow up watching those movies only to rediscover some notable stuff with more clarity using the perspective of an adult. The way you catch on subtle messages hidden in the subtext of a seemingly innocent work kind of does, in a way, explains more about why you think the way you think now.