The Barbie movie franchise really kicked off in the early 2000s — in a span of just 17 years, from 2001-2017, 37 Barbie movies were released. Being an early 2000s child, these movies were a special part of my childhood. When I was between the ages of five and ten years old, I would always go to my local library with my mom to check out the new Barbie movie DVDs or I’d watch them when they premiered on Nickelodeon. And now, as the new live action Barbie movie is being filmed (starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken), I am reminiscing on those childhood memories. Here are my top 5 favorite Barbie movies from the early 2000s!
5. Barbie as Rapunzel (2002)
I still remember being a kid and watching this movie late at night on my iPod under the blanket… when I should’ve been asleep! In this take on the classic story, Rapunzel lives in a tower with a witch who claims that she saved Rapunzel from abandonment when she was a baby. In the tower, Rapunzel discovers a magic paintbrush that paints a mural onto her wall, and the mural acts as a portal to the outside world!
4. Barbie in A Mermaid Tale (2010)
In this movie, Barbie plays a surfer-girl named Merliah. During a surfing competition, Merliah realizes that streaks of her hair are turning pink. Later, she learns that she can now breathe underwater, and a talking dolphin approaches her to explain that Merliah is actually half-mermaid! Along with the dolphin and a few friends, Merliah goes on a journey to save the underwater kingdom of Oceana from an evil Queen — Merliah’s aunt.
One reason that this movie is so memorable for me is that I owned the corresponding Barbie doll; I thought it was so cool how streaks of its hair would turn pink when you dipped it in water!
3. Barbie in the Nutcracker (2001)
This is the movie that established the Barbie animated-film franchise. In this movie, Barbie tells a story to her younger sister and the story is about a girl named Clara. Clara is given a Nutcracker and, on the night before Christmas, Clara wakes up and sees that her Nutcracker has come to life! This story is about Clara’s journey as she and the Nutcracker try to defeat an evil king and find the Sugarplum Princess (who can help them undo the King’s magic spells). It features a beautiful soundtrack that’s based on the classic ballet The Nutcracker.
2. Barbie: Princess Charm School (2011)
In this movie, Barbie plays a teenager named Blair. Blair works as a waitress in order to help support her ailing adoptive mother and her little sister Emily. Blair’s life changes forever when Emily secretly enters Blair’s name in a lottery for a scholarship to study at the distinguished Princess Charm School academy. When Blair discovers she’s won this scholarship (and learns what Emily has done), her mom encourages her to pursue the opportunity. At the Charm School, Blair uncovers major secrets about the kingdom.
I loved this movie so much; my mom got me the corresponding Barbie doll and playset. Photo credit: Barbie Princess Charm School Movie Play Set. barbiedb.com. 15 July 2022, https://www.barbiedb.com/barbie-princess-charm-school-princess-blair-transforming-doll/
1. Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper (2004)
When I think of Barbie movies from my childhood, this is the first one that comes to mind. It is an absolute classic Barbie film about two girls who switch places to live each other’s lives, learning that they’re not as different from each other as they may seem. Below, you can watch the video of a favorite song from the movie.
Thoughts to end with — critiques of the Barbie animated-movie franchise
I loved these movies as a child (and I still do) but it’s important to also be critical. One of the limitations of these early 2000s Barbie movies is that there were not many characters of color. (Or, if there were any characters of color, then they did not play a major role in the films, and they still always had white facial features to align with Eurocentric beauty standards.)
These are still great movies that I did enjoy very much but, if I had children, I would want to point out the lack of diversity to them as a way of starting a conversation about 1) how to be an anti-racist and 2) what “subtle racism” can look like. For a lot of young girls, Barbie represents being able to do anything (like being an astronaut, or a painter), so I wish it would be easier for young girls of color to be able to see themselves in these movie characters.
Paige Tutt wrote an article titled, “What Barbie Meant To 8 Women Of Color” where one woman shared, “[E]ven though I have great memories of Barbie and her pals, those thoughts are sullied with memories of my first outward expression of internalized colorism.” I think that quote encapsulates a lot of how I feel. In the end, I’m still grateful for the memories! ZK
Barbie-related films owned by Media Services
Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour (1998): This documentary explores the history of the Barbie doll, through older and contemporary clips. Includes interviews with Barbie fans, foes, and fetishists ; these are people of all ages and sexes who either covet or revile Barbie. Visits conventions and auctions, where early dolls and memorabilia are bought and sold. Also tells the story of Barbie’s creator and Mattel co-founder: Ruth Handler, whose commentary runs throughout the film. Handler adapted a 1950s German doll for adults called Lilli, to create Barbie, named after her daughter. Special features: Optional audio director’s commentary; a short film, Filmmakers; and 5 short Barbie films: Weird Barbies, Black Barbie, Barbie on the street, Collector’s Barbies, The Handlers at Home.
Barbie and Her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure (2015): Barbie and her sisters, Skipper, Stacie, and Chelsea, and their adorable new puppy friends find unexpected mystery and adventure when they return to their hometown of Willows. While going through mementos in Grandma’s attic, the sisters discover an old map, believed to lead to a long-lost treasure buried somewhere in the town. This title has options for English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish dialogue; Spanish or French subtitles; and is subtitled for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Barbie: Mariposa and Her Butterfly Fairy Friends (2008): Mariposa is a butterfly fairy who loves to read and dream about what its like outside her world of Flutterfield. When the Queen that protects her land is poisoned, it’s up to Mariposa and her friends to journey outside to find a hidden antidote. This title has options for English, Spanish, or French dialogue, with English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Student blogger Zayn Karim is an undergraduate at Indiana University, studying secondary math education. She is a member of the Women in Math Club at IU. Zayn has been a member of the Media Services desk staff since 2021.