Barbie dream house is a film that benefits from repeated viewings. Every time you watch it, you’ll notice something new, a big idea or a minor detail.
When it played in theaters on July 21, everyone who has ever dressed up as a Barbie recognized some outfit or prop from their childhood, whether they played with the doll in the 1960s or the 1990s.
Even the most agnostic Barbie fan will find something to enjoy, whether it’s references to old Hollywood technicolor musicals or a famous scene from The Matrix.
1. Where Was The Movie Filmed?
Barbie’s story begins in a pink wonderland called Barbie Land, where there is an all-female Supreme Court and, as Helen Mirren’s narrator tells the audience, “all problems of feminism and equal rights have been solved.”
The Barbies enjoy nightly slumber parties to commemorate their good fortune. It’s a real-life fantasy world that relies on physical sets rather than CGI.
Greta Gerwig, the writer-director, decided to create a coherent set of rules that would govern how Barbie Land looked and functioned.
To accomplish this, she delved into the history of Barbie, movies, and fashion.
Gerwig, producer and star Margot Robbie Barbie, and Mattel creatives spoke to TIME for a cover story on the new film about how they imagined all the details in the movie.
2. The Team Attended A Barbie Bootcamp
Throughout 2018 and 2019, Gerwig, Margot Robbie Barbie, and members of Robbie’s production company LuckyChap participated in an immersion course designed by Mattel.
The unofficial Barbie boot camp began with the doll’s origin story—Barbie dream house was created by Ruth Handler—and continued with a look at some of Barbie’s best outfits over the years.
This research sparked the idea for the story. Handler’s connection to her daughter Barbara (after whom Barbie is named) became a plot point in the film involving a mother and daughter.
“On so many levels, a Barbie movie will always be a mother-daughter movie because it was Ruth Handler and Barbara—that was the relationship,” Gerwig says.
3. Creating The Real Life Barbie World
Gerwig and her co-writer and partner, filmmaker Noah Baumbach, also had to create a world from scratch.
To keep everything in order, they devised rules for Barbie Land.
“You see a seamless universe that all makes sense, and that’s because there were these particular limits about what could and couldn’t happen,” Kate McKinnon, who plays one of the Barbies, explains.
What is one such rule? Nothing can be cluttered in Barbie Land because it is a utopia. There is no garbage.
“Nothing in the world is dirty, even when it’s at its most chaotic,” McKinnon says. “That struck me.”
4. Barbie’s 1950s Origins Inspired The Dream House Aesthetic
Since Barbie dream house debuted in 1959, Gerwig and Oscar-nominated production designer Sarah Greenwood chose a midcentury modern aesthetic for Barbie’s Dream House and many of her fashions.
Barbie lives on the type of suburban cul de sac that was idealized at the time.
The Margot Robbie Barbie Dream Houses were built without walls, so the actors had to be attached to wires to avoid falling off the top floors of their homes when they awoke.
On the other hand, the cast claims that everything else in their Dream Houses was surprisingly functional.
They would sit on the retro chairs and talk between takes. “We all just wanted to kick it in each other’s living rooms because they were so fabulous,” Alexandra Shipp, who plays author Barbie, explains.
5. Inside The Dream House
The Barbie dream houses were built without walls, so the actors had to be attached to wires to avoid falling off the top floors of their homes when they awoke.
On the other hand, the cast claims that everything else in their Dream Houses was surprisingly functional; they would sit on the retro chairs and talk between takes.
“We all just wanted to kick it in each other’s living rooms because they were so fabulous,” Alexandra Shipp, who plays author Barbie, explains.
6. The Other Characters Dream Homes
Skipper’s house is the only one on the block that isn’t pink. The roof sprouts leaves, and a swing hangs from a protruding branch.
Technically, it’s the Chelsea TreeHouse—a near-exact replica scaled up to accommodate human actors. Indeed, everything in Barbie Land is built to a specific scale to appear “toyetic.”
“The scale is not life-like,” says Lisa McKnight, Mattel’s executive vice president who oversees the marketing of Barbie and dolls.
For example, Barbie, the character’s Corvette, is a little too small for Robbie, as is Barbie, the doll’s convertible: the windshield only comes up to her chest.
7. Old Hollywood Influenced Gerwig
Gerwig’s team did more than just research on mid century furniture trends. The filmmaker also revisited Old Hollywood films to capture the look of those stories.
Gerwig’s team hand-painted the backdrops to look like old soundstage musicals rather than using a green screen to ensure that there were only bright blue skies in idyllic Barbie Land.
Ken attempts to interact with a set backdrop in an early scene, with disastrous results.
Many of the props on set were hand-painted, from the trees to the pool outside of Barbie dream house, which is devoid of water.
“I remember the bark of the palm trees being different shades of brown, green, and even pink,” McKnight recalls.
8. Inspiration Behind The Epic Dance Scenes
Barbie’s dance numbers are heavily influenced by 1940s and 1950s Technicolor musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain.
During production, Robbie’s production company LuckyChap hosted a film festival, screening films that influenced Barbie dream house.
On the other hand, Gerwig did not confine herself to a single era. The film contains numerous references to films ranging from Rocky to 2001 – A Space Odyssey to Clueless.
9. The Devil In The Tiny, Pink Details
The details bring Margot Robbie Barbie Land to life. Gerwig is obsessed with everything, and the props that populate the fantastical space give it a surprisingly lived-in feel, like a Barbie version of the book Moby Dick on a side table.
All the letters in Barbie’s mailbox were scribbled in nonsense language as if written by a child. Barbie fans know that Pantone 219 is Barbie’s signature shade of pink.
A massive Pantone 219 chip stands outside Mattel’s Barbie conference room.
However, the set used so much pink paint—both that specific color and secondary and tertiary shades—that it caused a worldwide shortage.
10. A Pink Paradise
The sheer number of pinks in each shot presented its challenges.
“I don’t think we have ever seen or will ever see a film with more pink in it,” says producer David Heyman, who helped create another well-known fantasy world with the Harry Potter film series.
“And then there was the question of how to handle that photographically—thank goodness we had Rodrigo Prieto, who could balance everything and create a beautiful and rich palette.”
11. The Barbie Movie Soundtrack
The soundtrack features today’s top artists, but even the artists who sang were carefully chosen.
Issa Rae, who plays President Barbie, points out that Nicki Minaj, who has adopted the name “Barbie” as one of her personas, has helped to boost Barbie’s image among adults in recent years.
Minaj and Ice Spice are remixing Aqua’s old “Barbie Girl” song in a nod to Barbie’s influence on music over the years.
“My Barbie association is Nicki Minaj,” Rae explains. “So it’s cool that she’s in this movie somehow.”
12. Barbie’s Fashion Is (Almost) Always On Point
In addition to the Margot Robbie Barbie immersion course, Gerwig and Baumbach researched to learn more about unusual or controversial outfits of dolls produced by Mattel over the years.
Robbie’s Barbie and Ryan Gosling’s Ken wore collector’s items that we won’t reveal for the sake of spoilers.
And, yes, some stranger toys appear in the film. According to the marketing rollout, the pregnant Midge doll, who popped a baby out, makes an appearance in the movie.
Jacqueline Durran, the Oscar-winning costume designer, was tasked with recreating some of Barbie’s most iconic looks.
She had a direct line to Kim Culmone, Mattel’s head of design for fashion dolls, who would then delve deep into the archives to provide references to the filmmaking team.
Every bathing suit and camp shirt was handmade and silk-screened to order.
Best Facts to Know About The New Barbie Dream House Movie…
The small details truly elevated the set to the level of art. Ken walks around in a pair of boxing shoes explicitly designed for smooth surfaces at one point in the film, which is fine because Barbie Land has no natural grass, gravel, or dirt.
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