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Western Animation / Barbie

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Barbie has starred as a virtual actress in a long-running series of CGI-animated films. At first, they were released through home video and the movies aired on Nickelodeon, but since mid-2017, they've been released through Netflix instead. These films generally share a Frame Story of Barbie telling the story to a friend or younger sibling, while also starring in the story itself, although some of them have Barbie starring as herself rather than another character.

The film series was conceived as a way to reach young girls with stories of Barbie in various careers, while compensating for the fact that its target audience were spending more time online than playing with physical dolls. In this way, Mattel could market new lines of dolls based on these films.



Tropes shared across the films include:

  • An Aesop: Most of the movies include some kind of central message or theme, often including a quote spelling out the message plainly before or after the end credits. Common themes and aesops include The Power of Friendship, The Power of Love, Hope Springs Eternal, You Are Better Than You Think You Are etc.
  • Art Evolution:
    • Besides the animation improving over the years as CGI technology becomes more advanced and easier to use, from around Barbie as the Island Princess onwards, the facial features of Barbie and the characters she portrays have shifted, making her face more heart-shaped and her eyes larger; her face has only changed more over the years. The earlier films tended to give Barbie and many of the side characters more realistic features (as much as the technology would allow), while the later films have increasingly opted for more exaggerated, stylized features.
    • Most of the earlier movies tend to favor softer, pastel color palettes, while later movies gradually shifted towards bolder, brighter color palettes.
  • The Chosen One: A recurring theme in the earlier movies.
    • Clara is revealed to be the mythical Sugar Plum Princess in Barbie in the Nutcracker.
    • Odette from Barbie of Swan Lake has a magical destiny to save the inhabitants of the Enchanted Forest from Rothbart's reign of terror.
    • Elina from Barbie Fairytopia has "the rainbow in her eye", which marks her for a great destiny.
    • Subverted in Barbie & The Diamond Castle: Alexa and Liana are just two regular women who happened to stumble across Melody's mirror. Then it's played straight when the girls seek shelter in a Big Fancy House, and the inhabitants of the manor say that a prophecy foretold Liana and Alexa's arrival, and by fate's decree it belongs to them. Turns out it was a trap set by Lydia, and they really are just regular people going on this adventure because it's the right thing to do.
  • Fairy Tale: A few of the movies are based on or inspired by fairytales, or share a lot of fairytale conventions. This includes Rapunzel, Swan Lake, The 12 Dancing Princesses and Thumbelina. Disneyfication is often in effect seeing as they're aimed at young children and are intended to have uplifting messages (some of the original fairytales have Downer Endings and/or pretty messed up content that wouldn't be appropriate for kids).
  • Framing Device: Several of the earlier films and a few of the later ones had Barbie telling a story to her younger sister (usually Kelly/Chelsea) which segued into the main plot, often to relay some kind of message or moral to both her sister and the audience.
  • Gorgeous Garment Generation: This happens in a fair number of films:
    • Barbie in the Nutcracker: Clara's nightgown turns into a pink and white tutu (complete with Regal Ringlets and a tiara) when she is revealed to be the Sugarplum Princess.
    • Barbie as Rapunzel: Rapunzel uses her magic paintbrush to turn her dress into several different gowns, eventually settling on a glittery pink and purple number.
    • Barbie of Swan Lake: Odette's dress is transformed twice, once into a pink gown for her evening with Daniel and again into a sparkly swan feathered gown.
    • Barbie & The Diamond Castle: Four times over (six if you count the dogs getting all sparkly).
  • Gratuitous Princess: Many of Barbie's characters are princesses (often by birth), especially in the earlier films, and it would probably be easier to name the ones where she isn't one at all (Elina from Barbie Fairytopia, Eden Starling from Barbie in A Christmas Carol, and Barbie from The Barbie Diaries, to name a few). This goes all the way back to the first film, Barbie in the Nutcracker, which not only made Clara a Composite Character with the Sugarplum Fairy but also changed her title to that of the Sugarplum Princess.
  • Heroic Fantasy: While many of the 2000s films have high fantasy-type settings and the protagonists are always heroic, sometimes the focus of the story is much smaller and more personal. The protagonists may obtain magical items to aid them, but often lack inherent powers of their own, while the villains may be capable of wielding magic.
  • High Fantasy: A few of the stories, especially the ones from the 2000s, feature the protagonist going on an epic quest to save their world/kingdom, with magic being an everyday or at least not unusual occurence. Barbie in the Nutcracker, Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus, and the Fairytopia films fit this most closely.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A common punishment for the villains, especially in the earlier films:
    • Barbie in the Nutcracker: The Mouse King tries to cast a spell on Clara to shrink her down even smaller than he did at the beginning, but Eric uses his sword to reflect the spell back at him, shrinking him down to a much more size-accurate mouse too small to do anything but run away.
    • In Barbie as Rapunzel, Gothel casts a spell to try and trap Rapunzel permanently within the tower, but the wording of the spell meant it was Gothel who ended up sealed inside, while Rapunzel was able to just stroll right out.note 
    • Barbie of Swan Lake: Rothbart is defeated when the magic crystal that he obsessed over stealing from Odette is powered up by Odette and Daniel's love when he wears it, exploding and practically killing him.
    • Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses: When Duchess Rowena obtains a wish-granting flower, she tries to use it to inflict an Ironic Hell on Genevieve by wishing that Genevieve would "dance forever and ever". Genevieve uses a fan to wave away the flower's magic pollen back at her, inflicting it on Rowena instead. What doubles the irony is that Rowena earlier gave Genevieve and her sisters a lesson on how to use said fan, sealing her fate.
    • Towards the end of Barbie & The Diamond Castle, Lydia is turned to stone by the very spell she was casting on Liana and Alexa.
  • In Name Only: The movies that adapt fairy tales tend to be incredibly liberal with the source material. Nutcracker and Swan Lake retain elements like ballet and some character names, Rapunzel only features the original story as a Dream Sequence, Princess and the Pauper has an entirely original Gender Flipped plot with only the basic Prince and Pauper premise, and Twelve Dancing Princesses has just the basic idea of twelve princesses who sneak out to dance. Tropes Are Tools, though; this doesn't make them bad, just different.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: Although the heroine gets a love interest in some of the movies, even if they get a Relationship Upgrade it's rare for them to do anything more than hug, if that; besides that they'll probably just hold hands, dance together and give each other long looks. Rapunzel is one of the few movies to feature the Official Couple kissing onscreen at their wedding, and it's an extremely brief and chaste-looking kiss.
  • Oddball in the Series: The Barbie Diaries wasn't produced at Mainframe/Rainmaker as the other films are/were; instead production was handled by Curious Pictures, resulting in some seriously odd-looking CGI (even in comparison to the other films at the time). It was also set in the modern day, as opposed to the various historical/semi-historical or outright fantasy settings.
    • Also, the two 1980s Barbie and the Rockers/Barbie and the Sensations specials, which were little more than potential pilots for a regular Barbie animated series (when negotiations with Mattel apparently fell apart, DiC Entertainment repurposed much of their production materials into the Hasbro-backed Maxie's World).
  • Parental Abandonment: The earlier films, which were mostly based on fairy tales, had this trope a fair few times.
    • Barbie in the Nutcracker: Clara and Tommy's parents are specified to have died when they were younger, and they live with their grandfather.
    • Barbie as Rapunzel: Rapunzel is told by Gothel that her parents abandoned her when she was a baby before Gothel adopted her. In reality, Gothel kidnapped her from her parents to get back at Rapunzel's father for rejecting her affections, and in the end Rapunzel reunites with them.
    • Barbie of Swan Lake: Odette lives with her father and older sister, but her mother is never mentioned or seen and is presumably dead.
    • Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper: Anneliese's father is briefly seen in the prologue but disappears after that, and is all but outright stated to have died. Erika's parents are deceased, and their debts from taking loans from Madame Carp are why she's forced to work for her.
    • Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses: Queen Isabella, the mother of Genevieve and her sisters, is long deceased (and unlike the above examples, is at least named).
    • Barbie as the Island Princess: Ro was found and raised by animals on a tropical island as a child when she washed up on the shore, and has no memory of her past. In the end, she reunites with her mother and finds out her true identity is Princess Rosella.
    • Barbie: Princess Charm School: Blair has an adoptive mother and little sister, having been a Doorstop Baby. She later discovers she is actually Sophia, princess of Gardenia, and her family was killed in an accident engineered by Dame Devin.
  • Period Piece: Up to Barbie and the Three Musketeers, the majority of the movies were set either in the past or in fantasy realms that resembled long-ago time periods; medieval and Renaissance Europe are the most common settings for the movies of this era, with The Barbie Diaries and Thumbelina standing out for being set in the modern day. Following Barbie and the Three Musketeers, the majority of the movies shifted to contemporary settings.
  • Plenty of Blondes: Seeing as all the movies star Barbie as the main protagonist or Barbie herself, and one of Barbie's distinctive physical traits is her blonde hair, the main protagonists are always blonde. Some of the side characters may be blondes as well, though it's also common for Barbie/the character Barbie plays to have a close companion with differently-colored hair (especially brunette).
  • Practically Different Generations: The Framing Device of several films involves Barbie telling her younger sister Kelly a story; Barbie appears to be in her twenties, while Kelly looks no older than ten, giving them a gap of around a decade. Barbie is depicted as a Cool Big Sis imparting comfort and wisdom to her little sister.
  • Princess Protagonist: Earlier films frequently had Barbie's character be a princess, usually (but not always) by birth. Later movies mostly dropped this after moving away from fairy tales, but it still pops up occasionally.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: All of the movies lean far onto the Idealism side. The heroes always overcome the obstacles in their path and save the day, true love and friendship triumph, the villain is either defeated or takes a level in kindness, and so on.
  • Transformation Sequence: A staple of the films, especially in films involving magic.
  • Urban Fantasy: Some of the movies, especially the ones released in the 2010s, take place in the modern day with fantasy elements (e.g. Thumbelina has fairies trying to save their park from industrial development, Princess Charm School has a modern-day setting but one with fairies and a magic crown being important to the plot). Some movies like The Pearl Princess have more fantastical settings but with strong modern influences (especially compared to the older films, which tend to have medieval or Renaissance-inspired settings).


Tammy Wen

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