Revisiting the Barbie Classics in Anticipation of the Live Action Movie, by Ilsa Miller
Updated: Apr 7
The classic Barbie movies were peak entertainment as a kid. I definitely watched other things. Disney’s Cars was (and still is) a favorite of mine, as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. But there was something about the old era of Barbie movies that no other franchise can quite encapsulate.
From swordswomen to princesses and fairies to mermaids, the Barbie movies have it all. Every movie features a heroine committed to saving a person or place she holds dear. No matter the setting, supporting cast, or obstacle she faces, Barbie’s character pursues her goals even in the face of great difficulty. She’s a stellar role model for a young kid, even if magic doesn’t quite exist in our world like it does in Barbie’s.
Now, if you haven’t seen the classic Barbie movies, you might be rolling your eyes. Yeah, I might be over-hyping the movies a little bit for the sake of nostalgia, but I promise there are a few of them well worth the watch.
With the new Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie, set to release over the summer, I thought revisiting the memory of the OG movies might be worthwhile, especially since the plot of the new movie appears to be kept a secret at this time with only a very brief synopsis available.
Without further ado, I present my biased, semi-serious, top 10 personal ranking of the Barbie cinematic experience. If you’ve seen the movies, I hope you agree. If you’ve never watched a clip of them in your life, I present to you this highlights clip from YouTube for your convenience, before strongly urging you to give a few of these movies a watch!
SPOILER ALERT: I included the conclusion of each movie for the purposes of plot summary.
1. Barbie in the Twelve Dancing Princesses
10/10 would recommend
This movie is easily the peak of Barbie media. Twelve sisters overthrow the duchess, their abusive distantly-related relative who takes over the kingdom when their father falls ill. They discover a portal to a secret magic garden using magic tiles on their bedroom floor that activate when danced upon by certain sisters in a specific order. But the duchess’s henchman destroys the portal before the princesses can obtain the cure for their father so that the duchess may become the permanent ruler. Barbie’s character, Genevieve, teams up with her love interest, and they find another entrance to the magic garden where they save her father.
For real, though, secret magic areas, ballerinas who get to overthrow the government, and some really wholesome father-daughter moments — it’s got pretty much everything you could ask for.
2. Barbie as Princess and the Pauper
8.5/10 a true classic
Two girls who look almost alike aside from hair color and clothing color scheme meet in the village commons. One is a princess and the other a commoner, but they both desire a life other than their own. So, they switch roles and the commoner gets herself a wig so that she can pass as the princess.
At one point, the villain takes the princess and traps her in an abandoned mine shaft and they end up floating out of it in a barrel to escape. At the end, the pauper ends up marrying the prince and the princess marries one of the commoners who works at the palace.
It’s a very entertaining story, but unfortunately there’s no secret magic realm. There is, however, a cat, Wolfie, that barks, and I think that little detail is hilarious throughout the movie. I think the cats also steal a ring or something at some point? Apparently it was inspired by a Mark Twain novel, though.
3. Barbie as Rapunzel
8/10 visually stunning art
In this movie, Barbie plays Rapunzel, who is kept inside a manor by Gothel as a servant. To pass the days, she paints frequently and shares her time with a young purple dragon and an old rabbit. Exploring a hidden basement archive one day, she discovers a gift from her parents, who Gothel said abandoned her in the woods at a young age. This makes her question everything about her upbringing in the manor.
Rapunzel discovers a tunnel into the village, and while exploring the town, she saves the princess. This leads to her meeting the prince, but she leaves before she can learn his name. Once Gothel learns of this exchange, she demands to know who the man was. When Rapunzel cannot say, Gothel destroys all of Rapunzel’s paint supplies and magically moves the tower higher so she cannot escape.
That night, Rapunzel’s gift transforms into a magic paintbrush, and when she paints with it, the paintings become real. She uses it to create a portal into the village, make a ballgown, and style her hair.
Gothel cuts off her hair and destroys the brush and the portal, then attends the ball in disguise to trick the prince. Rapunzel escapes and arrives to stop Gothel’s plan, and all the conflict is resolved in a happy ending.
The dragon’s animation is a little creepy, not gonna lie. However, the art in this movie is stunning, and the music is just super pretty. I don’t know if it fits outside of Barbie movie contexts, but I really like the harmonies from the music in this movie.
4. Barbie Fairytopia: Mermaidia
7/10 mermaid lesbians
This movie is a continuation of the Fairytopia sub-franchise, now featuring a cast of mermaids instead of fairies. The villain is the same one from the first movie, an evil fairy who is now banished to “the Bog of the Hinterlands,” and she seeks a berry that can uncurse her so she can leave. Barbie, as Elina, is informed of her plot, which has involved the kidnapping of the merprince Nalu, and she goes to the kingdom of Mermaidia to assist in his rescue.
There, she eventually teams up with the mermaid Nori to track down Nalu and stop the evil fairy’s plans. It requires a lot of trials and traversing dangerous landscapes.
Elina’s companion, a blue fuzzball Bibble, eats a bunch of different berries and it changes his voice, resulting in probably the most famous Barbie movie clip. Points for interesting and perilous plot points. Points off for goblins being the bad guys (anti-semitism) and having stereotypical goblin features.
5. Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus
6.5/10 funny but annoying polar bear
Princess Annika loves to ice skate even though she is forbidden from it. She sneaks out to skate, and while at the rink, an evil warlock arrives and demands she marry him. She refuses numerous times, and he turns everyone there (including her parents) to stone.
Annika escapes the spell with the assistance of a pegasus. She learns she has three days to break the spell before it becomes permanent. The pegasus, Brietta, takes her to the Cloud Kingdom where Annika learns that Brietta is her older sister, who was turned into a pegasus when she refused to marry the warlock years ago.
They have to make a magical wand too, which requires three components. On the journey, the group gets trapped in the Dark Forest, but a young man, Aidan, saves them. They all band together for the journey of making the wand.
Eventually, they do gather all of the components, with some setbacks, but it doesn’t work when Annika needs it to, and the warlock traps her in a snowslide. The group rescues her as she is unconscious. When she awakes, they track down the warlock and defeat him, Annika now understanding how the wand works.
They turn Brietta back to human, and everyone has a big reunion. Aidan and Annika end up getting married, as well.
There’s a polar bear companion animal. Although the character design is cute, the bear is super annoying and causes a lot of the plot problems, but they still keep her around. Also, they discuss gambling addictions vaguely in this movie so props to the studio.
There’s also just a lot of silly comedy gags, like a guy getting turned into an LED style rug at one point.
6. Barbie Fairytopia: Magic of the Rainbow
6/10 was buried in the corners of my memory
The third movie in this series, Elina is asked to become one of the guardians in Fairytopia and to help prepare for spring. She travels to the training site and meets the other apprentices (one for each color of the rainbow).
Carrying over from the prior movies in the series, the evil fairy devises a way to leave her banishment and infiltrates the training, disguised as one of the apprentices. The guardians are then spelled asleep, and the remaining apprentices must perform the ceremony that begins spring. Elina tracks down the apprentice that the evil fairy impersonated, and they all work together to stop the villian from destroying the flower that will start spring.
Bibble has a subplot, which is meh. They actually kill the villain, which is surprising given that it’s a kids movie, but old school Barbie movies are “different” that way, apparently.
7. Barbie: Fairytopia
5.5/10 very cool concept but better execution desired
The fairy Elina is born without wings and longs to fly as other fairies mock her for it. Rumors circulate that an evil fairy kidnapped one of the fairy guardians. Due to the evil fairy’s plans, all the winged fairies are unable to fly, and so Elina must seek out one of the fairy guardians for help.
She and her fuzzball companion, Bibble, meet with a guardian who directs them toward someone who can help. The evil fairy comes to kidnap the guardian, but Elina and Bibble escape and make their way to their destination. Elina makes her way to the evil fairy to confront her, becomes hypnotized, breaks the spell, and defeats the villain. With all the guardians freed, Elina is gifted wings of her own and can now fly.
This is definitely a decent story, and it’s cool that her disability is the reason she is able to save everyone. It’s not as memorable as the other two in the series though.
8. Barbie and The Three Musketeers
5.5/10 their outfits are super
Based on the novel by Alexander Dumas, Barbie, as Corinne, dreams of becoming a female musketeer. She travels to Paris to pursue her dream but is mocked by those she tells. During her travels, she meets three other women who share the same dream and are also not taken seriously.
All four work in the royal castle, and Corrine one day saves the prince from an “accident” that she discovers was an attempt on his life. An elderly servant of the castle takes notice of them and offers to train them as musketeers in secret.
During a ball, the girls sneak in their weapons and end up saving the prince’s life. Once the danger has passed, he declares them all royal musketeers for saving him.
The animation is pretty cool since it’s more modern. It’s also just a neat empowerment movie in my opinion out of all the Barbie movies released. I also think the character/outfit design was super cool.
It wasn’t a super complex story with an underlying message, though, and it didn’t feel super unique compared to other Barbie adaptations. Also the prince gets caught upside down in a ladder and can’t figure out how to be unstuck, which is pretty silly.
9. Barbie and the Diamond Castle
5.5/10 cottagecore lesbians
Two village girls find some heart shaped stones in the river and make them into necklaces, not realizing they are special and unlock the Diamond Castle, nor do they know that the castle exists.
They obtain a magic mirror as a gift from an elderly woman, which contains the essence of an apprentice muse who is hiding from the villain. She tells the girls about the castle and what would happen if the villain found it.
They have an altercation with the villain, who tries to hypnotize them, but the necklaces protect them from her spell. After finding the castle, the two outsmart the villain and trap her, saving the castle and the village.
There are pretty cool visuals in the movie, and the puppy companion animals are really cute. It’s definitely one of the last Barbie movies I would consider to be in the classic Barbie era, though.
10. Barbie of Swan Lake
4.5/10 not my favorite
This movie is based off of the famous ballet of the same name. A village girl, Odette, sees a unicorn and follows it into a hidden enchanted glen where she meets a bunch of fairies cursed to take animal form and their protector who is too weak to do much but grant them human form during certain hours.
The villain, the guardian’s brother, wants control of the forest, but the guardian refuses to give him custody. He finds Odette in the forest and curses her to be a swan. The guardian is able to help mitigate the curse during times of the day but not much more. Odette searches for a magic book that includes how to reverse the spells for everyone.
The villain lures the prince into the forest to shoot the swan, but he is stalled long enough for her to transform back into her human form and he is informed of the situation at hand. He invites her to the palace for a ball. Odette is unable to make it in time, and the villain disguises his daughter as Odette to trick the prince.
Unable to break their curse, Odette returns to the forest with plans to confront the villain and steal back the magic book. Ultimately, the power of true love protects the prince and Odette, and the two end up getting married after they defeat the villain and his daughter.
The movie has very anti-semitic coding in the villains, which obviously isn’t great. Overall, though, the story is a cool adaptation of the ballet, and the unicorn is very sassy with some good one-liners.
Also the prince gets a cube-world model in the background of one of the scenes, and the fact that they don’t comment on it a ton is worth a laugh.
Barbie in the Nutcracker
This is the first Barbie movie. It’s not bad but not good enough, in my opinion, to make it onto the list.
This has a cool style deviation from the traditional classic Barbie movies. It’s very different, but a good watch. I didn’t rank it because it’s such a different vibe from the other movies released before and after it.
Barbie as the Island Princess
It has a cool story and interesting premise. I honestly don’t remember much of the movie though. Someone royal ends up getting covered in mud at some point though and that was entertaining.
I honestly don’t remember this movie, but I vaguely remember it being good? I truly have no recollection of the plot or characters though.
With the first-ever live action Barbie movie set to release over the summer, it will be very interesting to see what direction they take the movies now that it’s been 20+ years since the first one was released. One thing for sure is that the modern movies will never beat the stories from the classic movies. Although there is no doubt Margot Robbie will do a stellar job in her role.