Sony’s Barbie Movie Failed: Feminist-Girl Boss Tone, Lego Movie and More

When Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie’s “Barbie” finally opens in theaters later this month, it will mark the end of a long, long journey to get the iconic Mattel doll to the big screen. Sony Pictures originally had the rights to Barbie and spent years trying to get a movie off the ground. Actors such as Amy Schumer and Anne Hathaway came and went. Schumer said last month that she exited her “Barbie” movie because the script wasn’t “feminist and cool” enough.

Another talent that left “Barbie” during the film’s development at Sony was Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Juno.” She exited the film in 2018 and told ScreenCrush at the time, “I was literally incapable of turning in a ‘Barbie’ draft. God knows I tried.”

Why was “Barbie” so hard to crack for an Oscar-winning talent? Cody reflected on the failed project in a new interview with GQ magazine.

“I think I know why I shit the bed,” Cody said. “When I was first hired for this, I don’t think the culture had not embraced the femme or the bimbo as valid feminist archetypes yet. If you look up ‘Barbie’ on TikTok you’ll find this wonderful subculture that celebrates the feminine, but in 2014, taking this skinny blonde white doll and making her into a heroine was a tall order.”

Sony’s plan to pair Cody’s idiosyncratic writing style with a crass comedian like Schumer didn’t work, the writer remembered. “That idea of an anti-Barbie made a lot of sense given the feminist rhetoric of 10 years ago,” Cody said. “I didn’t really have the freedom then to write something that was faithful to the iconography; they wanted a girl-boss feminist twist on Barbie, and I couldn’t figure it out because that’s not what Barbie is.”

Cody also said “The Lego Movie” loomed large over the development of Sony’s “Barbie” movie. The 2014 animated comedy was a massive critical and commercial hit for Warner Bros., grossing $468 million worldwide and landing Oscar nominations for best animated feature and best original song. “The Lego Movie” took a brilliant meta approach to bringing toys to the big screen, and Sony wanted to emulate that for Barbie.

“I heard endless references to ‘The Lego Movie’ in development,” Cody told GQ magazine, “and it created a problem for me because they had done it so well. Any time I came up with something meta, it was too much like what they had done. It was a roadblock for me, but now enough time has passed that they can just cast [‘The Lego Movie’ antagonist] Will Ferrell as the antagonist in a real-life Barbie movie and nobody cares.” 

Warner Bros.’ “Barbie” opens in theaters nationwide July 21.

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