Moviegoers have been hearing a lot about Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, but ahead of its July 21 release one question remains: Is it appropriate viewing for kids?
The widely publicized Warner Bros. Pictures film features Margot Robbie as the titular Mattel doll — the first live-action Barbie to hit the big screen since the toy’s creation in 1959. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the studio teased its plot as follows: “To live in Barbie Land is to be a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-on existential crisis. Or you’re a Ken.”
Gerwig serves as director and, with Noah Baumbach, co-writer of Barbie, which in addition to Robbie stars Ryan Gosling, Simu Liu, Issa Rae, Will Ferrell, Michael Cera and America Ferrera. As initial glimpses of the film’s colorful costuming and set designs appeared, the inhabitants of this pink dreamland began dropping hints about the story.
“People don’t have any idea what to expect [about the film’s plot], and I think that that’s the right vibe,” Ferrera told PEOPLE in 2022. “Whatever you think it is, it’s not that. It’s something else.”
Liu told Vanity Fair the film is “really about finding you,” adding that casting with a focus on diversity and inclusivity was part of Gerwig’s mission. Contrary to the majority of the dolls’ history, “You don’t have to be blonde, white, or X, Y, Z in order to embody what it means to be a Barbie or a Ken,” he revealed.
In an interview with Screenrant, Liu also said, “You have to really watch the movie to understand this, but it is a feat to have gotten Mattel on board with this movie. Because this movie really goes there, and it attacks all the criticisms of Barbie in the past. It joins in on the conversation, and it’s not just like a fluffy, cash-grabby, ‘Look at us, we’re fine. Everything’s perfect.’”
Gerwig herself teased the film to PEOPLE, as part of a special Barbie issue (out now). “We invent things like dolls to explain to ourselves what it means to be human… Part of me wondered if there was a way that we could allow the doll to also have that humanity,” the Oscar-nominated filmmaker said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Queen of Plastic was given something real?”
But how “real” is this plastic, fantastic adaptation? And why did the Motion Picture Association grant it a PG-13 rating, citing “suggestive references and brief language”? Before you decide whether to watch it with your family, here’s what you need to know about Barbie and why it may not be suitable for kids under age 13. Warning: some spoilers ahead.
The story features some heavy themes
As one Barbie trailer has revealed, Robbie’s eponymous character asks, “Do you guys ever think about dying?” This line is uttered as Barbie, sporting big smile on her face, appears to be dancing joyously — a glimpse of Gerwig’s distinct combination of existential musings wrapped in a candy-colored aesthetic.
Per critics who have already seen it, Barbie includes themes that may be more familiar to adults than kids, interspersed with silly jokes that appeal to all. “It’s heady and existential and sometimes uses big words,” a source tells PEOPLE, “but smart kids will be eager to lean forward and meet the movie on those terms.”
Danny Brogan, who serves as executive editor at Common Sense Media, an organization that pre-screens and rates content for kids, told Yahoo!, “I think Gerwig has included all this maturer content knowing that a large portion of the audience will be millennials and members of Generation Z — people who grew up with Barbie during the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s — looking for that nostalgia but also to be entertained. They’re no longer that 8-year-old who took Barbie everywhere with them.”
It’s an emphatically feminist tale
When Robbie’s Barbie and Gosling’s Ken journey out of Barbie land and into the real world, where the actual Mattel corporation awaits, the film explores the contrast between their female-centric fantasy realm and our modern society’s realities. Ken becomes radicalized by America’s notions of patriarchy, while Barbie has to deal with being ogled and demeaned (at one point she slaps a man for touching her butt).
Parents hoping their kids will learn from the film will likely approve of its feminist messaging. Gerwig doesn’t shy away from centering the modern feminine experience in her plot, as our source familiar with the material says. “It’s about how women are treated and viewed in the world — to a sometimes surprising degree.”
There’s some suggestive language
Barbie features language some parents may not want children to hear, although its inappropriateness may in fact go over particularly young audiences’ heads. An early film teaser featured a glimpse of Gosling and Liu arguing: “I would beach you off,” says Gosling’s Ken, to which Liu’s Ken responds, “I’ll beach off with you any day.” Other lines of dialogue are similarly only inappropriate if children understand the puns at play.
Weird Barbie, played by Kate McKinnon, also delivers offbeat humor that can be considered sexually suggestive. Of a Ken character, she says, “I’d like to see what smooth blob he’s packing in those shorts.”
Words including “bitch” and “crap” do feature, as well as a “motherf—er” that is loudly bleeped for comedic effect.
It features mild, cartoony violence
While a PG-13 rating from the MPAA can often indicate violence too intense for young audiences, Barbie’s does not. There is mild peril during some sequences, but little that would cause fearful reactions from children. A battle between Ken dolls features the kind of violence you can see in a cartoon for kids: weaponizing inflatable pool toys and aggressively dancing, for example, as a trailer previews.
Critics are praising its story
Early Barbie reactions are by and large positive, teasing Oscar buzz especially for Gosling as Ken. ComicBook.com’s Jamie Jirak tweeted that “Greta Gerwig somehow exceeded my expectations. She tackles the positives and negatives of Barbie so beautifully.”
Variety’s Katcy Stephan wrote that Barbie is “perfection”: “a nuanced commentary on what it means to be a woman in a whimsical, wonderful and laugh-out-loud funny romp. The entire cast shines, especially Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in roles they were clearly born to play.”
Barbie is in theaters everywhere July 21.