Will Ferrell says Barbie is both a loving homage to the toy and a pointed satire of it.
Will Ferrell says the upcoming Barbie movie, in which he will star as a fictional CEO of Mattel, is the “ultimate example of high art and low art.” In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, the Saturday Night Live legend stated that he sees the movie as both an affectionate ode to the iconic Barbie toy brand as well as a satire that takes aim at both the doll and corporate culture in general. In many ways, this explains Will Ferrell’s involvement in Barbie, as he has frequently gravitated toward projects with a satirical edge.
There have been off-and-on plans to produce a Barbie movie since at least 2009, first under Sony Pictures and involving a rotating cast of Hollywood figures including Amy Schumer, Diablo Cody, and Anne Hathaway. While there was a time when feature films based on famous toy lines were viewed as open marketing ploys, the critical and (more importantly in show business terms) commercial success of 2014’s The Lego Movie opened the door for more intriguing ideas. However, it seems the involvement of the Spirited star is key for actually getting one produced, hence Will Ferrell in Barbie.
Barbie is directed by the two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker and actress Greta Gerwig, co-written by the three-time Academy Award-nominated director Noah Baumbach, and stars the two-time Academy Award-nominated producer Margot Robbie in the title role. In short, there is a lot of firepower behind this movie, even before Will Ferrell hinted that the movie is not going to be a straightforward goofy comedy.
In the Wall Street Journal interview, Will Ferrell also revealed that his CEO character would be “insensitive but weird,” a role that that actor has perfected in movies like Anchorman, Zoolander, and pretty much the majority of his career. He does hint that there may be more under the surface of the character than is first apparent, which sounds like Will Ferrell’s Barbie character might echo his role in The Lego Movie. In the Phil Lord and Christopher Miller film, the actor played a man obsessed with business who re-learns some empathy via classic, branded toys, which sounds pretty probably for the Margot Robbie movie.
In addition to Margot Robbie as the iconic doll and Will Ferrell as the CEO of the toy company that produces her, Ryan Gosling will co-star as Ken, Marvel star Simu Liu as a different Ken, future Doctor Who Ncuti Gatwa as yet another Ken, and Insecure’s Issa Rae as another Barbie variation. It seems like Greta Gerwig is not afraid to play around with the idea of the interchangeability of these mass-produced dolls, though the actual details of the plot are still tightly under wraps.
Right now, we mostly know two things: Margot Robbie really, really hates it when people take pictures of production sets and Will Ferrell believes he is making a piece of nuanced art when it comes to Barbie. Until its release in July 2023, we’ll have to take his word for it.