Barbie goes to Hollywood

World's best-known doll is coming to the big screen. But who can fill her shoes?

Call it blonde ambition. After fifty years, countless changes of costume, and more than 120 official jobs, Barbie has decided to take her golden hair, blue eyes and hourglass figure to its natural home: Hollywood.

The world's most famous plastic doll, whose full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, has been signed by Universal Pictures in a multi-million dollar deal that will see her portrayed by a real-life actress in a series of "family-friendly" live-action movies.

And Ken will be worried to hear that she is not making the transition alone. News of the move came as Mattel, the toy manufacturer responsible for Barbie, announced that it had also agreed to sell-off similar rights to its most famous boy's toy, He-Man. The muscle-bound superhero and his fellow "Masters of the Universe" have joined the stable of rival studio Sony.

The critics will doubtless groan: this summer has seen live-action concept films inspired by toys like Transformers and G.I. Joe released to a near-universal drubbing. But given they nonetheless make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, Barbie and He-Man's journeys to the big screen make solid business sense.

Yet they also represent a departure for Mattel, who have traditionally been highly protective of their products' polished image. Over the years, the firm has turned down countless approaches by studios interested in developing Barbie films, limiting her to a motley selection of straight-to-video cartoons.

"The brand wasn't ready for a movie," Mattel told Variety yesterday. "[But] in the last 10 years, Barbie has evolved from a toy into an intellectual property. We've already had enormous success in the entertainment industry... there have been live stage shows, live symphonies and other non-traditional forms of entertainment."

Developing the first film will take several years, and Universal has appointed the prominent producer Laurence Mark – whose CV includes Jerry Maguire and the recent Julia & Julia - to oversee the project. He is currently appointing screenwriters.

"Barbie may be the most popular girl in the world, and has always been a wonderfully aspirational figure, so we must do her proud," Mark said, adding that he has plenty to work with, given Barbie has had over 120 personas, including high-school teenager, astronaut, and cocktail waitress.

At least part of the narrative is likely to revolve around Ken, Barbie's on-off boyfriend (at one point displaced by an Australian surfing hunk called Blaine); other portions will no doubt include her impeccably diverse cast of close friends. Although speculation has inevitably begun about which actress will play the iconic doll, Mark has no immediate plans to start auditioning candidates.

The film will add another chapter to the storied history of Barbie, who was first unveiled at the 1959 toy fair in New York by her creator Ruth Handler, and whose design has barely changed since. She has remained the world's most popular, and lucrative, girls toy for more than five decades.

Barbie's design was based on a German sex doll called Bild Lilli. She was considered revolutionary as the first mass-market girl's doll modelled on an adult, and also because of her innovative leg joint, which allowed her to sit down without spreading her legs distastefully. But she has also come in for plenty of criticism for the idealised image she presents to young girls. A Finnish hospital calculated that if she were 5ft 9ins, her waist would be a mere 18 inches – and she would lack the minimum 17 to 22 percent body fat required to menstruate.

For years, Mattel refused attempts by Hollywood to drag Barbie into the modern era. But increased competition from video games and rival dolls like Bratz has in recent years forced the firm to alter its marketing strategy.

In addition to having appeared on stage, and in a cameo in the Toy Story movies, Barbie now boasts dedicated theme "homes" in Malibu and Shanghai, together with a blog, a Twitter feed, and her own Facebook page.

He-Man's journey to the big screen has also been tortured. Film rights to the cartoon action hero were originally sold to Warner Brothers in 2007. However their project floundered amid reported creative tension between producer Joel Silver, his bosses at the studio, and Mattel, which retained the power of veto over the film's contents. After buying the lapsed rights, Sony is now starting from scratch. According to Variety, their film will "revolve around a prince who becomes the warrior He-Man and battles the evil Skeletor for control of his magical homeland."

Battle of the blondes

*Only in Hollywood does being compared to Barbie represent a compliment. This leaves endless candidates to play the world's most famous blonde. Ultimately, the choice comes down to flagrant ageism: Anna Faris, Heather Graham, and Katherine Heigl are the best actresses on any shortlist, but they're all in their thirties. Another older candidate, Reese Witherspoon, showed form for the part as a real-life version in the comedy franchise Legally Blonde, but the movie's satirical edge will probably blow that prospect out of the water. Hayden Panetierre and Blake Lively, 20-something TV stars looking for breakthrough film roles, have better age profiles. But the current bookies' favourite is precocious 15-year-old child actress Dakota Fanning. Pamela Anderson, meanwhile, surely represents a shoo-in to play Barbie's mother.

The actor who plays He-Man, meanwhile, will be required to look buff in buff in leather underpants, and occasionally raise a large sword above his head while shouting "I have the power." Christian Bale, who takes that sort of role very seriously, must be considered a front-runner, along with Daniel Craig, who brings blonde hair and a beefy frame to the table. The purist's choice, however, would be California's outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger - who is still fondly remembered as Conan the Barbarian, and will be looking for gainful employment very soon indeed.

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin