Donald MacInnes: Who would want to be a Barbie girl in a non-Barbie world?


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The Independent Online

Fans of late-80s body-swap comedy films will recall Penny Marshall's Big, in which Tom Hanks played a little boy transformed overnight into his older self. He gets a job with a large toy manufacturer, and immediately begins to rise up the corporate ladder thanks to his relentless ability to come up with dynamite ideas for new toy lines, because he can think like a child.

This was, of course, due to the fact that, despite having a big boy's whatnot in his pants and hair on his tummy, he was a child. So, whatever odd (to grown-up ears) idea he presented to the board, the kindly old managing director would guffaw delightedly and marvel at his insight.

However, this week's news story about the corporate demise of Mattel's chief executive, Bryan Stockton, suggests that the fluffiness of Big's MacMillan Toy Company is well wide of the mark. In reality, multinational toy companies are about as tolerant and forgiving of people's mistakes as the Corleones.

Following a 6 per cent drop in sales over the Christmas period, Mattel – the world's biggest toy manufacturer – has responded by giving Mr Stockton the old Buckaroo; the old Ker-Plunk; the old Connect 4 to the windpipe. As you'd expect, the company's share price fell 11 per cent as a result, with Mattel commenting that it now needed to "revitalise the business and to identify the right leadership".

What will surprise many is not the cold response of the Mattel board, but the reason for the dip in sales: for this, you have to blame Barbie. It seems the old girl has let things slide recently. Over the past three years, the popularity of the plastic princess has taken a severe beating from two directions. First, there is new technology and the fact that, given the choice, little girls would rather text their mates and share selfies on Instagram than, well, breathe on any sort of regular basis. However, this can be discounted as the sole reason for Barbie's demise, as every toy in the cupboard must have felt the impact of the smartphone.

The second reason is more pertinent. Instead of asking for Barbie, our daughters have been demanding action figures from the animated movie, Frozen. And Barbie can't compete with that.

This staggers me. But then again it doesn't. I have seen Frozen and it was crap. As animated films go, it isn't fit to shine the shoes of Toy Story or Up or Monsters Inc or The Lego Movie.

However, its success is inevitable, because these days mediocrity reigns. As evidence of this, I point to the fact that the anodyne troubadour Ed Sheeran has managed to sell out three nights at Wembley Stadium. And, as Noel Gallagher said this week, I don't want to live in a world where this is possible. I'm sure Barbie doesn't either.

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