According to the project’s screenwriter Diablo Cody, Mattel’s initial, Amy Schumer-led attempt at developing a film around their iconic Barbie doll was doomed from the start because while then-production studio Sony “wanted a girl-boss feminist twist” on the IP, she felt this take flew in the face of the everything the iconic blonde represented.
First announced in 2014, Mattel and Sony’s original attempt at bringing the popular toy line to the silver screen was set to be written by Men in Trees creator Jenny Bicks and feature input from former Dreamworks producers (and currently married couple) Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald.
However, just eleven months later, the construction of this particular dream house underwent its first major production shake-up, with both Cody and Sony Spider-Man producer Amy Pascal being tapped to provide their specific talents to the project.
As production began on the film, December 2016 saw comedienne Amy Schumer enter talks to not just star as Barbie’s titular protagonist, but also have full reign for both her and her sister, Kim Caramele, to rewrite the then-working draft of the film.
Ultimately – and let’s be honest, thankfully – these plans never came to fruition, and Schumer ultimately dropped out of the project in 2017.
At the time, Schumer blamed her departure on scheduling conflicts, but last month, she eventually revealed that she actually left over “creative differences” – namely the fact that the version of the script she produced didn’t “feel feminist and cool” enough for her liking.
From there the film would languish in development hell, with the only significant move being made during this period being the casting of The Dark Knight Rises star Anne Hathaway in the lead role. That was until 2018 when, thanks to Sony’s failure to do anything with the IP, the rights to Mattel’s famous doll were transferred to Warner Bros.
It was at this time that Cody would depart the project, surprisingly without ever having produced a single draft for her take on the film.
“I failed so hard at that project,” the Juno screenwriter told Screen Crush around the time of her departure. “I was literally incapable of turning in a Barbie draft. God knows I tried.”
Understandably considering its potential to turn a profit, its new owners were quick to move on their new toy. Though they briefly considered Wonder Woman 1984 director Patty Jenkins to helm their Barbie film, Warner Bros. instead chose to give the job to Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig.
With Suicide Squad star Margot Robbie’s casting following soon after, the film finally had what it needed to start full production, it’s end results being the upcoming, pink-clad competition to Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.
Reflecting on her time working on Sony’s take on the blonde bombshell during a recent interview with GQ, Cody revealed that she felt partly to blame for that film’s failure to materialize.
“I think I know why I s–t the bed,” the Jennifer’s Body scribe told the magazine. “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.”
“There was a lot of pressure to not write the dramatic equivalent of ‘math is hard,’” Cody continued with a laugh.
“I grew up playing with Barbies and those were sort of the first movies that I ever cast,” she then recalled. “A lot of people learn to tell stories by playing with dolls.”
“That idea of an anti-Barbie made a lot of sense given the feminist rhetoric of ten years ago,” the United States of Tara creator explained. “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.”
Though not particularly a problem with the studio’s desired ‘pop-feminist’ direction, Cody also detailed how one particular challenge she faced in her attempt to adapt Barbie was the fact that The Lego Movie had already tackled the meta-commentary-storyline, and in spectacular fashion.
“I heard endless references to The Lego Movie in development and it created a problem for me because they had done it so well,” Cody noted. “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.”
Her time with GQ winding down, Cody took a moment to opine on the recent trend of ‘artistic directors’ signing on to helm IP-based studio films, asserting, “I understand why those artists have moved into that lane. I get it. The most successful movie that I’ve ever written was Juno, and that wouldn’t get a theatrical release today.”
“I wish every day that I could write The Paw Patrol movie, because credibility is not going to put my kids through college,” she lamented. “I have made several swings at IP with Barbie and [The CW’s failed] Powerpuff Girls, and I take full responsibility for the failures of those attempts, because I do have a specific voice and POV and I haven’t figured out how to modulate it.”
“Ultimately, you’re selling toys,” Cody concluded. “I mean, nobody really wants to delve deeper into the lore and mythos of Hungry Hungry Hippos. That’s not really an artistic exercise.”
At current, Gerwig’s version of Barbie is on track to break out of its packaging on July 21st.