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Column: Iconic doll faces tough times in Toyland


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Have you heard? Barbie Millicent Roberts has fallen on hard times. Ms. Roberts is better known to generations of American females simply as Barbie, the doll with the impossibly perfect figure who changes jobs as often as she changes her clothes.

Since 1959 Barbie has made piles of money for her parent company, Mattel. However, the toy maker recently announced that its second-quarter profits fell 24 percent, in large part due to a continued slide in Barbie sales.

At 54, Barbie is being pushed aside in favor of younger, and maybe even prettier, dolls, such as the Disney Princess line. It’s a story many Americans older than 50 can relate to. One day you’re cruising along in your Corvette on your way to your job as a brain surgeon, astronaut or cheerleader. You’ve got all the fabulous clothes you ever wanted and a boyfriend you’ve managed to string along for half a century.

Then BAM, the next thing you know Ken isn’t taking your calls and your little sister, Skipper, has spotted the ungrateful louse having lunch with Cinderella, out dancing with Jasmine and Belle, and snuggling at the beach with Ariel.

“Those darned princesses are ruining everything,” you think. “Just because they’re newer and they’ve all starred in hit movies, suddenly I’m cast aside.”

If this trend keeps up, poor Barbie might have to sell her Dream House and RV and move in with that annoying wannabe, Midge.

As a man with two daughters and four granddaughters, it’s difficult for me to have much sympathy for Barbie. She’s cost me a lot of money over the years. And I’ve never forgiven her for selling me a Dream House that was missing the elevator, which I didn’t discover until I started to assemble the house late one Christmas Eve.

And yet I feel for the poor woman, partly because she’s roughly my age, but also because I dislike those darned Disney Princesses as much as she does.

During the past 54 years, parents have spent a lot of money on Barbie dolls, Barbie clothes and all her assorted accessories, vehicles, domiciles, etc. But at least there was just Barbie to deal with. There currently are 10 — yes 10 — Disney Princesses, each with a million related products, all sold separately, of course.

If that’s not bad enough, we parents and grandparents can expect that number to continue to grow as Disney cranks out more animated movies starring new princesses.

OK, so maybe Barbie is eligible for the senior discount at some restaurants, and maybe she possesses no magical powers, but darn it, she still has much to contribute to the world. It’s time for Barbie to fight back. If I were Barbie’s manager, here’s what I’d tell her.

“OK, kid, I’ve got two words for you: Kate Middleton. It’s time you forget about that loser Ken and find yourself a real live prince and marry him … fast. He doesn’t have to be handsome, but he must come from the line of Disney.

“What? No, don’t worry about your age. You’ve still got your figure and you don’t look a day over 22. By the way, I hear Cinderella’s marriage is on the rocks, so you might start there.”

For only by marrying an official Disney prince can poor Barbie Millicent Roberts become an official Disney Princess and thus revive her brand.

“Yes, Barbie, I know you’ll have to make sacrifices. Yes, you’ll have to trade in the Dream House for a drafty castle and the Corvette for a smelly horse-drawn carriage. But I don’t see any other way.

“And besides, do you really want to live with Midge? That girl snores!”

Doug Showalter can be reached at 379-5625 or dshowalter@therepublic.com.

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