IT’S BEEN A big year for the brightly-hued figures of our childhoods. You of course would be aware — by the sparkling pink trail left behind its high-budget, worldwide marketing campaign — that Barbie is imminently due to hit cinemas, offering the first live action look at everyone’s favourite plastic-fantastic doll. And in June, thanks to another quirky marketing campaign (this time by McDonald’s), the sentient ’70s blob known as Grimace was revived for the release of the Grimace Birthday Meal, inspiring a whole TikTok trend as it went. And now, yet another purple friend from your youth is set to return in a newer, more angsty way — as Nope and Get Out actor Daniel Kaluuya prepares to bring a Barney movie into the world.
Kaluuya first attached himself to the film with his own production company, called 59%, in 2019. It’s part of a huge push from Mattel — who own the rights to the loveable purple dinosaur — of nostalgia-inducing films set to star just about every character found in toy boxes from the ’80s to now (13 have been publicly announced, and 45 more are in development).
For those who weren’t child-aged in the ’90s, Barney is a friendly purple-and-green, six-foot-tall T-rex originally created by American author Sheryl Leach in the late ’80s before getting the silver-screen treatment with the popular PBS children’s series Barney & Friends, which debuted in 1992 and ran for 14 seasons.
But don’t get it twisted — the new Barney film is not going to be filled with lighthearted capers and end with the nightmarishly ear-worm-like “I Love You” song, according to a new interview with vice president of Mattel Films, Kevin McKeon. Like Barbie, McKeon said the “A24-type” Barney will target adults rather than children, dealing with the “trials and tribulations of being thirty-something” — and way back in 2020 Kaluuya hinted that it would be more of a “heartbreaking” take.
Keep reading for everything we know so far about the subversive new film.
What will the Barney movie be about?
It’s too soon to say exactly what the plot of the film will be — and we’re sure that like Barbie, details will be kept tightly under wraps until we see a trailer — but we do have a few hints about the general direction of the Barney movie. Back in 2019, when Mattel announced that they’d be teaming up with Daniel Kaluuya to create it, Robbie Brenner, the executive producer of Mattel Films, said that working with the acclaimed actor “will enable us to take a completely new approach to Barney that will surprise audiences and subvert expectations,” adding that “the project will speak to the nostalgia of the brand in a way that will resonate with adults, while entertaining today’s kids”.
“Barney was a ubiquitous figure in many of our childhoods, then he disappeared into the shadows, left misunderstood,” Kaluuya said in the same press release. “We’re excited to explore this compelling modern-day hero and see if his message of ‘I love you, you love me’ can stand the test of time.”
In an interview published by The New Yorker in July 2023, Mattel Films VP Kevin McKeon revealed more about the direction of the film, calling it a “surrealistic” project and comparing it to the work of Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I’m Thinking of Ending Things) and Spike Jonze (Her, Being John Malkovich).
“We’re leaning into the millennial angst of the property rather than fine-tuning this for kids,” he said. “It’s really a play for adults. Not that it’s R-rated, but it’ll focus on some of the trials and tribulations of being thirtysomething, growing up with Barney — just the level of disenchantment within the generation.”
McKeon added that Barney had been pitched to prospective partners as an “A24-type” movie — referring to the American indie production company that has created a niche for offbeat and quirky films often leaning into the psych-thriller-horror axis. “It would be so daring of us, and really underscore that we’re here to make art,” he continued.
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Who is making the Barney movie?
So far, the names officially attached to Barney are limited to Mattel and Daniel Kaluuya, the Academy Award-winning actor behind 59% production company. Back in 2020, Kaluuya told Entertainment Weekly why he was drawn to joining the film as a producer, and hinting at the darker themes the film will cover.
“Barney taught us, ‘I love you, you love me. Won’t you say you love me too?’ That’s one of the first songs I remember, and what happens when that isn’t true? I thought that was really heartbreaking,” he said. “I have no idea why but it feels like that makes sense. It feels like there’s something unexpected that can be poignant but optimistic. Especially at this time now, I think that’s really, really needed.”
Additionally, rumours suggest that Lee Sung Jin, known for his work as a writer on Netflix’s comedy-drama Beef and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is writing the script. While it’s a work in progress, it’s thought that the direction and general outline are already locked in. And if Sung Jin is attached, it seems we can expect a dark comedy that traverses emotional highs and lows with ease — as anyone who watched Beef can attest to. In short, we can’t wait.
Who will star in Barney?
Again, no word yet on the cast of the Barney movie, as it’s still in early production stages with the script being written. If the film is taking an A24 route we can surely expect some off-kilter casting: The Bear‘s Jeremy Allen White as the disenchanted thirtysomething protagonist, perhaps, or we’ll gladly take Steven Yeun. And behind the purple dino suit — Cillian Murphy? Robert Pattinson? Denzel Washington? Meryl Streep? We’re just spitballing here, so stay tuned for the actual details.
When will the Barney movie come out?
On IMDb, the film is categorised as “in development” at the time of publishing, which means there’s no firm release date attached just yet. That said, it’s thought that the film won’t hit cinemas until 2025 or 2026, so we have a few years to go. Until then, sing along with us: “I love you, you love me…”