Review: ‘Magical Universe’ enters one man’s world of Barbies


There are hard-core Barbie collectors and then there’s Al Carbee, the recluse featured in Jeremy Workman’s whimsical documentary “Magical Universe.”

Carbee, whose ramshackle Maine house was filled to the rafters with elaborate dioramas and bizarre collages built around the Mattel mainstay, was profiled by Workman in 2001 in a four-minute short called “Carbee’s Barbies,” also included here.

But the New York filmmaker (son of Oscar-winning documentarian Chuck Workman) and the gentle, obsessive widower Carbee remained in touch, and their unlikely friendship forms the basis of this odd but affectionate film.


Carbee died at 91 but not before seeing his work going on exhibit at the Saco Museum in Maine, where, embraced by the public and serious art critics, he declares, “I’m now part of the world of reality!”

Although there’s something sad and creepy about a lonely old man calling Barbie the perfect model because she never complains (he admits his late wife found his Barbie fetish a bit embarrassing), Carbee emerges as an original. “Magical Universe” is a tender portrait of the artist as a weirdly gifted, wildly prolific and strange man.

“Magical Universe.”

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes.

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.