With the animated TV show and Marvel comic, and the character names and backstory created around a bunch of generic Japanese robot toys, The Transformers were multimedia cross-promotion from the moment Hasbro launched them in 1984. But Anthony Lane is dead-on about Barbie:
Long ago, when the impact of “Star Wars” was beefed up by a line of merchandise, some of us noticed that the five-inch Lukes and Leias possessed a depth and mobility that was denied to their onscreen counterparts, and, decades later, we have reached the reductio ad absurdum of that rivalry: rather than spin the toys off from the movie, why not build the movie from the toys? “Transformers” is not the first effort in this direction; I distinctly remember finding a couchful of children enraptured by a DVD of “Barbie of Swan Lake” and realizing that Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” had not, after all, signalled the final disintegration of human personality.Oh, and the difference? I wouldn't mind if my kid wanted a Liv Ullmann doll.