Mattel has also announced films based on View-Master, American Girl and Uno, the ubiquitous card game.
For 62 years, Barbie has been the hardest-working woman in the toy aisle, thanks to her endless variety of outfits and accessories; lately, even his complexion and skin color have changed as he moves from one profession to another. Astrophysicist Barbie. The dancing Barbie. Farmer Barbie. Firefighter Barbie.
But she has never gone through that great metamorphosis: the Barbie protagonist of an acted movie.
Time and time again, her corporate masters at Mattel have teamed up with Hollywood studios to make a big-budget movie, hoping to land a fresh source of income while bringing new relevance to Barbie. Time and again, those efforts have been unsuccessful, in part because Mattel has wanted to control the creative process in detail, which has put off filmmakers. (Do you want Barbie to do what?). Financial turmoil and executive turnover at Mattel have not helped either.
Something similar has happened with other Mattel brands, such as Hot Wheels, American Girl and Masters of the Universe, which is humiliating when you consider the success that other toy companies have had in Hollywood, where they love a concept the most. for a movie that already has its own fan base.
In 2014, the ingenious “The Great LEGO Adventure” earned nearly $ 500 million at the worldwide box office for Warner Bros. and the LEGO Group, resulting in a sequel and two spin-offs. Paramount Pictures and Hasbro have turned the Transformers doll line into a $ 5 billion big screen franchise over the past 14 years; A seventh installment is on the way and it will undoubtedly shine on Hasbro as previous feature films have done, and as a consequence its share price will rise and demand for toys will be boosted.
Because a whopping like this is at stake, Mattel has stuck to its Hollywood dream. “There is ‘Fast and Furious 9’ and Hot Wheels zero,” said Ynon Kreiz, Mattel’s more or less recent CEO, referring to the Universal Studios modified car franchise, which has raked in $ 6.3 billion since 2001. “That’s going to change.”
There are portents, 13, that this time Mattel is not playing.
Under Kreiz, who has overseen a shocking financial turnaround at the company since he became the fourth CEO in four years beyond 2018, Mattel has taken steps to turn its toys into full-fledged entertainment brands. He now has 12 films standing with various studios, including “Barbie,” an adventure starring Margot Robbie (“I’m not Tonya”) in the starring role and directed by Oscar-nominated Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”). Robbie, who is also one of the producers, in an email described the big-budget film as one that is aimed “at fans and skeptics alike,” a filmmaking initiative that will be “very entertaining, but also completely amazing.”
The script, written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”), even pokes fun at Barbie and Ken, her plastic crush.
Something like: what happened to their genitals?
“I’m excited for this movie because it’s emotional and touches your heart and honors the brand’s legacy, while reflecting our current culture and society, and it doesn’t feel designed to sell you toys,” said Toby Emmerich, Warner President. Bros. Pictures Group, with which “Barbie” is slated for a theatrical release in 2023.
The other dozen movies in Mattel’s portfolio include an actor show on Hot Wheels cars; a horror movie based on the Magic 8-Ball fortune telling ball; a feature film about Thomas and his friends combining animation with actors, and, in collaboration with Sony Pictures Entertainment, a Masters of the Universe big screen adventure about the cosmos that includes He-Man and his superhero sister, She- Ra.
Mattel, Universal and Vin Diesel collaborate on an action film based on Rock ‘Em Sock’ Em Robots, a board game introduced in 1966. Lena Dunham (from the HBO series “Girls”) directs and writes an acted family comedy that It is based on Mattel’s line of Polly Pocket micro-dolls. Lily Collins (“Emily in Paris”) will play the title role and produce; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is the distribution and financing partner.
“Young women need smart, playful movies that speak to them without being patronizing,” Dunham said.
Mattel has also announced films based on View-Master, American Girl and Uno, the ubiquitous card game. (If you think a movie about Uno looks like a headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion, consider this: In Hollywood, non-Mattel movies are in development that are based on Play-Doh and Peeps, the Easter candy. ).
All or some or none of Mattel’s film projects could reach audiences, if they actually happen. Such is the nature of the casino that is Hollywood.
“Familiarity with a toy or character is a good start, but no movie is successful without characters and clever plot lines,” said David A. Gross, director of Franchise Entertainment Research, a film consultancy.
Toys are great for movies
Toys have a surprisingly strong track record as motion picture material. Other hits include the 2016 animated musical “Trolls,” based on the famous wild-haired dolls, and “Ouija,” which cost $ 5 million to make in 2014 and grossed $ 104 million worldwide. (Pixar didn’t base “Toy Story” on any specific toy, but it has populated the classic franchise, including Barbie.) However, the genre has also had setbacks, especially “Naval Battle”, which Universal and Hasbro based on the board game and which cost more than 300 million dollars to make and sell. In 2012, it reached $ 25 million at the box office in the United States.
“UglyDolls: Extraordinarily Ugly,” adapted from a line of stuffed toys, was a smaller-scale box office disaster for STX Films in 2019. Mattel itself was hurt in 2016 when “Max Steel,” a modest budget film based on an action doll, it reached cinemas that remained practically empty. It received a zero percent positive score on Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregation site.
“Unless you do something that feels very catchy, very interesting and authentic, there’s no point in doing it,” said Robbie Brenner, head of Mattel Films, created in 2018. (Mattel’s former feature film division, Playground Productions, was founded in 2013 and closed in 2016).
Brenner said that with all Mattel brands he had had the same approach, asking himself “‘How do we turn it around a bit, but still respect the integrity of the brand?”
Kreiz said he was not interested in doing poorly disguised commercials. Moving away from old Mattel, “we want to give our filmmaker partners creative freedom and allow them to do things that are exciting and unconventional,” he said. “Concentrate on creating good content and the rest will just happen.”
But he added that Mattel had not simply “signed a contract and disappeared.”
The message seems to be resonating in Hollywood, allowing Mattel to attract top talent. The “Barbie” team is one example. Tom Hanks has agreed to star in and produce an adaptation of Major Matt Mason, an action figure of an astronaut presented by Mattel in 1966; Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter for “A Brilliant Mind,” is working on the script. Marc Forster (“World War Z”) directs and produces the “Thomas and Friends” film. And Daniel Kaluuya, who won an Oscar in April for his role in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” is participating in a Mattel film project based on Barney, the vivacious purple dinosaur.
In the footsteps of Mattel
El Segundo, California-based Mattel is moving into the next phase of Kreiz’s growth plan. With an extensive catalog of intellectual property, Mattel wants to be more like Marvel, which started as a comic book company and grew into a Hollywood superpower.
“In the medium and long term, we must become a player in film, television, digital games, live streaming, consumer products, music and digital media,” Kreiz said.
And by player he means player. Mattel has a long history of animated direct-to-DVD movies, for example, but its television division, led by Fred Soulie, is working to capitalize on the live broadcast boom. The company has been making one or two Barbie cartoon projects for Netflix annually, a deal that is expected to continue. “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” an animated series by filmmaker Kevin Smith (“Dependents”), hits Netflix on July 23.
In total, Soulie has 18 shows in production, including a revamped “Thomas & Friends” and a new incarnation of “Monster High.” There are another 24 are in the development phase.
“We have planted a lot of seeds,” said Soulie, “and we are about to see the results.” (E)