Power Rangers. Transformers. GI Joe. and of course, Star Wars. These are iconic toy brands which flood our movie theaters every year with cinematic offerings. Even board games like Battleship, and video games have proven to be lucrative toy properties that have leaped onto the big screen albeit with mixed results. Hasbro has it down to a science, and Disney created the mold. But would it shock you to find out that Mattel is only now getting into the movie business?
“Mattel is home to one of the world’s greatest portfolios of beloved franchises, and the creation of Mattel Films will allow us to unlock significant value across our IP.” Mattel Chairman Ynon Kreiz
Although Mattel does have some movies already in development, such as Barbie and Masters of the Universe, they are piecemeal, rather than having a central studio force, much like Marvel Studios. So Mattel Films has gone out and hired producer Robbie Brenner to shepherd Mattel’s catalog of toy properties, which includes Hot Wheels, Barbie, Monster High, and the action figure line Max Steel. Brenner enjoyed a 2013 Best Picture nomination for Dallas Buyers Club, Sylvester Stallone’s Escape Plan series, and Aliens vs Predator – Requiem.
These hits seem like an odd CV to show she has the chops to create family based entertainment wrapped around children’s toys, but then again, film franchises like Transformers and Star Wars aren’t exactly kiddie exclusive, and still sell billions in toys. Still, Brenner sounds like she plugged into the hefty responsibility that comes with making movies out of children’s favorite childhood properties:
“Generations of children around the world have grown up with deep emotional connections to Mattel’s brands and characters,” Brenner said. “There are so many stories to be told and so many imaginations to be captured by these iconic brands, and I look forward to working with Ynon and his team to do so.”
It’s no easy task, though. Over the last twenty or so years, even Hasbro has had a hit and miss track record with movies released based on their top toy brands, and even then, their most popular, Transformers, hasn’t exactly been consistent with box office and toy sales. It’s a delicate balance that has to leverage nostalgia to appeal to adults who grew up with these properties, but make the films just as interesting to kids so that they’ll demand the toys when the movie comes out. And a box office failure usually means the toys end up in the bargain bin.
It’ll be interesting to see if Brenner can make the transition. She’d be well served to bring in writers and directors that share a passion for the toys as much as the fans do. For instance, why not Fast n Furious veteran Justin Lin to write and direct Hot Wheels? But you’d have to be careful not to crate a brand ripoff at the same time.
But at the end of the day, it’s probably easier to sell toys based on popular movies, than it is to go the other way around. And even then, even Star Wars took a few years to get it right. Either way, I’d suggest Brenner watch The Toys That Made Us on Netflix to get a head start.