Hollywood Barbie’s Moment (and Bringing Her Friends)

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for 62 years, Barbie She became the hardest-working woman in the toy aisle, wearing a dizzying array of outfits and accessories – and recently changing body shapes and skin tones – as she glided from one career to the next. Astrophysicist Barbie. Ballerina Barbie. Chicken Farmer Barbie. Firefighter Barbie.

But she never achieved the ultimate transformation: Barbie, the star of the live-action movie.

At times, his corporate overlords Mattel Have Worked with Hollywood studios Making a big-budget movie in hopes of generating a new revenue stream while providing new interest in Barbie. Over and over nothing came of it, in part because Mattel tried to micromanage the creative process and alienated the filmmakers. (You want Barbie to do What?) The financial turmoil and executive turnover at Mattel didn’t help.

A similar situation has occurred with other Mattel brands, including the following. hot wheels, American Girl, and Masters of the Universe — a disgrace that loves nothing more than a movie concept with an established fan base, given the success other toy companies have had in Hollywood.

creative “The Lego Movie” Warner Bros. and the Lego Group, it took nearly $500 million at the global box office in 2014, and as a result a sequel and two spin-offs. Paramount Pictures and Hasbro have turned the Transformers action figure franchise into a $5 billion big-screen franchise over the past 14 years; The seventh installment is on the way and will undoubtedly offer the same halo for Hasbro as in the previous films, increasing the company’s stock price and turbocharging demand for Transformers toys.

Even with such money, Mattel clung to the Hollywood dream. “There’s zero of ‘Fast & Furious 9’ and Hot Wheels,” Mattel’s new CEO, Ynon Kreiz, told Universal. hot rod movie franchise$6.3 billion worldwide since 2001. “This will change.”

There are 13 signals that Mattel is not playing this time.

Mattel has moved to transform its toys into full-fledged entertainment brands under Mr. Kreiz, who has oversaw a stunning financial return at the company since becoming its fourth managing director in four years in 2018. Currently, she has 13 films starring Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”) and working with various studio partners, including the live-action adventure “Barbie” directed by the Oscar-nominated director. greta gerwig (“Miss Bird”). Ms. Robbie, who is also one of the producers, described the big-budget film as a theatrical effort that would be “really entertaining but also totally surprising”, “for fans and skeptics alike” in an email.

Ms. The screenplay by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story”) even entertains plastic lovers Barbie and Ken.

For example, what happened to their genitals?

Warner Bros. “I’m excited about this movie because it’s emotional and touches your heart and honors heritage while reflecting our current society and culture and doesn’t feel like it was designed to sell toys,” said Pictures Group president Toby Emmerich. , where “Barbie” refers to the movie set to hit theaters in 2023.

Dozens of other movies on Mattel’s lineup include the live-action Hot Wheels show; Horror movie based on fortune telling Magic 8 Ball; a large audience Tank Engine Thomas film combining animation and live action; and in partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment, a big-screen Masters of the Universe adventure about the cosmos featuring He-Man and his superhero sister She-Ra.

Mattel, Universal and Vin Diesel are collaborating on a live-action movie. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robotsis a board game released in 1966. Lena Dunham (HBO’s “Girls”) is directing and writing a live-action family comedy based on Mattel’s story. Polly Pocket micro baby line Lily Collins (“Emily in Paris”) will star and produce; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is the distribution and financing partner.

“Young women need smart, entertaining movies that speak to them without being condescending,” said Ms. Dunham.

Mattel also announced movies based on the movies. Appearance-Mold, American Girl and uno, the ubiquitous card game. (If you think an Uno movie sounds like a satirical headline from The Onion, consider this: there are non-Mattel movies based on Play-Doh in Hollywood, and Peeps, Easter candy.)

All or some or none of Mattel’s film projects fail to connect with audiences – if they bear fruit. That is the nature of the Hollywood casino.

“Recognizing a toy or character is a start, but no movie can be successful without clever character and story development,” said David A. Gross, director of Franchise Entertainment Research, a film consultancy.

Toys have a surprisingly strong history as movie bait. Other hits include the 2016 animated musical “Trolls,” based on wild-haired dolls, and “Ouija,” which cost $5 million in 2014 and raised $104 million worldwide. (Pixar didn’t base “Toy Story” on a toy, but packed the series with classics, including barbie.) However, the genre has also been deleted, especially “battle shipUniversal and Hasbro are based on the board game and cost more than $300 million to make and market. It reached $25 million in North American ticket sales in 2012.

Adapted from a series of plush toys, “UglyDolls” was a smaller scale game. box office disaster For STX Films in 2019. Mattel himself was injured in 2016 when “Max Steel,” a modest-budget movie based on an action figure, hit nearly empty movie theaters. took zero percent positive score It’s on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.

“There’s no point in doing that unless you’re doing something that feels really tacky, really interesting, and really authentic,” said Robbie Brenner, president of Mattel Films, which was created in 2018. (Mattel’s previous movie episode, Playground Productions, started in 2013 and folded in 2016.)

Ms. Brenner said that Mattel approaches all of its properties with the same question: “How can we turn it upside down a bit while still respecting the integrity of the brand?”

Mr. Kreiz said he was not interested in advertising for toys in subtle disguise. In a change from Mattel of the past, he said, “We want to give filmmakers creative freedom and enable them to do things that are unusual and exciting.” “Focus on creating great content and the rest will come.”

But he added that Mattel had “signed a deal and not disappeared”.

The message seems to resonate in Hollywood, and Mattel’s A-plus talent lets it shoot. The “Barbie” team is an example. Tom Hanks agreed to star in and produce an adaptation of Major Matt Mason, an astronaut action figure introduced by Mattel in 1966; Akiva Goldsman, the Oscar-winning author of “A Beautiful Mind,” is working on the script. Marc Forster (“World War Z”) is directing and producing the movie “Thomas & Friends.” And Daniel KaluuyaHe takes part in a Mattel film project based on the endlessly spoiled purple dinosaur Barney, who won an Oscar in April for his role in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

Even Miss Brenner has a sophisticated film background. In 2014, he produced the AIDS drug drama “Dallas Buyers Club,” which received six Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. (Three wins: actor, supporting actress, and makeup and hairstyling.) Prior to that, she was a senior executive at 20th Century Fox and Miramax.

Mattel’s momentum in Hollywood was due in part to the comeback of the company as a whole. According to Richard Dickson, Mattel’s president and COO, Mattel has fixed many of its core issues, making it less risk averse.

“Five years ago, the foundations on which our brands were built were not strong enough,” said Mr. Dickson.

When Mr. Kreiz arrived in April 2018, the toymaker was stunned by gut punches some had made himself. It lost Disney’s lucrative princess toy license to Hasbro. Toys “R” Us, a major retail partner, evaporated in a cloud of bankruptcy. Millennial parents had opened up about Barbie and rejected it as uninspired and uninclusive. And some of Mattel’s other stars—American Girl, the glam Monster High crew—were not sure how to compete for the attention of an iPad-using generation.

Total revenue fell from $6.5 billion in 2013 to $4.5 billion in 2018, with profits of more than $900 million in 2013 turned into losses of $533 million.

Mr. Kreiz stabilized Mattel, in part by closing factories and laying off more than 2,000 non-manufacturing workers, restructuring the supply chain and reducing costs by $1 billion over three years. At the same time, the long-standing modernization plan for Barbie began to bear fruit on a large scale. It now comes in roughly 150 different body shapes, skin colors, and hairstyles; Wheelchair Barbie was such a huge success last year that Wheelchair Ken just recently arrived.

Mr Dickson said that in 2020, with parents looking for ways to keep their kids entertained at home during the pandemic, Mattel sold more than 100 Barbie dolls per minute. (Juli Lennett, NPD Group’s toy industry advisor, supported him.)

Total revenue last year totaled $4.6 billion and Mattel posted a profit of $127 million. In the first quarter of 2021, sales increased by 47 percent year-on-year, the company’s highest growth rate in at least 25 years. Mattel’s stock price has risen 52 percent since Mr. Kreiz took over.

El Segundo, California-based Mattel is now moving into the next phase of Mr. Kreiz’s growth plan. Mattel wants to be like Marvel, which started as a comic book company with a vast catalog of intellectual property and grew into a Hollywood superpower.

“In the medium to long term, we must be actors in film, television, digital gaming, live events, consumer products, music and digital media,” Kreiz said.

And when I say player player. Mattel, for example, has a long history of direct-to-DVD animated films, but the Fred Soulie-directed television division is working to capitalize on the streaming boom. The company makes one or two Barbie cartoons each year for Netflix, and this edit is expected to continue. “Masters of the Universe: RevelationAn animated series from filmmaker Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) is coming to Netflix on July 23.

In total, Mr. Soulie has 18 shows in production, including a revamped “Thomas & Friends” and a new incarnation of “Monster High.” 24 more are under development.

“We are planting a lot of seeds and we are about to see results,” said Mr. Soulie.

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