Plastic fantastic – Mattel goes to the movies

It would appear that Mattel is anxious to follow Hasbro’s lead and start developing movies based on their popular toy brands.

This news is unsurprising as Hasbro has made a small fortune on the back of Michael Bay’s out-landish, effects laden, big-budget blockbuster franchise Transformers, as well this summer’s GI:JOE. Mattel has quite a large stable of intellectual properties which includes Hot Wheels, Battle Force 5, Masters of the Universe and of course Barbie. It is the last two that Mattel is keen to exploit, with news surfacing this week that both will soon be adapted into new live-action feature films.

The Masters of the Universe toy line spawned the much loved 1980’s classic TV series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its spin-off She-Ra: Princess of Power. As a child I could often be found 2 feet in front of a TV screen, glued to the adventures of He-Man and his companions. I had, and still have, a particularly soft spot for Orko, the comical magician side-kick to the Prince of Eternia. The story, for those who are unfamiliar with the cartoon, centred around Adam, the seemingly cowardly Prince of Eternia, who was gifted a magical sword by The Sorceress. When he holds the sword aloft and says the magic words “By the power of Grayskull. I HAVE THE POWER!” he is transformed into He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe. It is He-Man’s task to ensure that the evil Skeletor’s attempts to enter Castle Grayskull and thus take over the universe are thwarted.

Earlier this month Warner Bros. pulled out of developing the live action adaptation of He-Man which was to be directed by Kung-Fu Panda director John Stevenson. Early versions of the script by Justin Marks had leaked onto the internet and were generating a lot of positive feedback from fan-boys. The word is that the script was set to be “Lord of the Rings meets The Matrix meets Batman Begins”. If that’s true I would very much like to see it as soon as possible. Unfortunately for those fan-boys, and me, the movie is now set to be re-developed, from scratch, by Sony’s Columbia Pictures arm. No new director, writer or cast details have emerged as of yet. It is worth noting that the last effort at a live-action He-Man movie was the 1987 box-office flop starring Dolph Lundgren as the titular muscle-bound hero.

Mattel’s other great-white-hope for box-office glory is based on the world’s most popular doll and favourite of girls everywhere, Barbie. Everyone should be familiar with the statuesque blonde bombshell whose greatest movie-role to date was as a tour guide in Toy Story 2. For those that don’t know she’s a blond doll, created some 50 years ago, and is possibly one of the most iconic and parodied figures in modern culture.

So far all Mattel’s attempts at Barbie movies have been direct-to-DVD animated rubbish aimed at little girls and sucking money from their parents wallets. Universal Pictures aims to change all that with the live-action version. Mattel are set to be closely involved with every aspect of this production ass they are sure to have a hell of a lot riding on its success. There does appear to be an inherent problem with Barbie as a franchise however, in that there’s no back-story. Sure she’s got Ken, but where-as He-Man and Transformers had a rich cartoon and comic history, Barbie changes with the times to reflect current ideas of attractiveness and style. There is no inbuilt character there. Of course this could provide screen-writers with a blank slate and Hollywood starlets are bound to be lining up to play the title character, so it’s not all bad. Again there is no word yet on director, writer or cast.

He-Man versus Barbie in a box-office battle to the death? My money is on the long-haired blonde one.

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