Classic Barbie fends off Bratz

Pic starring Abdul challenges classic's reign

Although she’s nearing 50, Barbie isn’t threatened by the much younger Bratz ingenues.

Introduced in 2001 by MGA Entertainment, Bratz dolls burst onto the toy scene with head-turning outfits and brazen personalities. In stark contrast to Barbie’s determined wholesomeness, Bratz risked making other dolls look like Grandma’s favorite toy.

At 37 million copies sold worldwide, Barbie-branded DVDs safely tower over the 4 million-plus copies so far sold of the Bratz line of DVDs.

However, Barbie stands to take some hits to her pedestal, with Lionsgate preparing the first Bratz theatrical feature film, starring the voice of “American Idol’s” Paula Abdul, to bow in late summer.

Lionsgate knows what girls want, selling 17 million copies of Barbie DVDs in the U.S., prior to Universal Studios Home Entertainment acquiring domestic disc rights to the property in April 2006.

Since November, Lionsgate has controlled disc rights to the Bratz franchise. Upcoming direct-to-DVD movies include “Bratz Fashion Pixiez” on Feb. 27.

But Universal and Barbie franchise Mattel have no plans to chase “Bratz: The Movie” with its own Barbie feature film debut. Universal and Mattel are intent on protecting the Barbie brand and are picky about the doll’s projects.

Similarly, there is nothing on the horizon for a Barbie TV show. Her rival is currently enjoying a Saturday morning run in “Bratz” on the Fox network.

“We’re always looking for ideas, but the principle for us is quality over quantity,” says Barry Waldo, senior director of distribution and marketing at Mattel. “We don’t want to rush something to market. We want to keep the magic special. It’s not about being first.”

Barbie has expanded out of the doll and DVD realm, headlining her own Barbie.com Web hub, and is featured in a line of MAC cosmetics and apparel.

Waldo adds that while it would be simple to launch Barbie on the bigscreen, the perfect opportunity hasn’t yet presented itself.

“Since I’ve been (at Mattel) for nine years, we’ve taken more calls from producers who want to do a Barbie feature than I can count,” Waldo says. “If we feel it’s the right time, we’ll consider it.”

Of TV show prospects, Waldo explains, “We think of Barbie as a movie star, and movie stars tend not to have weekly shows.”

Besides, Mattel’s Barbie earnings are on the rise. The company boasts four consecutive quarters of U.S. sales growth for the franchise through fourth quarter 2006.

Universal is in no rush to plaster Barbie on the bigscreen, either. The studio believes Bratz is too different from Barbie to pose serious competition.

“In my opinion, I don’t think Bratz is as parent-friendly,” says Glenn Ross, general manager and executive VP of Universal Studios Home Entertainment Family Prods. “I don’t think you can equate what Bratz does to what Barbie does.”

Ross notes that with the frequent incorporation of motion-capture technology and professional music scoring, Barbie DVDs are already topnotch.

“I just think that you can watch a Barbie movie in 50 years,” Ross says. “I don’t know if (other brands) are going to live as long.”

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