Barbie's a Living Doll at Universal

He-Man heads to Sony in new Mattel pic deal

Mattel is setting up more playdates for its toy properties.

Universal Pictures has added Barbie to its star stable, while He-Man and the Masters of the Universe has found a new home at Sony.

U has made a deal with Mattel to build a live-action film around its signature Barbie toy line. With studios racing to build films around well-known concepts, Universal brass feels it has landed the queen of globally branded toy figures.

Laurence Mark will produce.

According to Mattel, the 50-year-old Barbie has 99% worldwide brand awareness, and it’s the No. 1 girls property in the toy industry, the top doll property in the U.S., and the No. 1 worldwide property in the traditional toy industry.

“Barbie is the most famous doll in history, a unique cultural icon in the world of brands,” said Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger. “So many representations of Barbie frequent pop culture. We’re grateful to Mattel for entrusting us with this extraordinary opportunity.”

Mark said the next step will be to canvass writers and decide on a creative take for a family-friendly movie. Mark, who just produced “Julie and Julia” and is in production on the untitled James L. Brooks-directed comedy that stars Reese Witherspoon and Jack Nicholson, was one of several A-list producers who met with Mattel and U execs. “Barbie may be the most popular girl in the world, and has always been a wonderfully aspirational figure, so we must do her proud,” Mark said, noting that there’s no shortage of plot possibilities since Barbie has held more than 120 jobs over the years.

The executive producers are Barbie general manager and Mattel senior veep Richard Dickson and Rob Hudnut, who is VP of entertainment for Barbie. The brand managers will clearly be hands-on in determining how Mattel’s star asset translates to the screen.

Asked why there had never before been a live-action feature (there have been 16 direct-to-video animated titles, selling 75 million units worldwide, according to Mattel), Dickson called the U deal the logical next step in expanding the brand’s reach. In the past several years, Barbie has expanded into fashion shows, merchandise and online ventures that include Twitter, Facebook and even Barbie’s own YouTube channel.

“The brand wasn’t ready for a movie,” Dickson said. “In the last 10 years, Barbie has evolved from a toy into an intellectual property. Barbie has a proven track record in home entertainment, there have been live stage shows, live symphonies and other nontraditional forms of entertainment. There is a flagship store in Shanghai.”

While Universal and Mark will want to move ahead aggressively, Dickson said no timetable has been set for Barbie’s bigscreen debut.

He-Man has a plan

As for He-Man, Sony is finalizing a deal to produce a bigscreen adaptation of Mattel’s popular action figure line, with Escape Artists shepherding the project.

The property, which originated in 1983 as an animated series and toy line, had previously been set up at Warner Bros., where Joel Silver had been developing a pic since 2007. Mattel wound up taking back the rights and leaving the lot after Mattel, the studio and Silver couldn’t agree on the creative direction of the film (Daily Variety, Sept. 9).

Sony and Escape Artists’ Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch will now start developing the project from scratch for Columbia Pictures, sources close to the negotiations said.

Shingle recently produced Columbia’s remake of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3″ and “Knowing” at Summit. It previously produced the Will Smith dramas “Seven Pounds” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

The fantasy actioner will revolve around a prince who becomes the warrior He-Man and battles the evil Skeletor for control of his magical homeland, Eternia.

John Stevenson (“Kung Fu Panda”) had previously been attached to direct, with Justin Marks and Evan Daugherty having penned versions of the script. Rights to those scripts now belong to WB, meaning a new writer will likely be hired.

The Barbie deal was made by CAA, which previously placed Mattel’s “Major Matt Mason,” a potential star vehicle for Tom Hanks, at Universal and Playtone.

Mattel also has “Hot Wheels” at Warner Bros., with Silver Pictures producing, and “Max Steel” at Paramount; and there’s a live-action musical to be based on a new toy line built around a monster that’s also set up at U with “Hairspray” producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron plus Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, with Shaiman and Wittman to write the original score.

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