Mattel is ready to get more creative with its toys: The world’s largest toymaker has launched Playground Productions as a new banner through which it will create original entertainment for various platforms.
Based out of the company’s headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., the new division — which essentially serves as an in-house studio — manages creative storytelling across all Mattel brands, including Barbie, Monster High, Max Steel, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its Hot Wheels franchises, overseeing everything from script development to storyboards to greenlighting theatrical productions.
The group will be Mattel’s way of taking creative control over how its top toy brands make the transition to other forms of entertainment, including films, TV shows, web series, direct-to-video titles, books, music, live events and videogames.
One of the division’s first projects is “Team Hot Wheels: The Origin of Awesome,” a new animated kids property that Mattel will roll out next year first as a 22-minute origin story in the spring, followed by 11 two-minute shorts during the summer and a 74-minute direct-to-homevideo film in the fall, which will be made available on most digital platforms.
Mercury Filmworks (Disney’s “Jake and the Never Land Pirates”) is co-producing and handling the animation on the series, which introduces a cast of four thrill-seeking kids who love to race their Hot Wheels cars through the fictional town of Hilly Woodlands, complete with the brand’s signature orange track, of course. The animation style combines 2D and 3D to bring the cars to life.
Mattel has embraced a “push to play” approach for its storytelling, meaning what happens in a movie, web series or direct-to-homevideo title should encourage kids to want to play with the toys associated with the property and boost sales.
“Playground Productions is dedicated to delivering impactful narratives that drive brand awareness and engagement across all the platforms kids love,” said David Voss, senior VP, Playground Productions. “Storytelling is at the heart of every great character and franchise. From script development and story mapping, to film production and post-production, we have established a one-stop shop for modern, creative storytelling.”
Voss, a longtime toy designer at Mattel, heads up Playground Prods. and oversees a team that includes Rob Hudnut as executive producer and chief story strategist; former Nickelodeon executive Julia Pistor as producer and executive producer of feature films; and Margaret Dean as director of production. Lloyd Goldfine (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles Forever”) also serves as a producer for the division.
The animated “Hot Wheels” project joins a reboot of Mattel’s “Max Steel” action figure that the company will use a live action film to help re-introduce to kids and families. Mattel is co-producing the film with Dolphin Entertainment’s new film shingle, with Open Road Films picking up the project to release in theaters late next year.
Over the years, Mattel had set up several of its top toy properties as films at various studios, including He-Man and the Masters of the Universe at Sony, which is still keen on launching the 1980s toy line as a potential film franchise.
Mattel sparked to the prospects of creating other forms of entertainment based on its toys after the successful launch of Barbie as a series of successful animated direct-to-homevideo movies, through Lionsgate and now Universal, and the launch of runaway hit Monster High, in 2010, which has since spawned dolls, songs, books, videogames, web series, TV specials on Nickelodeon, and direct-to-homevideo animated films. Universal is also developing a live action musical based on “Monster High.” The characters are the offspring to or related to classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, Medusa and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
A Hot Wheels movie has sat idling in the development garage. It was first set up in 2003 at Columbia Pictures with McG attached to direct before moving to Warner Bros. and Joel Silver. It’s now at Legendary Pictures, with Joe Roth attached to produce.
Mattel now sees the formation of Playground Productions as a way to speed up the development and production process on many of its projects, which once released, will help Mattel keep kids interested in its core product and sell more toys. At the same time, Playground Prods could create a lucrative new revenue stream for the company.
“With top entertainment industry talent, world-class brands and franchises, and best-in-class partners, Playground Productions brings our brands to life on today’s vast media platforms,” said Tim Kilpin, executive VP and general manager of Mattel Global Brands. “By focusing on storytelling as part of the brand development process, we’re able to reinforce our global strategy of building new franchises, growing our core brands, and optimizing entertainment.”