Universal in tune with Mattel monster

Studio acquires untitled property for musical pic

Universal Pictures has made a big-bucks deal to acquire an untitled Mattel toy property for a live-action musical film to be produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. The duo will reunite with the “Hairspray” team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Shaiman and Wittman are in talks to write an original score for the musical.

Mattel has become aggressive about developing its intellectual properties for film and TV, but this is the first time the toymaker has made a deal for a property it has yet to launch, or even publicly disclose. Mattel would not reveal the name of the toy line or when it will launch, saying only that the property aspires to add a fresh twist to monster lore.

“This is a new step for us — a real opportunity to launch a new intellectual property on multiple platforms,” said Tim Kilpin, general manager for Mattel Brands’ Girls, Boys & Games Group. “It has a broad family appeal and the ability to translate as a musical, (in) publishing and (to) other venues.”

The musical and monster premise makes the project a strong fit for Universal. On the fright front, the studio is developing numerous films based on its venerable monster pic library, with the Joe Johnston-directed “The Wolf Man” opening Nov. 6.

The studio also has become aggressive on tuners, scoring a global hit with “Mamma Mia!” and teaming with Working Title on the stage musical transfer of “Billy Elliot.” A “Bridget Jones” musical is in the works as well.

U and Mattel gave Zadan and Meron a demonstration of the toy line and its mythology, and the producers said they signed on quickly and brought in Shaiman and Wittman, whose deals are being negotiated. A writer will be hired shortly, they said.

“Neil and I have been looking for an original movie musical franchise for several years, and we feel this one is it. “It really has long-term potential, and it will spin the monster genre on its ear,” Zadan said. He and “Hairspray” partner Meron were exec producers of “Chicago,” and are producing “Footloose” at Paramount with Dylan Sellers.

The project marks Mattel’s second recent screen deal with Universal, which is developing “Major Matt Mason” with Playtone as a star vehicle for Tom Hanks. Mattel is teamed with Warner Bros. and producer Joel Silver on “Masters of the Universe,” with John Stevenson (“Kung Fu Panda”) directing and Evan Daugherty writing the script.

Mattel’s Kilpin and Barry Waldo will be exec producers of the musical.

CAA brokered the deal.