Paramount toys with ‘Max Steel’ pic

Studio teams with Roth for Mattel property

Just weeks before Paramount Pictures invades theaters with “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra,” the studio is teaming with Joe Roth to pick up Mattel’s “Max Steel” as another action figure it wants to play with on the bigscreen.

The toy property revolves around a 19-year-old extreme sports junkie recruited by a secret agency after an accident infects his body with nanobots, making him superhuman.

Although Mattel introduced the character in the U.S. in 1999 as an action figure, and soon after in an animated series that ran from 2000-2002, he’s proved more popular in Latin America, where Max Steel is the region’s No. 1 action figure. Mattel has continued to produce animated direct-to-DVD features for the region, produced by Rainmaker Entertainment in Vancouver.

But Mattel wants to use movies as a way to relaunch the toy line in the U.S. and the rest of the world, the way the “Transformers” pics have helped generate new heat around Hasbro’s action figures.

“A theatrical film plays a significant role to relaunch the franchise,” said Barry Waldo, Mattel’s VP of worldwide entertainment marketing and strategy. “But we have a strong Latin consumer we’re going to keep happy while broadening the franchise for the rest of the world. We wouldn’t do ourselves a favor if we turned a blind eye to it. That’s the artistic challenge we’ve got.”

Roth, who is a producer on Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” at Disney, and produced last summer’s “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army,” will serve as executive producer on “Max Steel,” with Waldo and Tim Kilpin, general manager for Mattel’s girls, boys and games group, who is shepherding the company’s top brands for boys and girls.

Mattel was keen on pairing with Roth, considering the Max Steel character has similarities to the “XXX” franchise he launched while head of Revolution Studios. The Xander Cage character in the first film was an extreme sports athlete turned spy.

Roth has had a relationship with Mattel over the years when it comes to marketing and charities.

Mattel and Roth are seeking a screenwriter and director, who will work closely with the toymaker to develop the film’s characters and storyline to match the company’s plans for the franchise.

“Max Steel” will be the first pic Mattel has set up at Paramount since it began aggressively looking to turn its toys into features.

It’s the sixth property that Mattel has set up in the past year or so since signing with Creative Artists Agency to get those movies made. Mattel has “He-Man: Masters of the Universe” and “Hot Wheels” at Warner Bros. with Joel Silver producing; “Major Matt Mason” with Tom Hanks; and a musical based on a yet-to-be-revealed monster property at Universal that Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are shepherding. A “View-Master” movie is also in the works at DreamWorks, with Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman producing (Daily Variety, July 7).

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