Commentary

Brenner To Head Mattel Films, Giving Barbie A Hollywood Presence

Mattel has named veteran producer Robbie Brenner to lead its new Mattel Films division, with a script that calls for brands such as Barbie, Hot Wheels, American Girl, Fisher-Price and Thomas & Friends to bring their enchantment -- and incremental revenue potential -- to the big screen. 

Brenner was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture for “Dallas Buyers Club.” Her more recent film, “Burden,” was a 2018 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award winner. She will report to new CEO Ynon Kreiz, the former chairman and CEO of Maker Studios, who has a long history in the entertainment business himself.

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“She’ll be tasked with addressing the long-standing critique that Mattel hasn’t turned its brands into successful movie franchises like rivals Hasbro Inc. and Lego A/S. In an era of unprecedented demand for entertainment content, Mattel has fallen behind,” writes Matthew Townsend for Bloomberg.

“Over the years, Mattel has worked with various studios to develop films based on its properties. Mattel and Sony had been developing a live-action Barbie movie, set to star Anne Hathaway, for 2020 release, but according to Mattel, that option has lapsed and that project is not moving forward. Other studio options on the toy maker's titles have also expired,” writes Gregg Kilday for the Hollywood Reporter.

CEO Kreiz intends “to shift the company away from manufacturing toys and toward managing and monetizing its brands. Films, television shows and online shorts can help lift toy sales in addition to bringing in revenue in from licensing fees, ticket sales and distribution deals,” writes Paul Ziobro for the Wall Street Journal.

“One difficulty is that Mattel executives have historically measured their success by toy sales, rather than how brands make money, whether through licensing deals or content. The company ‘isn’t run by brands like at Disney,’ a former Mattel executive said. ‘At Mattel, the toy leads, and that is the biggest philosophical issue [Kreiz] will need to overcome,’” Ziobro adds.

Mattel last week named Janet Hsu, who had been the chief executive of Power Rangers owner Saban Brands, as its chief franchise management officer. Her responsibilities include extending the company’s brands in content development and distribution, consumer products, digital gaming, live events and strategic partnerships. She reports to Richard Dickson, Mattel’s president and COO.

“Mattel’s rival Hasbro has excelled in taking its properties and translating them to successful television shows, movies and online videos. Theatrical releases of its Transformers films alone have grossed more than $4.37 billion at the international box office,” points out Sarah Whitten for CNBC.

“Hasbro Studios also produces online shows, including ‘Littlest Pet Shop,’ ‘My Little Pony’ and ‘G.I. Joe,’ which each has its own line of toys.” But, Whitten adds, the much-larger “Hasbro aborted its attempt at operating a television cable network in partnership with Discovery.”

“Generations of children around the world have grown up with deep emotional connections to Mattel’s brands and characters,” Brenner says in Mattel’s press release. “There are so many stories to be told and so many imaginations to be captured by these iconic brands, and I look forward to working with Ynon and his team to do so.”

Brenner had been a partner and president of the film division at The Firm, as well as president of production at Relativity Media. She also ran the classics division at Davis Entertainment, and was a senior VP at both 20th Century Fox and Miramax. She oversaw production of “The Fighter,” “Mirror Mirror, “Dear John” and “Safe Haven” and was involved in the acquisitions of the Sundance documentary “Catfish” and with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, “Don Jon.”

“Mattel is home to one of the world’s greatest portfolios of beloved franchises, and the creation of Mattel Films will allow us to unlock significant value across our IP,” CEO Kreiz says in a statement. “Robbie is a gifted storyteller and a highly respected filmmaker with deep relationships in entertainment. She is the perfect leader to bring our celebrated brands to life.”

And so, on to the red carpet?

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