- Associated Press
Sunday, March 26, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) - Mattel is looking to the movies. The maker of Barbie and Hot Wheels, which has live-action films based on those toys in the works, says it wants to find new ways to be on more screens in front of more kids. These days, that takes more than a 30-second commercial.

Big-screen movies are a first for 72-year-old Mattel, which has mostly relied on television ads, apps and straight-to-DVD movies to promote its toys. It launched a separate unit last year to help produce films, TV shows and other content with studio partners. The Barbie movie hit a snag last week when comedian Amy Schumer dropped out of the starring role citing scheduling conflicts. The film is being made with Sony and it’s expected to be released next year. A Hot Wheels film is also in development.

Mattel will also be on TV starting April 7 on ABC, showing its search for the next big toy idea in a competition show called “The Toy Box.” Chief Operating Officer Richard Dickson says Mattel is making the winning toy now, and it will go on sale at Toys R Us stores after the series ends May 19.

Other changes Mattel has made include new body shapes, hair types and skin colors for Barbie, and the American Girl brand’s first boy doll .

Dickson spoke recently with The Associated Press about how Mattel is trying to bring new life to its classic toys. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Why the focus on movies and TV shows?

A: Kids today can obviously skip commercials. And screen time today is not one screen, it’s multiple screens. Our objective is to be everywhere our consumers are. They are on their phone. They are on their laptop. They’re on their iPad. They’re on their television. There is no center.

Q: What’s the Barbie movie about?

A: I can’t get into a lot of detail as to what the story will be, but I can tell you what it is. It is live action. It is going to be a story that continues to celebrate the idea that girls can be anything. I think the way that we narrate that story will be entertaining for girls of all ages. And I also think it will be, hopefully, appealing to some boys also.

Q. With Amy Schumer out of the Barbie movie, is there a search for someone else? What are you looking for? Another comedian?

A: We have a list of people who are interesting and interested. We look forward to working with Sony to bring the vision of the character and the story to life.

Q: Why the changes to Barbie’s body shape last year?

A: Historically, we never addressed the cultural pushback that we always had with people criticizing Barbie’s body. And we sort of justified it by saying it’s a toy and it’s not a real human and we sort of moved on. And one of the things that we’ve done, to reintroduce the brand as relevant, is to listen to the consumer and start to have a dialogue with her instead of a monologue.

Q: In 2015, a Barbie ad featured a boy for the first time. Why the attention to boys?

A: We know for a fact that a lot of boys play with Barbie and it hasn’t been something that we’ve acknowledged. In many cases it is a boy playing out a Barbie world with his sister. And then there are boys who actually drive the play themselves. We are pretty pronounced with boys, we just never really expressed it in marketing.

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