Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hollywood's toy ploy

In this summer's "Transformers," a truckload of Furby dolls gets blown sky-high by one of the film's giant robots.

meant as a sight gag, set up by toymaker Hasbro, which introduced the
chatty little creatures, as well as the Transformers line, to the

But Hollywood is hardly treating toys as a joke these days.

next few years will see everything from He-Man to G.I. Joe to possibly
Monopoly show up on the bigscreen. As the film biz runs out of original
ideas, nothing, it seems, is too much of a stretch.

In the last
two decades, Hollywood has gone through several crazes: U.S.
adaptations of French comedies, remakes of vintage pics, film versions
of old TV series, and adaptations of videogames and comicbooks. Now
studios and high-profile producers are buying up rights to dolls,
action figures and games, hoping their lasting popularity can prop up
the next studio tentpoles.

As the thinking goes, the instant
recognition of popular toys can only help an opening weekend. But
everyone involved is also nervous. Studios are banking millions on just
a brand name, while toymakers are risking their crown jewels to work in
an entirely new format, knowing that a bomb can cut into their sales.

sensations of the 1980s such as He-Man and Voltron are aiming to tap
into a wave of nostalgia for the Reagan decade. The generation who grew
up with these toys are now in positions of power in Hollywood, and the
hope is that that same age-group, a key moviegoing demo, will embrace
the bigscreen adaptations.

Given the success of the recent
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie ($91.3 million worldwide) and the
buzz around "Transformers," there are high hopes for producers and

Consider some projects in development:

  • Warner Bros. is mulling a CGI-animated film version of "Thundercats,"
    produced by Paula Weinstein ("Blood Diamond"), about a group of
    feline-looking warriors who have names like Lion-O, Panthro and Tygra.

  • Warners and Joel Silver recently announced plans to make Mattel's
    "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" as a live-action feature in
    the vein of "300." (The toy character, loosely modeled on "Conan the
    Barbarian," was first turned into a film in 1987.)

  • Paramount has "G.I. Joe" in the works with producer Lorenzo di
    Bonaventura (who's also behind "Transformers"). The Hasbro character
    was spun off as "Action Man" outside the U.S., and the film would team
    up both characters.
  • For girls, there's the "Bratz"
    movie that Lionsgate will release in August, and "Kit Kittredge: An
    American Girl Mystery," from HBO Films and Picturehouse, starring
    Abigail Breslin. The latter's based on Mattel's American Girl dolls.

  • Avi Arad, who is producing "Bratz," is also behind a live-action movie
    version of the black-and-white animatronic robot "Robosapien," from Wow
    Wee Ltd. A former toy designer, Arad will also create a new robot that
    will appear in the film and on store shelves. Crystal Sky Pictures is
  • Mark Gordon has his own giant robot movie with "Voltron" that Justin Marks ("He-Man") is penning.
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