The Barney Reboot
He loves me, he loves you, he will be in movies too. The Mattel Films master plan begins to take shape.
While there are plenty of people of all ages (although one assumes there is a demographic consisting of Boomers and latter-aged Xers who wouldn’t admit to this) anticipating the release of the Gretta Gerwig-helmed, Margot Robbie/Ryan Gosling feature ‘Barbie’, there are going to be a younger cohort who will be immensely happy now that Mattel, which owns Barbie, has announced its reboot of Barney.
Yes, the bizarrely ambiguous purple dinosaur.
Barney began his career in the late 1980s and was a TV star among the pre-school set until 2010, when PBS pulled Barney & Friends from its lineup.
So more than a decade later, Mattel has big plans for the purple archosaur.
And “big” is not an exaggeration.
In making its announcement of its bringing back Barney, which it referred to as a “comprehensive revitalization,” Mattel said the Barney brand “will span television, film, and YouTube content as well as music and a full range of kids’ products including toys, books, clothing, and more.”
And while one might raise an eyebrow vis-à-vis people of a certain age waiting to see the Robbie Barbie and Gosling Ken, this should raise two eyebrows:
“Appeal and accessories for adult fans, featuring classic Barney, are also in development.”
It is hard to imagine anyone manifesting a sufficient amount of irony to pull that off.
Mattel is making an effort to, as the global toy juggernaut puts it, “mine the incredible depth and breadth of its IP portfolio to relaunch heritage franchises.”
The Mattel model is one that can be characterized as:
Familiarity breeds content
And you could pronounce that last word both “kän-tent” and “kənˈtent”.
For the first, there is a seemingly endless maw that requires the generation of product. Amusingly, while there is a certain consternation about the use of ChatGPI for the creation of all manner of essays and scripts and whatnot, that AI approach is an accumulation of a variety of existing things that it melds together.
With existing properties like Barney, Mattel can play it straight. There it is, with years of TV situations from which its writers can select. It owns the franchise.
And then there is Barney as a feeling. People who like Barney are content. Satisfied. Comfortable. There is really no downside for Mattel: those who like Barney like Barney and those who don’t won’t, no matter what talent it brings to the production. The real advantage is that there is the opportunity to add more “fans” to the mix.
Another property that Mattel owns—and actually created, first taking the form of a 5.5-inch action figure in 1981—is Masters of the Universe. Although there was a 1987 movie (Dolph Lundgren’s He-Man vs. Frank Langella’s Skeletor), and an ongoing animation reboot there is another live-action product in development.
Mattel also owns Hot Wheels. Last year it announced that J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot will produce a Hot Wheels movie. It is expected to arrive in 2025. One can’t help but wonder whether the Wachowskis’s 2008 Speed Racer movie isn’t a cautionary tale—and remember that started existence as a manga series, not a small series of model cars.
What’s more, Mattel Films (yes, there is that) has movies based on these in development:
- American Girl
- Magic 8 Ball
- Major Matt Mason
- Polly Pocket
- Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots
- Thomas & Friends
- View Master
For those who might have missed it, Major Matt Mason is a G.I. Joe-like action figure launched in 1967—but he is an astronaut. Wishbone is an “adventurous little terrier [that] takes you on fantastic journeys inside your favorite storybook tales.” Thomas is a train engine and UNO is—a deck of cards.
Certainly Mattel has an array of toy IP.
It has a massive amount of what is presumably thought to be franchise gold, or at least properties that will require less in the way of a major marketing budget. Everyone knows what Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots are; Hugh Jackman’s 2010 Real Steel didn’t have that advantage.
But as for how many of them are likely to gain movie market traction, all I can say is: “Reply hazy, try again.”