What Is The Mattel Cinematic Universe Going to Look Like?

in Entertainment, Movies & TV

a large hand in space holds a translucent ball with the mattel logo in it. Mattel Cinematic Universe

Credit: ITM

There’s been a lot of chatter recently about the Mattel Cinematic Universe. It was originally announced a little while back, but as the marketing for the upcoming Barbie movie has stepped up, so too has the speculation as to what this new MCU has in store for us.

It was five years ago, in 2018, when Ynon Kreiz took over as the CEO of Mattel. He had a vision of turning them from a company that makes toys to a company that manages whole franchises. With the popularity of movies with already established fanbases, and what some have called a literal toybox of IP at his hands, some have praised Kreiz as a visionary – but the question remains, can he pull it off?

Countless companies have tried and failed to make copycat cinematic universes after Marvel’s success, but it’s far harder than the Disney-owned studio made it look. Even DC, a company with an incredibly similar catalogue of characters and stories, can’t seem to pull theirs together. So what makes Kreiz think he can?

Well, for starters, there’s Tranformers and the LEGO movies. It was those films, not Marvels’ that Mattel wanted to emulate in their original plan for the Barbie movie, and it was those incredibly popular, toy-based properties that gave Kreiz the confidence that they could do this. They could make, not only a Barbie movie, but a whole series of movies based on Mattel properties.

There have already been several developments – of the 45 films that the newly minted Mattel Studios announced, several already have names attached, including Hot Wheels, Barney, and Major Matt Mason (the toy Buzz Lightyear was based on).

Several other intended film subjects were also announced, and seeing them all together begs a new question: How on Earth is Mattel going to make this work?

More specifically: If they plan to have an integrated universe bringing all these toys together, what would that story be?

(Retellings of Toy Story aren’t allowed – that is to say, that would be deeply disappointing.)

How Will The Mattel Cinematic Universe Work Logically?

a universe background, on top of which sits images of various mattel properties: margot robbie as barbie, a magic 8 ball, a viewfinder, barney, uno, a hot wheels car, he-man, molly the american girl doll, and a polly pocket. mattel cinematic universe
Credit: ITM

There are a couple places we can get those hints from. Number one, we already more or less know what the plot of the Barbie movie is going to be, which helps a lot: Barbie, having an existential crisis, must journey from BarbieLand to the Real World to learn the truth about life. Oh, and Ken can come too.

Setting up the Real World concept is good, because it gives all the toys a place to live that isn’t together on Regular Earth – which helps us to neatly sidestep the Toy Story problem. These aren’t the toys that we’ll be seeing in the movies – it is the platonic ideal behind the toys. Margot Robbie isn’t a Barbie doll, she is Barbie, and so are Kate McKinnon and Issa Rae and all the rest.

The existence of BarbieLand actually provides a much bigger hint than one might imagine. If you were to go tour Mattel’s factory, you’d find a BarbieLand there too – alongside other areas, labeled “Wheels,” “Girls,” and “Action Play.” These are the areas of the Mattel Design Center – in other words, they split their toys into four distinct categories.

That means that it’s also possible that what Mattel will do is split their cinematic universe into four separate pieces. Rather than having a separate, distinct universe for each toy, which would probably be the first assumption, they could choose to simply smush all the toys from each section together: Hot Wheels would keep company with other wheeled toys, American Girls and Polly pockets could exist in harmony, and He-Man would rule over all the action toys.

There would probably have to be a fifth universe created for other Mattel properties that they intend to make films about that don’t fit into these categories, like Uno and the ViewMaster – but it’s more likely that those would simply exist in the context of the Real World already.

Of course, all that speculation still leaves plenty of room for the plots of the movies – but we can extrapolate on those too, based on the information Mattel has given us so far.

(It’s also possible that Kreiz has no intention to connect the films, and is simply using the “Cinematic Universe” term as a sort of buzzword – but that’s not as fun to talk about.)

Here’s everything we know about Mattel’s upcoming Cinematic Universe – and our guesses as to what each movie will be about.

Will There Be More ‘Barbie’ Movies?

Barbie Margot robbie
Credit: Warner Bros.

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We could almost skip this one, given everything we know about Barbie already, if it weren’t for the fact that the people at Mattel are very gung-ho about the concept of making a sequel.

Producer and star Margot Robbie, however, isn’t so sure – she said that she and Greta Gerwig would have to be able to come up with a decent, compelling story for a sequel in an organic way before they agreed to make another Barbie after this one.

In other words, it’s not up to Mattel whether this Barbie leads to more Barbies. If Robbie’s LuckyChap has an idea, the production company will contact Mattel, but Mattel isn’t going to get them to sign on to a sequel they’re not absolutely certain they want to make.

If they were to make a Barbie sequel, though, we would love for it to be about Weird Barbie – or better yet, they could go experimental, and stitch together a series of short films about the lives of the other Barbies – from Kate McKinnon’s scribbled on one to Hari Nef’s immaculate one – which she says is owned by a very particular gay man who keeps her on display.

It would be interesting to watch all these characters have their own, unique existential crises, and then come together to figure out what it all means. (We don’t know what that answer is, but maybe we will after Barbie comes out on July 21.)

J.J. Abram’s ‘Hot Wheels’ Movie is Coming

fast and furious car chase with hot wheels logo over top
Credit: Universal/Mattel

Behind Barbie, the next most-talked-about project for the Mattel Cinematic Universe is the Hot Wheels movie, which we know is being directed by Star Wars’ J.J. Abrams.

If you were thinking that a Hot Wheels movie would be something along the lines of The Fast and the Furious, we don’t know if you’d necessarily be right, but you’d certainly be thinking like Ynon Kreiz, who mentioned that “there is Fast and Furious 9 and Hot Wheels zero,” when outlining why he wanted his own MCU.

We’re not sure what direction a Hot Wheels movie could go that wasn’t either like Cars or Fast & Furious. Perhaps he could combine them, and have the Hot Wheels themselves be the ones who are all about family – but for our money, for their “emotional, grounded and gritty” story, we’re betting that the cars are going to have drivers.

Perhaps it will be something more about being connected to the car – since little kids often pick Hot Wheels that speak to them based on their own personalities, maybe the Hot Wheels in Mattel’s WheelsLand (or whatever Abrams decides to call it) will be sort of like the TARDIS in Doctor Who – not exactly alive, but conscious enough to form a strong bond with its driver.

We could see that being a cool concept for a movie – especially one meant to attract people who have loved cars since they were kids. However, we can also see it being incredibly self-important. Like Barbie, the film will have to walk a very thin line between seriousness and irony.

Barney With Daniel Kaluuya is For Sad Millennials

daniel kaluuya looks at sad barney mattel barney movie is sad barney for millennials
Credit: ITM

Related: Daniel Kaluuya Wants His Own ‘Spider-Man’ Spinoff

The Barney movie is another one that we already know quite a bit about. We know, for example, that actor Daniel Kaluuya of Nope is attached, giving the indication that this film will have a much darker tone than the hyper-happy Barney show did.

Mattel studios exec Kevin McKeon confirmed this, saying that Mattel is “leaning into the millennial angst of the property rather than fine-tuning this for kids.” He said that while it won’t be R-Rated, it’s more of a play for adults than a movie for a wide audience.

“It’ll focus on some of the trials and tribulations of being thirtysomething, growing up with Barney—just the level of disenchantment within the generation.”

In other words, the Barney movie is going to be all about Millennial disenfranchisement – we can imagine something a little like Ted, but less irreverent, where the purple dinosaur comes back to visit the kids who were on his show all that time ago, only to find that they’re horribly depressed and dissatisfied with life.

(We wonder if Selena Gomez, who was actually on the original Barney, will make an appearance.)

Major Matt Mason with Tom Hanks Could Pull in He-Man

woody and buzz and major matt mason toy story mattel
Credit: ITM

The Major Matt Mason film has actually been in the works almost as long as Barbie has – since 2019. Tom Hanks has been attached to star as the titular astronaut action figure – which is ironic, given that this is the toy that Buzz Lightyear was based on. Akiva Goldsman, who wrote I Am Legend and the recent Tom Holland hit The Crowded Room, is in charge of the script.

Goldsman is working off of an already-existing work to craft his script, so the story won’t be too much of a mystery – all one needs to do to get the basics of what Hanks will be doing is to read the short story that his Star Trek: The Next Generation writing partner, Michael Chabon, wrote about Major Matt Mason.

It’s not too hard to imagine Apollo 13‘s Tom Hanks on some kind of space mission, nor is it difficult to think what the imaginations of two Star Trek writers will create for him.

It is, however, difficult to imagine how Major Matt Mason would interact with He-Man and the other Masters of The Universe, if it is in fact true that they all exist together in the same Action Play area of the Mattel Cinematic Universe.

Perhaps the Action Play part is made of different planets that Mason can traverse in his spaceship – given that He-Man also canonically lives on another planet, the planet Eternia, this would make perfect sense.

Aside from Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, which also has a film in production at Mattel Studios with Universal and Vin Diesel, Most of Mattel’s other action play toys are licensed from other companies, like Disney and Minecraft.

However, that doesn’t mean they can’t go digging through history to find more – after all, Major Matt Mason isn’t a toy they sell anymore either. (Though if the movie goes well, we imagine they’ll start again: Another bonus for Mattel.)

‘He-Man: Masters of the Universe’ in Progress at Netflix

He-man: masters of the universe
Credit: Netflix

Speaking of He-Man, we actually already know quite a lot about this movie as well. After being in development over at Sony for years, Mattel’s upcoming Masters of the Universe film made the move over to Netflix in 2022, where it is still in development.

Producers on the film include Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch, and it is being directed by brothers Adam and Aaron Nee, who wrote the screenplay along with Shang-Chi writer David Callaham.

We have no idea if this film will incorporate She-Ra or any of the other characters, designs or plotlines from the Netflix Series already in existence, but we do know that they cast one of West Side Story‘s Jets, Kyle Allen, to play the titular role.

We also know the plot: The film is about an orphan named Adam who discovers that he is a prince destined to be the savior of a faraway land -which we must assume is Eternia. Adam must quickly master his power and save his true home from an “evil force” – which has to be Skeletor.

We Can’t Wait for The Magic 8 Ball Movie

a magic 8 ball and cocaine bear
Credit: ITM

Perhaps one of the most immediately promising on Mattel’s list, a Magic 8 Ball horror-comedy is in the works from Jimmy Warden, the screenwriter behind Cocaine Bear. While Mattel Studios head Robbie Brenner has stated that Mattel does not want to make any R-Rated films, the Magic 8 Ball movie. “walks the line a little bit.”

Brenner promises that the film will not be too violent, as they don’t want to alienate families, but it’s definitely going to be a bit too scary for younger children.

It’s easy to imagine a situation in which a Magic 8 Ball could cause horror. Is it predicting everything with a scary amount of accuracy? Does someone speak their anxious thoughts into it, and it’s only the shake of the 8 Ball that determines whether they come true? The possibilities aren’t exactly endless, but there are quite a few of them.

Regardless, given that Cocaine Bear was exactly the type of film it set out to be, we have great faith that even if Mattel’s entire Cinematic Universe doesn’t pan out, the 8 Ball movie will be a good one.

How Will the Polly Pocket Movie Differ From ‘Barbie’?

lily collins as cinderella looking at vintage polly pockets
Credit: ITM

Polly Pocket is where things start to get weird. First of all, there have been two different iterations of Polly Pockets: The super tiny ones that were likely discontinued because they were a massive choking hazard, and the three-inch tall version with rubber clothes. Would these exist together in the film, necessitating a lot or resizing of actors?

If so, it would make incorporating our GirlLand idea more plausible, because then it would make sense that the American Girl dolls, being around a foot and a half tall, would tower over both populations.

Other than that, though, it’s hard to imagine a world for Polly Pockets that is all that different from Barbie, their main market competitor. The concept behind the two is practically the same, the only difference is size, and the material that makes up their clothes and hair.

It’s happening, though – Girls creator Lena Dunham has been hired to craft the script, and live-action Cinderella herself, Lily Collins, is attached to star.

Given the tone of Girls, we know that this will be a film aimed at girls and young women that does its utmost not to pander to them – but that is all we’ve got.

The American Girl Films Might Require Time Travel

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The American Girl movies are a little easier to imagine – in part because these dolls each already have deep, historical backstories and well-researched lore behind each of them, and also in part because SNL has already kind of given us something to work with.

Was Saturday Night Live joking when they made a sketch about all the American Girls living together in an orphanage and talking about their deeply unfortunate problems? Obviously. In Mattel’s real American Girl movie, we very seriously doubt that two of the main characters will die of cholera halfway through the film.

However, the concept of all those historic dolls living together in one space is definitely something very fun for any director to play with. Hundreds of little girls have already wondered, when playing with their American Girl dolls, “How would Molly react to my toaster oven?” “How would Kirsten react to Molly’s very real fear of being bombed?” “How would Addie react to a world free of slavery?”

In an American Girl movie, they could actually talk to each other, and we could find out.

Of course, we don’t exactly know what the goal of film like that would be, beyond to survey the life of the American Girl (the literal real-life concept, not the doll) and look at how it’s changed over time.

Still, that’s interesting enough subject matter that we’re sure the right screenwriter will be able to find the story – perhaps Mattel Studios is holding out until they write a movie that involves time travel, so they can start tying the properties together by bringing that character over to the GirlLand.

The ViewMaster Has a Lot of Potential

mattel viewfinder over a picture of the universe
Credit: ITM

If you’re not familiar with what the ViewMaster is, you’re not alone – it’s because it’s a very old toy.

The ViewMaster was first introduced as a new technology at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Using cardboard slides and stereoscopic imaging, the ViewMaster was able to present a 3D image to whoever wore the large set of plastic goggles. Soon after its World’s Fair debut, it became a popular toy for children, not unlike the kaleidoscope.

In a way, the ViewMaster was sort of a very early ancestor to VR Goggles: Put them on, insert a “program,” and a 3D world unfolds in front of you. That alone is an interesting concept for a movie.

However, the last news of this film was from 2019, when it was announced that Mattel would be partnering with MGM for the movie. There is no other information, so we’re completely on our own to imagine this one.

Consider this: A little girl in 1939 picks up the ViewMaster at a demo table a the World’s Fiar, and finds that it’s not like the others – it’s a magical ViewMaster, and it allows her to travel to other times and dimensions. This could be one of the first films that brings in the elements and characters from the other Mattel Films.

At the end, two things could happen: She loses the ViewMaster, and it somehow ends up in the hands of the American Girls – or, better yet, she grows up and becomes the View Master, a time-and-dimension-traveling superhero a la Captain Marvel who can pop between all of Mattel’s different Lands at will.

The Uno Movie Has Already Been Scrapped Once

a hand reaches for a pile of uno cards on a table
Credit: Canva

Now for the weirdest one: Everyone has been making a meme of the fact that Uno is one of the movies highest up on Mattel’s list.

Apparently, this movie previously had Marcy Kelly, a new screenwriter hired by Mattel Studios to write across their slate of films, working on the script, which was going to be a heist movie set amidst Atlanta’s hip-hop scene. However, Mattel was for some reason unsatisfied with the direction in which the story was headed, and scrapped it to bring in a new writer’s room to break a new story.

We have to assume that Uno would be a thematic part of the film, a metaphor overlaying the heist, rather than an actual central plot tenet, but there’s no way to know now.

As far as a new story goes, anything is possible. We could see a sort of Jumanji-esque thrill situation unfolding, in which players of a game of Uno become trapped inside until someone finally wins. A film like that could take on a very interesting No Exit, “hell is other people” sort of theme, and would highlight the central joy and frustration that most everyone feels when playing Uno.

The Mattel Cinematic Universe is definitely going to be interesting, but it all hinges on how well Barbie does when it finally hits theaters on July 21. Luckily for Mattel Studios, though, based on audience demand for tickets, it seems like they already have a hit on their hands.

We can’t wait to see what the rest of the Mattel Cinematic Universe has in store.

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