Screenwriters looking for inspiration for their next movie would do well to visit a local Toys “R” Us store.
Popular movies were once based on literature or plays or best-selling novels but now they tend to be spun off from comic books, graphic novels and even toys.
The latest example: Barbie is coming to the movies.
Yes, the 55-year old doll with the improbably pneumatic figure will be gracing the big screen in what Sony Pictures is hoping will be the first film in an ongoing franchise. According to the show biz site Deadline, the movie studio has signed a partnership agreement with Mattel, the toymaker that has been manufactured the popular career gal doll since 1959, to make a live-action comedy featuring Barbie.
Production on the film, which will also feature Barbie’s heretofore genitalia-less beau, Ken, and best friend Midge, is scheduled to start before the end of the year.
“Iconic” is a word that is overused these days but it is appropriate when applied to the doll diva known as Barbie. Anyone who grew up in the 1960s and '70s has memories of the doll, either because you played with her yourself or because siblings or friends did. And you couldn’t turn on Saturday morning TV without encountering ads for Barbie and various Barbie products, such as the Barbie Dream House and Fashion Shop.
Buying a Barbie also meant buying into Barbie’s self-contained world of clothes, accessories (all those tiny plastic shoes and purses!), possessions and careers. There was her car, a sporty little convertible, and her playhouse and lots and lots of outfits, each more fashionable then the next and many career specific, as in nurse (and later doctor), aerobics teacher, lifeguard, flight attendant, astronaut, presidential candidate and many more. And there was her ever-expanding posse of family, beaus and friends. (Is it just me, or does the announcer doing the voiceover on this '70s Barbie ad, featuring the Queen B and all her friends, sound super creepy?)
While Barbie has faced competition in recent years — hello Bratz! — she remains a fixture on American toy store shelves and in playrooms.
Personally, I grew up in a Barbie-less household. My politically progressive parents eschewed brand-name toys — they were not about to capitulate to the American consumerist society, instead favoring educational and creativity-encouraging toys such as plain wooden blocks and trunks full of dress-up clothes. However, my friends had Barbies (and Kens and Midges and Skippers, the latter being Barbie’s little sister) and I envied them their collections.
But enough about Barbie the doll. How will she translate to celluloid? (A phrase that is itself dated, given that most films are now projected digitally.) Based on the track record of other toy movies, her chances of success are mixed.
There have been blockbuster live-action movies based on toy lines, including Transformers, G.I. Joe and Lego films, though only the last one received any critical love. There have also been dismal failures, including Troll doll movies and a recent mega-flop based on the Battleship game. Just because you played with something when you were 5 or 6 years old doesn’t mean that as an adult you want to see it come to life on a 25 ft. high movie screen.
But Hollywood is ever hopeful. There’s a movie based on the Ouija board coming out in October and one in development built around Hot Wheels cars.
Pick a toy from your childhood, any toy: a SuperBall, Frisbee or Lincoln Logs. Chances are that that some savvy movie producer is probably already hard at work trying to secure the rights and figure out how to make it cinematically toytastic.
Me, I’m working on a script about a Slinky that, after being exposed to radiation during a nuclear accident, grows to Brobdingnagian size and begins terrorizing the planet. Only a special breed of gingerbread men baked in an Easy-Bake Oven can save the world from destruction.
Anyone in Hollywood want to bite?