Making a Big Play
Consolidating its branded content in Playground Productions is a natural next step for toy giant Mattel. By Tom McLean
Animated TV shows and even feature films have long been de rigeuer for toy companies like Mattel with hit toy lines like Barbie and Hot Wheels.
But they’ve rarely warranted the kind of rollout Playground Productions gave its new feature Team Hot Wheels: The Origin of Awesome, with an industry premiere at the hip Independent Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
Officially founded about a year ago as the in-house home for Mattel’s branded content, Playground Productions is a natural evolution for the company, says Dave Voss, senior VP of Playground Productions.
“It’s just come to a time now where not only Mattel but many others have recognized the value of branded storytelling and branded content,” says Voss. That led to pulling together the company’s entertainment efforts into Playground Productions, which handles all Mattel branded content for ages 5 and up. HIT Entertainment, which Mattel acquired in 2012, handles production on all preschool properties, as well as distribution for itself and Playground, says Voss.
Not being a traditional entertainment company, Mattel is freer than most to think outside the box and be loyal to brands over any specific media, Voss says. That’s why Playground produces everything from feature-length Barbie and Hot Wheels movies to the Max Steel TV show to webisodes, TV specials and Netflix series for titles like Monster High and Ever After High. It also has produced stop-motion shorts for the WWE in collaboration with Robot Chicken creators Stoopid Buddy Stoodios.
Playground has developed a proprietary method for developing children’s entertainment that it applies to all the projects it develops, Voss says. “It’s a collaborative process because it’s a large company and you need to be collaborative but the process is also built to protect the creatives so that, in the end, what we deliver is great creative but in a real collaborative way to make sure it delivers on all the strategic intent that the content has, that we decided to make it for,” Voss says.
In today’s market, the quality of the entertainment has to stand on its own, which is why Playground places a high value on attracting experienced creators.
“If it’s not good content, it’s never going to serve any purpose whatsoever,” Voss says. “When you bring in the kind of talent we bring in, none of them are going to stand back and just not deliver the very best content they possibly can.”
That doesn’t mean that the content isn’t going to complement the overall goals set for it by Mattel. “We don’t shy away from the fact that, in our proprietary process, we talk about play patterns,” he says. “And we talk about our consumer and we want to provoke play and we want to provoke imagination.”
The proof you can achieve both goals is constantly shown to Voss by many of the creatives he meets. “I am always amazed how many of them will tell me they got into the business they’re in today as a result of a Masters of the Universe cartoon that they watched — because it inspired them,” he says. “That’s what we’re inspired to go do, is create things that will get kids away from a TV screen for the time being and hold a couple of action figures in their hands begin to tell their own stories and learn how to tell stories. It’s a great place to be. It’s not about hours and hours of screen time for us.”
Marge Dean, a veteran of animation with credits ranging from production manager on Ren and Stimpy to supervising producer of The Ricky Gervais Show, supervises much of the production work as Playground’s director of production, and deals with the company’s animation studio partners. Among the studios the company works with are Guru Studios, Mercury Filmworks, Rainmaker, Nerd Corps, Six Point Harness and Titmouse.
Matching up studios with properties that work for them is a key part of the job. “It’s a very different studio that will work on Barbie versus Hot Wheels,” she says.
One of the differences in coming to Mattel from the entertainment world is that there’s a greater focus on innovation, Dean says. “Here because we’re marketing (focused) and our content is branded entertainment, there’s a lot of room for people to think outside of the box and really experiment with a lot of different venues an ways of getting content out there.”
Package: 52 x 7 Type of animation: CG Produced by: Blue-Zoo Animation Studio; distributed by Mercis BV and Telescreen BV Created by: Based on the work of Dick Bruna Target audience: Preschool Synopsis: Featuring new children’s voices, characters and locations, the first-ever CG Miffy series uses simple narratives and cheerful songs to illustrate the little bunny’s explorations of the world around her. Selling points: “We are delighted with this new series, in which Miffy is thoroughly modern and more adorable than ever,” says Mercis producer Frank Padberg. “Blue-Zoo has been able to recreate the same warmth and beautiful atmosphere of the previous stop-motion series. The images look incredibly crisp, whilst the stories are full of action and genuinely fun! With Miffy celebrating her 60th birthday next year, this series will introduce the character to a whole new generation.” Delivery: Fall 2015 Stand: R7.H3
Package: 13 episodes Type of animation: CG Produced by: Badi Badi Created by: Tom Nedved, Tomasz Paziewski Target audience: Kids Synopsis: Siblings Polly and Jack team up with a Bear and his flying Book of Legends on a quest to save the magic creatures from myths and legends from around the world before the pixelated villain Cyber can turn them into a digitized army and use them to conquer the world. Selling points: The Polish studio is developing the series for the international market, reaching out to expert screenwriters and music composers to create diverse adventures for the Bear and his gang, working ethnic motifs into the globe trotting stories. The concept has been well received by European broadcasters at Cartoon Forum. Delivery: 2015
Package: 52 x 11 Type of animation: 2D Produced by: Little Airplane Productions, UYoung Created by: Josh Selig Target audience: Preschool Synopsis: P. King Duckling is an adventurous bird with big dreams and not a lot of common sense. He lives in suburban Hilly Hole with his friends Wombat and Chumpkins the pig and is always looking for adventure — but his travel plans don’t always work out. Selling points: The show is bolstered by an educational curriculum created by Dr. Christine Ricci ( Dora the Explorer) and music from Emmy winner Jeffrey Lesser ( Wonder Pets). “P.King Duckling is a very funny character that we believe will appeal equally to children in Asia, Europe and North America,” says Little Airplane’s founder Josh Selig. Type of animation: CG Produced by: Ink Global Created by: David Dozoretz Target audience: Kids Synopsis: The land of Zafari is populated by unique animals who have all been magically born in another species’ skin. Join Zoomba, a little elephant with zebra stripes, as he explores and makes sense of the world and learns to celebrate inclusivity and friendship. Selling points: The multi-million euro budgeted project promises lush visuals in addition to its positive mission. “Zafari, with its strong message of embracing our differences, is a story that needs to be told to the world,” says director Claus Tomming. “We believe this enhances the brand and makes it really stand out in a crowded market.”