EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures has found what the studio believes will be its next global franchise. The studio has closed a partnership with Mattel and Parkes+MacDonald/Image Nation on a live-action comedy built around Barbie, the top-selling fashion doll. This is no development deal, it’s all moving very quickly. Studio chief Amy Pascal oversaw this deal herself, along with production president Hannah Minghella, and this movie is getting made. Jenny Bicks is writing the script and the intention is to begin production before year’s end.
The film will be produced by Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, who are also rebooting Men In Black for the studio. The exec producers are Parkes+MacDonald president Marc Resteghnini and Julia Pistor for Mattel’s Playground Productions.
Studios prize franchises more than ever, and it is particularly a priority at Sony. The key to turning these brands into successful films comes down to execution, as was particularly evident in the way that Warner Bros turned The Lego Movie into something with a high cool factor for kids. The plan for Barbie is also clever. Some of the doll’s appeal has been cool clothes and of course Ken, but beyond accessorizing, the toy has always been about female empowerment. Barbie has been part of merchandise packages that span over 150 careers, and Bicks and Parkes and MacDonald won the rights from Mattel when they plugged into that with their pitch for a contemporary tale. It allows the character Barbie to use her personal and professional skills to step into the lives of others and improve them, almost like a modern-day Mary Poppins. That storyline allows for the discovery of a young actress to play the title character, and young cast to play Ken and Barbie’s best friend, putting stars around them that can change in subsequent movies. Much the way that Marvel has managed its costs with deals that call for options on future films as they create stars with their superhero movies, this seems a way to keep costs manageable for another live-action series meant to span multiple films.
It was the pitch from Bicks, Parkes and MacDonald that swayed Mattel to grant the rights. After long resisting movie overtures for its $3 billion a year brand, Mattel invited a small group of producers to pitch Barbie movies. Once those producers won that bake-off with the help of their deal with ImageNation, Pascal moved swiftly to lock in Sony with a production commitment. A big part of the appeal to her is that the potential audience not only includes youngsters playing with the dolls now, but older generations that grew up with them. Bicks, who with the producers hatched the story, is a strong writer from a woman’s perspective, with credits ranging from the series Sex And The City to The Big C, to the telepic Modern Love and the feature What A Girl Wants. She also was a co-writer on Rio 2.
This marks the second screen collaboration between Mattel and Sony, which is developing Masters Of The Universe.
Studio confirmed the grand plans to me. Said Sony’s Minghella: “We’ve always thought that the Barbie story had great potential, but a universe of possibilities opened up when Jenny, Walter and Laurie brought us their unexpected, clever, and truly funny concept. It captures everything that has made Barbie a classic for generation after generation while also standing on its own, establishing Barbie as a truly original screen character.”
UTA reps Bicks, and CAA reps Mattel and the producers.
“Barbie has entertained children and inspired their imagination and creativity for more than 50 years,” said Tim Kilpin, Mattel’s EVP of Global Brands. “Now is the right time in Barbie’s celebrated history for her to star in a live-action, contemporary comedy that brings her playful personality to life for generations of fans.”