First Barbie, now Barney: How Mattel is setting up their very own Cinematic Universe

First Barbie, next Barney - The Mattel Company are on a mission to dominate the silver screen
First Barbie, next Barney - The Mattel Company are on a mission to dominate the silver screen Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures, Mattel, Getty
By David Mouriquand
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Life in plastic, it’s fantastic. Whether you asked for it or not, better get used to toy manufacturer Mattel dominating your cinema screens. After the upcoming 'Barbie', brace yourselves for a beloved purple childhood character to get his very own big screen debut...


If you thought that toy manufacturer Mattel was just content with their upcoming Barbie movie, you’ve got another think coming.

A recent article in the New Yorker revealed that Mattel has at least 45 new film adaptations of its toy-based properties already in development. So don’t be surprised if Mattel’s Hot Wheels or Polly Pocket are soon announced, in a further push to base as many movies on pre-existing properties that will appeal to both kids and nostalgic adults. 

Because make no mistake: MCU main soon rhyme with Mattel Cinematic Universe as opposed to Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Is this something to be applauded as we bow down to our new plastic cinematic rulers, or should we be bemoaning this creatively barren and wholly unoriginal tactic to rinse as many pennies out of as many product-aware audience members as possible?

Movies based on toys is hardly new for Hollywood – see: Transformers, Battleship and Trolls – and we’ve already got one announced project that sounds... well, frankly, equal parts batsh*t and brilliant: The Barney movie.

Speaking with The New Yorker, Mattel executive Kevin McKeon said that the upcoming film about the beloved purple dinosaur (who first debuted on Barney & Friends back in the '90s on PBS in the US) is not going to be made for children.

“We’re leaning into the Millennial angst of the property rather than fine-tuning this for kids,” said McKeon. “It’s really a play for adults. Not that it’s R-rated, but it’ll focus on some of the trials and tribulations of being 30-something, growing up with Barney -just the level of disenchantment within the generation.”

McKeon also described the Barney movie as "surrealistic," saying A24-produced films (Everything Everywhere All At Once, Beau Is Afraid, Pearl) were a major influence in making the movie. While there are no plot details yet, the description of the film as “surrealistic” and not unlike the work of Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Anomalisa) and Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Her) is surprising, given that the source material is a wholesome children’s show about a massive reptile who sings and plays with children.

Which is already quite troubling in and of itself, come to think of it.

"It would be so daring of us, and really underscore that we’re here to make art," McKeon added.

Art and money, but all cynicism aside, this actually feels promising. Especially if we are finally given some long-awaited answers as to why Barney is purple and what’s behind that fixed rictus grin and those Bette Davis eyes.

And if you’re still on the fence, consider the fact that there’s some serious talent behind it.

Polygram Filmed Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection - Getty
Daniel Kaluuya (right) will produce the Barney moviePolygram Filmed Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection - Getty

Indeed, Oscar-winning actor Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Judas and the Black Messiah, Nope) is attached to produce the project, which he described as “heartbreaking” in a 2020 interview with EW.

“Barney taught us, ‘I love you, you love me. Won’t you say you love me too?’ That’s one of the first songs I remember, and what happens when that isn’t true? I thought that was really heartbreaking,” Kaluuya said. “I have no idea why but it feels like that makes sense. It feels like there’s something unexpected that can be poignant but optimistic. Especially at this time now, I think that’s really, really needed.”

It’s unclear if Kaluuya will also star in the film, but Mattel’s current strategy of producing more adult-oriented films based on children’s properties is an interesting one and makes sense with box office intake in mind. Older audience members will be catered to with the post-modern self-aware approach previously seen in The Lego Movie - a tone that Barbie seems to be taking if the trailers are anything to go by.

The upcoming Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, will be rated 12A in the UK, for “moderate innuendo”, “brief sexual harassment” and “violence” (yes, you read that right) and seems to be keen on playfully critiquing its own brand in a bid to appeal to as many punters as possible.

We’ll soon find out whether Mattel are onto a winner with Barbie, which opens in theatres on 21 July everywhere but Vietnam, due to its apparent inclusion of a controversial map of the South China Sea

First: Appeal to adults as well as children. Second: Start a geopolitical ruckus.


We told you Mattel weren’t messing about. Next step? Barney getting cancelled in North Korea for giving Kim Jong Un a Mega-Sore-Ass with one of his dino dances. 

Can he do it? You bet he Jurassi-can.

Additional sources • New Yorker

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