The conventional wisdom about Hollywood? Producers want to avoid RISK. They want to make movies that have a built-in audience, that partake of an already established and beloved brand. Making a movie that, in actuality, is hardly more than a glorified product placement seems to be more of a sure thing than pulling out a ouija board to ask the ghosts of Hollywood Past what will kill on that all-important opening weekend at the multiplexes. Still, a tsunami of major studio productions based on toys? Isn’t it bad enough we’re occasionally subjected to movies starring Paulie Shore? Don’t you wish the power brokers of Hollywood would get a frickin’ CLUE? Can’t they realize they don’t have to use a Magic 8 Ball to tell them most of these pictures are going to be absolute stinkers, toxic waste polluting our Red Box dispensers and flat-screen TVs? Movies I’m going to have to beg my kids not to drag me to, not even at the discount theater?
Who started this trend of basing TV shows and movies on toys, anyway? The father of this whole mishegas was Bernard Loomis, toy developer and marketer whose long career included notable stints at all the biggies, including Mattel, Kenner, and Hasbro, each of which he helped elevate to new heights of sales and success. The fruit of his somewhat-evil genius which has had arguably the biggest impact on our culture? In 1968, while developing the Hot Wheels line of die-cast toy cars for Mattel, he pitched the notion of an animated TV series to be based on the toys. Before then, toys had been based upon TV shows, but TV shows had never been based upon toys. Hot Wheels premiered on September 6, 1969 on ABC. The series wasn’t destined for a long life, running for only sixteen episodes before ABC got into hot water with the Federal Communications Commission, which decided the show did not constitute entertainment, but rather a weekly thirty-minute commercial for Mattel’s toys. However, the series did provide a paycheck early in the career of noted actor Albert Brooks, who provided the voices of characters Kip Chogi and Mickey Barnes.
Bernard Loomis had already departed from Mattel by the time the company rubbed the FCC the wrong way, next landing at Kenner. While deciding that Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind wasn’t going to cut the mustard as a source of toy spinoffs, he coined the neologism “toyetic,” which means the extent to which a movie or TV show can generate profitable toys. Close Encounters simply wasn’t toyetic enough. After licensing the rights to produce toys based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Man From Atlantis, somewhat more toyetic properties, Loomis scored his biggest triumph ever by nailing down the rights to make toys based on characters and concepts from a little picture called Star Wars. So he found ways to profit from properties going in either direction, either film-to-toys or toys-to-film. Later, while he was with General Mills, he scored a possibly unique trifecta, partnering with American Greetings to simultaneously launch the Strawberry Shortcake property as a toy, a cartoon, and a greeting card character.
So what hath Bernard Loomis wrought, even from beyond the grave (he departed this globe on June 2, 2006)?
A movie based on the board game Monopoly. Might possibly be interesting, but only if they get Oliver Stone to direct.
A Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots movie? Didn’t whatever thunder this concept might possess already get stolen by Real Steel, based on the Richard Matheson short story and fondly remembered Twilight Zone episode?
A Candy Land movie? Sounds pretty candy-assed to me…
A movie about Stretch Armstrong? Are you freaking kidding? Even as an eleven year-old, I thought the toy was totally lame when it came out in 1976. Don’t the producers realize two recent Fantastic Four movies, starring the eminently stretchable Mr. Fantastic, didn’t exactly set the world on fire (despite also starring the Human Torch)?
So you tell me a movie based on just one famous toy isn’t good enough for you? How about a movie starring all of Hasbro’s heavy hitters, including Play-doh, Cabbage Patch Kids, My Little Pony, Army Ants, and Lite Brite? Oy…
Hasbro shouldn’t have all the fun, of course. Wham-O has signed its own film development deal. So we may have future celluloid classics centered around Frisbee, Hula Hoops, Super Ball, Slip ‘N Slide, or Hacky Sack to look forward to.
Who will save us from this titanic deluge of toy-based movies? Which Hollywood luminary will take a stand and decry meaningless spectacle, over-reliance on special effects, and picking consumers’ pockets with mandatory 3-D surcharges?
It is rapidly becoming impossible to lampoon this invasive kudzu of toys-to-film, although satirists continue trying. However, I fear they only give encouragement (and ideas) to producers sitting around mahogany conference tables in Southern California. Dan Hopper, you’re six for ten thus far (and I hope you’re damned happy with yourself). Peter Martin, you’re only batting two out of seven, or .286, but there’s plenty of time yet for you to catch up to Dan.
I have a suggestion to make, Hollywood. Why limit your creative magic (and $200 million budgets) to just toys? Why not widen the playing field to other categories of household products, all having a plethora of well-established brands, some even more beloved than Candy Land or Play-Doh? Think of the possibilities… I’ve taken the liberty of listing just a few properties which I think are potentially filmetic (to riff a bit on Bernard Loomis’s neologism):
Brides of Clearasil–(genre: teen exploitation/horror) Updated take on Carrie. Acne-scarred girls at a Beverly Hills high school are tormented by members of the popular clique. They find revenge when one of their members, a budding Wiccan priestess, conjures a vengeful spirit from the netherworld which can make the faces of their rivals vanish, leaving behind blind, noseless, and mouthless cheerleaders (coincidentally, the spirit also does an amazing job of clearing up blackheads and blemishes). Could potentially be released on a double-bill with Preparation H: the Shrinkage (tag line: “So you got a problem with some assholes…?”)
The Man from V.I.A.G.R.A.–(genre: weekly television drama) An emissary from a mysterious organization visits the homes of various one-time teen heart-throbs, pop stars, and leading men, now all washed up, elderly, broke, or drug-addicted, and restores to them their sense of purpose and sexual vitality.
Pepto Bismol: the Pink Revenger–(genre: “edgy” comedy) Socially relevant take on Revenge of the Nerds. A retired superhero becomes the faculty advisor for the members of a new gay fraternity at Texas A&M University. When the brothers begin suffering the harassing and dangerous “pranks” unleashed by various rival, homophobic Greek organizations, their mild-mannered advisor re-dons his costume and secret identity, dedicating himself to “coating” the malefactors in layers of pink venom and “soothing and protecting” his adorable and heroic (if somewhat quirky and maladroit) charges.
Mr. Clean Cleans Up–(genre: urban vigilante/suspense) New take on the Dirty Harry series. Mr. Clean, rogue inspector for the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, declares war on all those coddled scum who dare leave their countertops infested with germ-spreading grime. He saves his “special Extra Power cleansings” for those perps who use the urinal at a restaurant, don’t wash their hands, and then take an after dinner mint from the mint bowl by the cash register.
Aunt Jemima’s Magical Journey–(genre: family/animated) The heartwarming story of Aunt Jemima, corporate spokeswoman who started her career during the dark days of Jim Crow and segregation but who rose above the stickiness of her undignified past to become a modern, empowered African American icon. Aunt Jemima travels back in time to the days of her youth to visit fellow corporate mascots Uncle Ben, Rastus the Cream of Wheat Chef, and Little Black Sambo of Sambo’s Restaurants, gently convincing them to show pride in their ethnic heritage and behave as proper role models for the young. An educational, uplifting story for viewers of all ages.
Producers, feel free to make liberal use of any of the ideas listed above. Just be sure to give me a screen credit and a percentage of the gross; offering me a slot as associate producer would be nice, but don’t consider it mandatory. We’ll have your people talk with my people. And remember, all of my books are currently available for option…