Mattel's Mission To Bring The Big And Small Screen To Life For All [Comic-Con]

Mattel has been around for decades as one of the premier toy makers in the industry. From Barbie to Hot Wheels, and, of course, Masters of the Universe, they control a significant number of brands that have had a huge impact on the pop culture landscape. Beyond that, they are also one of the biggest purveyors of licensed collectibles out there, including "Star Wars," "Jurassic Park," and even "Minecraft." And at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, the company came to demonstrate that they are not playing around when it comes to the business of, well, playing around.

The Mattel booth was smack dab in the center of the convention floor at SDCC 2022, and their impressive display included a huge array of "Masters of the Universe" figures, as well as "Jurassic World" products, "Lightyear" tie-ins, and more. It was an impressive, real-life demonstration of tangible things that can help bring some of these beloved franchises home for fans both young and old.

An impressive showcase

"A lot's changed for our brands, a lot's changed for us as a company," PJ Lewis, Mattel's vice president and global head of action figures, told me on the convention floor. I spoke to him on the second floor of their sales booth overlooking the con floor, where we could see the scope of what they had set up for the fans to take in. "Three years ago, our 'Master of the Universe' presence was much smaller. And we look, and we think about where we are today with a Hall H panel at Comic-Con 2022, it's a total 'pinch me' moment."

Indeed, Mattel did have a panel in Hall H dedicated to "Masters of the Universe," moderated by Kevin Smith. The franchise, which Mattel controls and owns outright, is expanding greatly. They have a couple of animated shows on Netflix, a live-action movie finally on the way, and they even brought out William Shatner, who is going to voice a character in "Masters of the Universe: Revolution." Lewis touched on working with the likes of Netflix, saying, "Our partners have been doing some incredible work. We're here to celebrate on behalf of them, with the fans in San Diego."

And celebrate they did. The line for the company's convention exclusives was seemingly never not wrapped around the booth, and there were plenty of photo ops, such as a recreation of the famous toilet scene from "Jurassic Park" in honor of a new collectible figure they released bringing that moment to life. But how does a product like that come to be? What does one of the heads of one of the biggest toy companies in the world do day-to-day?

"A lot of what I do is spending time thinking about our global businesses around the toys that we make across the portfolio of action figures and portfolios of plush," Lewis said. "That's working with a lot of our IP partners, whether it's Universal, whether it's WWE, whether it's Disney, 'Minecraft,' or thinking as well about IP that we own, like 'Masters of the Universe,' in partnership with some of the great storytellers we have in Mattel Films and Mattel TV."

The collector's market vs the for-kids market

For decades, Mattel has been known for bringing joy to kids around the world. But so many of those kids have grown up; now, they have their own money to spend on toys — more expensive toys largely intended to be display pieces not necessarily suitable for children who are going to try and create their own "Jurassic World" adventures in their bedroom. Mattel, though, is really trying to meet both markets where they are. As Lewis explains:

"Collectors and collecting behavior have really been something that have been building over the last decade plus in the toy industry. We are grateful to have the IPs that we work with to have the opportunity to do executions at higher price points. That might be slightly different than what a kid wants to play with feature-driven action. Our job is to deliver the right product solution for the fans at the right age."

For Mattel, Comic-Con was seemingly more about the collector's market — but, let's be clear, it certainly wasn't entirely about that. The "Monster High" dolls on display, for example, seemed to be quite popular and drew a lot of attention from younger visitors to the booth, as well as their parents who were likely going to be busting out the credit card. "There are some [toys] you get on the floor with and you play with, and there's some you put on your mantle or on your shelf and you collect," Lewis acknowledged.

In the end, for Lewis and the team, it comes down to trying to capture authenticity of these brands and keeping the fans in mind. Whether it's a toy meant for a kid or a collectible shelf piece, the same principles apply.

"Whether they're fans young or old, kids or adults, collectors that have been collecting for 10 years or just starting out, there is a lot of reverence here for how we think about it. I mean, we hold fandom and we hold the brand love very high," Lewis said. "We try to act with fans of authenticity as guidelines for how we make choices. That's a lot of fun. When it comes to our for-kid product, when we look at our 'Jurassic World Dominion' toys, what six-year-old doesn't want to play with some of our T-rex dinosaurs recreating great dinosaur-on-dinosaur action?"

Lewis, meanwhile, hasn't lost his own sense of fun despite being high up on the corporate ladder. Some of that connection to what he does comes through playing with his kid. "I brought home Castle Grayskull — I mean, this thing was out of the box and being played with immediately. That's the Castle Grayskull I grew up with in the '80s. So I get a lot of joy out of it. It's really just a privilege to have the opportunity to do this for work," Lewis recalled.

IP is the (unknown) future

What's interesting is that the toy business, be it high-end collectibles or stuff for the kids, is just as tied to franchises and IP as Hollywood. That's why Mattel is pushing so hard to give "Masters of the Universe" a bigger footprint in the media space and why we're getting a "Barbie" movie with a straight-up ridiculous A-list cast next year. Mattel, though, doesn't view their properties or a licensed property from another company in a different light — they take it all very seriously.

"We treat our partners' IP like our own," Lewis said. "We're not just a licensing [company], we are a partner. We think about what makes the best products, the best lines to help move a business as well as an IP forward for those people that see the movies and they want to bring those moments home."

But Lewis admits that much of the immediate future is being defined by mining their IP for all it's worth. "What's exciting for us is we're certainly mining our IP right now. In looking into that library and creating great entertainment in our partners from Mattel TV and Mattel Films, there's a lot of opportunity for us as we think of ourselves as an IP-driven company. But at the same time, brands like 'Masters of the Universe' are incredibly rich. We're going to tell a lot of stories around 'Masters of the Universe,'" he says.

As for the future on a longer timeline? "The future's unknown," Lewis concludes. "But the future's exciting. Because whether it's our partners who we work with, or the IPs that Mattel owns, we're going to have a lot of ways to bring great products to fans around the world."