The Toys That Made Us: Seasons 1 & 2

DVD REVIEW: 

Street Date 5/7/19;
Screen Media;
Documentary;
$29.98 DVD;
Not rated.

This eight-part documentary series that originally premiered on Netflix delves into the history of some of the most influential toy brands from the past 50 years.

With a particular focus on toys that were big in the 1980s, when the loosening of the rules governing television programing blurred the line between content and advertising, it’s no surprise that many of the toy lines profiled here also rank among the most significant pop culture franchises as well.

Fittingly, then, the first episode deals with “Star Wars,” and how the George Lucas space opera forever changed the landscape of movie merchandising, while elevating a small toymaker such as Kenner into a national powerhouse. Not that other major players such as Hasbro and Mattel aren’t represented.

The hour-long episodes are divided into two seasons — one season per disc — and smartly focus on a different toy brand each episode. That allows each episode to find its own voice in telling the story of that particular toy, while letting viewers pick and choose which episodes they want to watch based on which of the toys are of interest to them.

Other season one episodes focus on “Barbie,” “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and “G.I. Joe.” Season two deals with “Star Trek,” “The Transformers,” “Lego” and “Hello Kitty.”

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Aside from some invaluable under-the-radar lessons about business and marketing, the episodes offer a pure blast of childhood nostalgia, particularly for Gen Xers who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s.

Which isn’t to say that younger viewers can’t find something to enjoy in the show, as most of these toy lines are pretty timeless. Plus, the upcoming third season will look at newer toys such as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Power Rangers” (in addition to “My Little Pony” and professional wrestling toys).

The shows offer a lot of fascinating details about how the toys were created and evolved. The “He-Man” show is entertaining simply for how so many of the line’s creators want to take credit for coming up with it. The story of the creation of Battle Cat is particularly hilarious.

The first disc offers an eight-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with series creator Brian Volk-Weiss, who delves into what his goals for the show were and why certain toys were chosen to be profiled.

It seems like a bit of an odd choice to include “Star Trek,” which has never really been associated with a robust toy line. But as the narrator continually brings up how less successful “Trek” toys have been compared with “Star Wars,” the episode comes across more as an avenue to profile the various toy companies like Mego, Galoob and Playmates that tried their hands at “Star Trek” toy lines over the years, with varying degrees of success.

In fact, the lone deleted scene included with the DVDs is from the “Star Trek” episode, consisting of a two-minute clip of various talking heads wondering why the toys based on the J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” reboot didn’t sell well.

That discussion hints at the challenges that not just toymakers, but any steward of a popular brand face in the rapidly changing information age. Some brands have always had better success than others in crossing from one generation to the next, but the means of instant gratification brought on by the Internet have altered the tactile relationship viewers have with their favorite content, both in the collectability and playability of the merchandise associated with it.

As one of the talking heads notes in the deleted scene, we don’t really have pop culture anymore. We have a customizable culture, in which consumers can focus on their fandoms like never before.

Whatever the case, at least we have shows like “The Toys That Made Us” to help remind us why we love these things to begin with.

Documentary Series ‘The Toys That Made Us’ on DVD May 7

Screen Media will release The Toys That Made Us: Seasons 1 & 2 on DVD May 7.

The eight-episode Netflix documentary series chronicles the creation, marketing evolution and rise in popularity of several key toy lines, with each episode focused on a different brand.

The first four episodes focus on “Star Wars,” “Barbie,” “He-Man” and “G.I. Joe,” with the second season dealing with “Star Trek,” “Transformers,” “Lego” and “Hello Kitty.”

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‘Bumblebee’ Screenwriter Relished Chance to Put a Woman in the Driver’s Seat

A girl and her car are at the center of the “Transformers” reboot Bumblebee, available now on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc and digital from Paramount Home Media Entertainment.

And that’s just as screenwriter Christina Hodson intended.

“As soon as I got the call about working within the ‘Transformers’ franchise I knew I wanted to tell a female-driven story,” she said in an interview with Media Play News on the Paramount lot.

It’s something that blockbuster action franchises rarely feature.

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“Honestly, it’s more about the big picture for me; it’s just about seeing girls in these kinds of roles,” she said. “I think we haven’t seen it often enough. We see so many movies where we just take for granted that it’s the boy or the man that’s at the lead going on the adventure.…  It’s wonderful to just introduce into the world a new spin on that, to see a woman — forgive me — at the steering wheel.”

She based the character of Charlie on her two nieces. One is neither a “girly-girl” nor a “tomboy,” but “something in between” like Charlie, she said. Another has a special relationship with her dad that inspired Charlie’s.

Hodson said she wants more women to get into screenwriting to provide more balance.

“The numbers are crazy, and we’ve got to work on fixing them, and the one thing that I can say — knowing a lot of the female screenwriters of my generation — is we are bringing more women up with us,” she said. “That’s very much our goal.”

To talk about Bumblebee, editor-in-chief Stephanie Prange visited the Paramount lot to learn about the sound effects and more:

She also talked to screenwriter Hodson about the need for more girl power in the movies. Here is the full interview:

Bumblebee

 BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 4/2/19;
Paramount;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $127.2 million;
$29.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $34.99. UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi action violence.
Stars Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Glynn Turman, Len Cariou. Voices of Dylan O’Brien, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, Peter Cullen.

It’s hard to deny that the five live-action “Transformers” films have just about worn out their welcome even among the most avid fans of the franchise and toy line on which it’s based. With the movies for the most part having devolved into spectacles of mind-numbing action, incomprehensible plotting, unrecognizable characters and a jumble of references to the iconic “Transformers” lore established in the old cartoons and comic books, it was clear a change in direction was in order.

Bumblebee, directed by stop-motion animation veteran Travis Knight, is just the creative spark the franchise needed to re-connect with the audience, returning to the basics of the brand’s premise without over-complicating the story with an abundance of jokey characters and a fetish for the military industrial complex.

As the sixth live-action “Transformers” film, Bumblebee could be seen as either a prequel to the other five, or as a reboot, depending on what direction producers decide to take it in the future. There are obvious references to the other films embedded throughout, so if further movies didn’t materialize then it plays pretty well as a prequel, with some mental gymnastics employed to explain away moments where the story seems to completely ignore what has been established in the earlier films.

It’s somewhat evident that an earlier iteration of the movie was meant to more closely align with Bay’s world, particularly since a comic book prelude released before the film depicts Bumblebee working with the British secret service in the 1960s, playing off his involvement in World War II in the fifth film. Bumblebee, on the other hand, shows him landing on Earth in 1987, which isn’t necessarily inconsistent, but raises a few questions. An alternate opening sequence — included among the Blu-ray’s 19 minutes of deleted scenes — is a bit more vague about Bumblebee’s arrival on Earth.

So, in the same vein as X-Men: First Class, it wouldn’t be surprising if future sequels didn’t bother connecting to the existing continuity, though, recently one of the film’s producers indicated future installments would lean more toward the Bay continuity after all.

Bumblebee plays like a throwback to a 1980s Steven Spielberg movie, while the story is somewhat of a gender-swapped version of the set-up to the 2007 film, in which Shia LeBeouf came across Bumblebee in a used-car lot.

Fleeing from the Decepticon conquest of his home planet of Cybertron, Bumblebee crashes on Earth and loses his memory. Having taken on the disguise of a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle, he is discovered in a junkyard by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a mechanically inclined rebellious teenager looking for meaning in her life following the sudden death of her father. She repairs Bumblebee and learns that he’s an alien robot with the ability to transform into a car. And he’s being pursued by the U.S. military and Decepticon bounty hunters. With Charlie’s help, Bumblebee starts to regain his identity enough to remember the mission given to him by Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) to protect Earth from the Decepticons so the Autobots can use it as a base to regroup.

The film comes to life with seamless visual effects that look great on Blu-ray, and a soundtrack peppered with some of the top hits of the 1980s.

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The girl and her living car angle might also bring to mind Herbie: Fully Loaded, which itself was an attempt to freshen up a shopworn franchise. For the most part, though, Bumblebee offers up a good chunk of the kind of “Transformers” fun that fans have been waiting to see since the 1980s, particularly the battles on Cybertron.

The Blu-ray also comes with a mini-comic featuring Bumblebee’s next adventure, in which he tussles with another Decepticon who has come looking for him. One of the extras on the disc is a motion comic containing this story with an extended ending that more explicitly ties Bumblebee to the events of the first Bay movie.

The disc also contains 10 minutes of outtakes, a four-minute profile of various “Transformers” characters with their “Generation One”-inspired designs, and 47 minutes of decent behind-the-scenes featurettes.

‘Transformers’ Spinoff ‘Bumblebee’ Due Digitally March 19, on Disc April 2 From Paramount

Paramount Home Media Entertainment will release the latest live-action “Transformers” movie, Bumblebee, through digital retailers March 19, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray April 2.

The film from director Travis Knight follows an earlier mission of the Autobot warrior Bumblebee, sent by Optimus Prime to protect Earth  from the Decepticons following the fall of Cybertron. Damaged in battle and unable to remember his true identity, he forges a friendship with Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager trying to find her place in the world who discovers and repairs the battle-scarred robot after finding him in 1987 disguised as a Volkswagen Beetle. Meanwhile, a military group led by Agent Burns (John Cena) makes a pact with Decepticon bounty hunters to seek out any Autobots seeking refuge.

The film earned $125.9 million at the domestic box office.

The digital and Blu-ray releases include Sector 7 Adventures: The Battle at Half Dome, a new motion comic following Bumblebee on his next adventure. The Blu-ray combo packs will include an exclusive printed version of the new motion comic for a limited time.

The motion comic is part of the “Sector 7 Archive” along with “Agent Burns: Welcome to Sector 7.”

Other Blu-ray and digital extras include deleted and extended scenes, including the original opening sequence; outtakes; a “Bee Vision” look at Generation 1-inspired Transformers characters on Cybertron; and several “Bringing Bumblebee to the Big Screen” featurettes, including “The Story of Bumblebee,” “The Stars Align,” “Bumblebee Goes Back to G1,” “Back to the Beetle” and “California Cruisin’ Down Memory Lane.”

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and digital releases will feature Dolby Vision HDR and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack remixed specifically for home theaters.

China’s Tencent Partnering With Paramount on ‘Bumblebee’ and ‘Top Gun’ Theatrical Releases

Tencent, the Chinese multinational entertainment conglomerate, Dec. 5 announced a partnership and co-financing deal with Paramount Pictures for the studio’s upcoming Bumblebee theatrical release, in addition to next year’s Top Gun sequel featuring Tom Cruise.

Tencent, which operates numerous entertainment ventures in China, including Netflix knockoff Tencent Video, separately filed a $1.4 billion IPO for its Tencent Music branded streaming service.

As an investor and co-marketing partner, Tencent Pictures will assist with the marketing and promotions of Bumblebee in mainland China. Hasbro, creator and owner of the Transformers brand on which the film franchise is based, is also a co-financier on Bumblebee.

Starring Hailee Steinfeld (Pitch Perfect 3The Edge of Seventeen), John Cena (Blockers, Trainwreck), and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Love, Simon, Spiderman: Homecoming)Bumblebee is an Autobot character set in 1987 as a prequel to the Transformers franchise.

Bumblebee represents Tencent’s first international project after Warner Bros.’ Venom and its first collaboration with Paramount. Other Hollywood domestic collaborations include Warcraft, Kong: Skull IslandWonder Woman, La La Land and Ready Player One.

“Tencent’s involvement in many high-profile international projects has demonstrated its strong capacity in marketing campaigns in China,” Jim Gianopulos, CEO, Paramount Pictures, said in a statement.

 

Hasbro Movie, TV Streaming Deals Soften Toys R Us Revenue Loss

Entertainment licensing of TV shows and movies proved a fiscal lifeline for venerable toy maker Hasbro.

The company Oct. 22 reported third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) net income of nearly $264 million, about equal to net income of $265.5 million during the previous-year period. Revenue fell 12% to $1.56 billion from $1.79 billion last year.

Revenue loss was in large part due to lingering effects of the shuttering of major retailer Toys R Us, ongoing changes in consumer shopping behaviors and foreign exchange — the latter having a negative impact of $32 million, or 2% of Q3 revenue.

Hasbro managed to offset the declines in part to the entertainment and licensing segment, which saw revenue increase 45% to $84.8 million compared to $58.4 million in 2017. Operating profit increased 99% to $33.7 million, or 39.7% of net revenue, compared to $16.9 million, or 28.9% of net revenue, in 2017.

Segment revenue benefited from a multiyear digital streaming deal for Hasbro television programming and revenue from the 2017 My Little Pony: The Movie.

In addition, the adoption of new accounting rules concerning revenue from contracts favorably impacted the timing of revenue recognition in the quarter. Higher revenue and a favorable mix, coupled with cost reductions, drove higher operating profit and operating profit margin in the quarter.

Brand revenue decreased 5% to $847.7 million, due in part to My Little Pony and Transformers: The Last Knight theatrical releases occurring in 2017.

Last November, Paramount Pictures and Hasbro updated a pact to produce and distribute content based on Hasbro brands, as well as original stories. The companies have partnered on five “Transformers” movies to date, as well as two “G.I. Joe” films, and the first “Transformers” spinoff, Bumblebee, slated for theatrical release on Dec. 21.

The movie co-stars Oscar-nominee Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) and John Cena (Blockers), and is directed by Travis Knight.

“Global retailers have ambitious programs this holiday season … including programs behind our feature film, Bumblebee,” CEO Brian Goldner said in a statement.

“Hasbro remains in a strong financial position, including good operating profit margins, $907 million in cash and quality inventory to support our business this holiday season,” added CFO Deborah Thomas. “As we manage through a very disruptive environment, the strength of our brands and our business allows us to continue to invest to drive profitable growth in future years.”

Shout!, Hasbro, Fathom Holding Animated ‘Transformers’ Movie Screening Sept. 27

The 1986 animated cult-classic The Transformers: The Movie is returning to theaters nationwide for a special one-night Fathom Events engagement Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. local time.

The special event is a collaboration between Fathom, Hasbro Studios and Shout! Factory, which restored the film for a Blu-ray release in 2016.

The Transformers: The Movie was a spinoff of the 1980s animated series based on the Hasbro toys, and featured the voices of Peter Cullen, Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Frank Welker and Orson Welles. The film earned $5.8 million during its initial theatrical run in 1986.

The screening will also provide moviegoers with a sneak peek behind the scenes of the upcoming Bumblebee live-action film, a prequel to the Michael Bay live-action “Transformers” movies. Bumblebee is due in theaters Dec. 21.

The Fathom event will also include a new interview with singer-songwriter Stan Bush, including recent performances of the songs “The Touch” and “Dare,” which feature prominently in the 1986 film.

A list of the 500 participating theaters is available at Fathomevents.com. Tickets will go on sale starting Aug. 3 online or through participating theater box offices.

Hasbro Upbeat Despite Toys ‘R’ Us Shutdown

Following liquidation of Toys “R” Us stores around the world, toy and game manufacturer Hasbro believes its diverse portfolio – notably entertainment and licensing – can help it weather ongoing changes at the retail level. Toys “R” Us was one of Hasbro’s biggest retail vendors.

“Our global teams executed well despite the disruption in the market,” CFO Deborah Thomas said July 23 in a statement following release of second quarter (ended July 1) financial results.

The company reported a 11% decline in profit to $60.3 million compared to net income of $67.7 million during the previous-year period. Revenue fell 7% to $904.5 million from $972.5 million last year.

“With $1.2 billion in cash, and a healthy balance sheet, our financial position is strong,” said Thomas. “Our diverse portfolio enabled us to partially offset the negative margin impact from lower revenues, but not entirely. We are working with our retailers to successfully execute their plans for Hasbro’s innovative portfolio this holiday season.”

Hasbro is banking on the recent $522 million acquisition of Saban’s Power Rangersand other entertainment brands as it further branches out into movies and TV show production.

Saban’s Power Rangers moviegenerated $142.3 million at the global box office. The title sold $14.4 million in combined DVD/Blu-ray Disc units (excluding digital) since its June 27, 2017 retail release, according to The-Numbers.com. It was also released on 4K UHD Blu-ray.

Hasbro is also working with Paramount Pictures and Netflix to produce and distribute content based on Hasbro brands, as well as original stories. Hasbro and Paramount have partnered on five Transformers movies to date, as well as two G.I. Joe films, and the first Transformers spinoff, Bumblebee, is slated for release in December.

Indeed, Hasbro’s entertainment and licensing segment was the only division to post an increase in Q2 performance. Operating income ballooned 64% to $18.6 million from $11.3 million, while revenue increased 26% to $64.7 million from $51.5 million.

“We are focused on moving beyond the near-term disruption of losing a major customer, with a clear path forward including new retailer activations to meet the consumer demand made available by the Toys ‘R’ Us departure,” said CEO Brian Goldner.