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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Mattel dusts off He-Man, with a nod to diversity.


Mattel’s 1982 release of the brawny superhero He-Man was an instant success. Four years later, at the height of its popularity, sales of the sword-and-sorcery toy line in the United States reached $400 million.

He-Man and the rest of the Masters of the Universe are back in the toy aisles nearly four decades after their first appearance.

However, Mattel is attempting to resurrect a dormant franchise for a new generation of consumers who expect content that is relevant to their lives. To that end, the toymaker has collaborated with Netflix to create two new animated series to accompany two toy lines that have already hit store shelves.

And Mattel is adding Sun-Man to the Masters of the Universe roster of muscled heroes, a Black character created in 1985 by a New Jersey mother who wanted to create a role model for her son.

“My son told me that he couldn’t be a superhero because he was Black. He was three years old,” said Yla Eason, an assistant professor of professional practise at Rutgers.

So she founded Olmec Toys to manufacture Sun-Man and other toys for Black, Hispanic, and Native American children. “The goal was to give a positive Black presentation in terms of imagination and creativity,” she explained.

That concept is more powerful today, according to Ed Duncan, a senior vice president at Mattel in charge of Sun-official Man’s introduction into the lineup.

“Reintroducing a Black hero for today’s kids feels not only good, but also important,” he wrote in an email. “Sun- From his aesthetic design to his character traits and powers, man is such an aspirational character.”

Some characters were reimagined as Black in the two Netflix series — “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” (created by Kevin Smith, who created raunchy films like “Clerks” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”) and “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” (aimed at younger audiences).

Children need to see themselves represented in the world around them, according to Rob David, Mattel Television’s vice president of creative content and an executive producer on the two animated series. “The TV screen is both a window and a mirror,” he explained.

The Masters of the Universe revival is part of Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz’s larger expansion strategy to resurrect ageing franchises. “We have a treasure trove of brands, some of which were shelved for whatever reason,” said Mattel president and chief operating officer Richard Dickson. The Magic 8 Ball, the Major Matt Mason action figure, and the card game Uno are among the brands slated for expansion.

Mattel could become more profitable by expanding its intellectual properties at a time when the toy industry is booming. According to the NPD Group, after falling 4% in 2019, toy sales in the United States increased 16 percent last year to $25.1 billion. Mattel’s most recent quarter saw a 40% increase in net sales when compared to the same period in 2020.

“Ynon Kreiz transformed the business,” said Gerrick Johnson, an equity research analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “He looked at the licences’ profitability.” Taking a brand like Masters of the Universe out of the vault is a smart strategy, he says, because Mattel can sell licences for a variety of products, such as bedsheets and backpacks.

Mr. Dickson, who declined to provide additional details, said that Mattel is lining up partnerships in publishing and softgoods, which include clothing and bedding, in addition to toys and the series.

Adults who grew up with the original He-Man and have kept the brand alive through fan websites and conventions such as Power-Con, which begins Saturday in Anaheim, Calif., are excited about his return, but are wary of overkill at mainstream retailers.

“I’m concerned that there will be too many and that the market will become crowded,” said Danny Eardley, the lead author of “The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.” “Poor performance could indicate to Mattel that there is insufficient interest.”

Mr. Dickson, on the other hand, wishes to allay those fears. “It’s clear that we allowed the property to go dormant over time,” he said. However, “we are strategic about every toy that we release.”

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