Q&A: Big Brand Bash Bonanza, Star Wars Pod Racing

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 25, 2019

1. I have just read that Mattel is trying to refinance their debts, similar to how toys r us attempted and later filed for bankruptcy. I also noticed that spin master has picked up the monster jam license that Mattel held until July. How will this affect their other brands, like barbie and hot wheels?

Barbie and Hot Wheels have had their epitaphs written before, and they're still here. Even Mattel's own Monster High was once predicted to be the stake in the heart of the immortal pink one. For those of us in the business, there have been many conversations about who to buy, and when, and who else is going to buy someone as a point of strategy. (I have been in some board rooms where interesting topics come up.)

Spin Master is picking up a few interesting properties in the wake of an industry-wide shake-up. BanDai's distributing Loyal Subjects. Spin Master got Batman/DC. Playmobil is doing Scooby Doo. There are even some upcoming other things I can't talk about yet that you're going to want to hear. Properties move around a bunch, and it's not like the 1980s and 1990s where one company has a master toy license for 20 years.

But when it comes to Barbie and Hot Wheels at Mattel (and Transformers and G.I. Joe and My Little Pony at Hasbro) it's generally unlikely that they will let those go to someone else. There are exceptions - there always are - but odds are you won't see anything hurting Hot Wheels or Barbie other than someone like Spin Master or Hasbro buying Mattel or carving up the assets should the beast die.

The beast will probably die - we've seen a sneak preview of this in Japan, where the declining birth rate continues and a lot of kid-friendly companies started to merge to stay alive. Bandai-Namco, Takara-Tomy, Sega-Sammy, Square-Enix, and that's not even counting the acquisitions along the way. There will probably be a version of this in the USA within the next decade as people look at their portfolios and their customers (the stores, not the collectors/fans) and say "hey... this isn't working like it used to."

Mattel does need to keep the machine rowing, but there are ways to do that considering their significant assets and large campus. (Hasbro also expanded to an additional new building a couple of years ago.) As time goes on you're probably going to see these companies - and others - look at opportunities to increase efficiencies by buying one another and firing a lot of people. The brands will live on, though - we're probably years and years away from kids not wanting to play with cars and dolls, and there aren't too many big competitors in that space.



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2. I recently downloaded the PS2 era Star Wars Racer Revenge on my PS4. Super fun game but it got me thinking about what could have been. What a shame we only got two of the 3 3/4 scale pods!! Do you know if there were ever prototypes for the other pods? What toy line had the most comprehensive collection of pods? Side note: I've been playing as Aldar Beedo and my son who came into the game halfway through the race asked what he looks like, I paused the game and went to my pod racer scene of action figures(as one does) and he doesn't exist as an action figure?!?!? What the?!?

One of the sad truths about a lot of 1970s and 1980s franchises is that people don't care all that much about some of the later installments. Star Wars, Star Trek, G.I. Joe, and Transformers may be behemoths of pop culture, but does anyone weep for The Phantom Menace, Voyager, Sgt. Savage/Extreme, and Beast Wars/Machines? A few people, sure. But for whatever reason, manufacturers are generally scared off by the middle children. They like what's old and safe, and what's new and shiny. Anything in the middle seems to be an increasingly tough sell - with few exceptions. (Oh hi, Picard.)

Aldar Beedo - and a lot of the pod racer drivers - weren't finished for the original movie, only showing up in the DVD extended cut after appearing as unfinished, naked models in various art books. By the time Racer Revenge came out, Pod Racing was a dirty word - even LEGO's first Aldar Beedo figure was just a cobbled-together and ugly mass of bricks. Hasbro had a mandate from above to shift its toy line to be 50% "classic" by the end of 2000, so a lot of prequel guys got delayed or just dropped from the conversation. It's worth noting that Ben Quadianaros - a major player in the film's race sequence - took 13 years to get a Hasbro action figure. It's also worth noting Hasbro has only made one six-inch Cantina alien in its entire line. I'm not super keen on that either.

If you jut want a whole lot of Podracers as toys, your best bet would be the late, lamented MicroMachines offering. LEGO also has a pretty good offering, but both are incomplete. As Hasbro and Mattel have both avoided these vehicles in their 3-inch die-cast metal segments, it's unlikely we'll see a complete offering until someone like Eaglemoss gets their British hands on it and decides to give you absolutely everything like they're doing with Star Trek.

While I have no doubt Hasbro cobbled together prototypes for other pods, a lot of 3 3/4-inch scale toys and vehicles and playsets never got made public. Some get shown to buyers, some get shown at trade shows, and some never are seen by anyone outside Hasbro HQ. Books can be written by what could have been in these lines, but a lot of it is a well-kept secret because once in a blue moon, people can keep their mouths shut. Of course, people get old, and steal things from work, and eventually put stuff on eBay... so there could be a lot of interesting reveals in the future.

For you olds out there, putting 2019 in perspective for The Phantom Menace is easy. Think of 1997 for the original film. Back in 1997, Lucasfilm and Kenner did the "lazy" thing and reissued the living heck out of the movies with massive quantities of toys, soundtrack CDs, home video reissues, and the works - it was amazing. In 2019, Disney is trying to put the genie back in the bottle so they can let it out again - along with a new movie - rather than celebrate the 20th anniversary of a film which went unclaimed by the children of its era.





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We may be at the end of an era as this note came in - Hasbro to Phase Out Plastic from New Toy and Game Packaging.

Presumably blind bags will transition to blind boxes or paper bags, but the real question comes from this line in the press release: "The company’s ambition is to eliminate virtually all plastic in packaging for new products by the end of 2022." Does that mean we'll never see retro/vintage packaging again?

This is both a very big and not very big deal, depending on who you are. I've been a big proponent of whatever cuts down on packaging materials because that means you're paying for less stuff to be shipped from China to the ports, from the ports to the retailer, and from you to the landfill. Coincidentally, "Vintage"-style packaging generally contained a lot less stuff that needed to be thrown away - the collector solution just happened to be a smidgen greener. But will this be a big problem?

When it comes to big toys, I'm unusual in that I prefer closed-box to window-box. You can cram more in less space and box illustration is a lost art. The old Kenner vehicle art was always fun, and modern toys including some bigger Transformers have wonderful illustrations on them. I won't be sore if my Millennium Falcon doesn't have a window to see Han Solo inside, either. Some items will undoubtedly be like modern Lightsabers or Imaginext - tied to cardboard, exposed to customers (and their germs) in stores. You can see the product if you wish.

What worries me are traditional action figures. While there's going to be some issues with having them in open-box packaging, there are worse issues for closed-box packaging. If the box is open, it's going to be harder to secure weapons without them getting stolen or swapped out - the same goes for figures. Thievery made easy is not what any of us want, and it means we'll have to be more vigilant in knowing what a toy should include (and examining it) prior to making a purchase. I could see more boxes like the vintage Popy packaging as likely.

Moving figures to closed-box packaging would end tradition. I like seeing the faces of the action figures I purchase, and verifying the accessories are indeed still in there and correct. Head paint on toys has improved dramatically in recent years - but I still would prefer to see that it has both eyes before taking it to a register. Hasbro has been experimenting with "less plastic" packaging like on its Transformers 1-step changers - keeping the inner tray and paper insert, but losing the protective outer bubble. For figures with no accessories, it's not a big deal.

To reduce the amount of stuff in packaging is a net benefit. You, the customer, pay for packaging - that could be pennies spent on an extra paint application or profit for the store. If Hasbro took 10% of the packaging out of Transformers and added some extra paint, I'd be pretty happy - but not if it means the accessories are lost in transit (or in the stores) in the process. It's a weird new world, and odds are most toys are going to be designed with this sort of thing in mind. Board games can be stickered close. Nerf guns have too much packaging as is. But action figures... I do not envy those tasked to brainstorm replacements for collector-level action figures.

Other stuff you should know: Hasbro bought Death Row Records and Entertainment One (PJ Masks, Peppa Pig) to add to their growing portfolio which also recently added My Pet Monster and Power Rangers.

HasLab Cookie Monster did not get funded, Unicron ends this week and is at 38.75%.

D23 announcements included: Clone Wars in early 2020. Obi-Wan Kenobi streaming series shoots in 2020. No new movie titles/scheduling at this time. Resistance ends at season 2. Sadly still no Solo streaming series.

At GamesCom in Germany: Retro-Bit announced a ton of NES, Super NES, and Sega Genesis cartridge reissues.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit, and we're down to 2 questions per week until we get overloaded with questions to re-expand back to 3 or more.



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