EDITOR'S COMMENT: Inventors on the big screen

Robert Hutchins

By Robert Hutchins

December 3rd 2015 at 12:56PM
UPDATED December 3rd 2015 at 1:20PM
EDITOR'S COMMENT: Inventors on the big screen

When Ruth Handler unveiled the first Barbie doll at the 1959 Toy Fair, it was a concept that challenged the mindset of a generation. With word of a biopic on the toy inventor emerging from Hollywood, Robert Hutchins looks at why it's a story that needs to be told.

There’s no doubt that movies about toys are big business at the moment, it’s a topic we have discussed fairly extensively over the course of the year.

From the success of the Transformers franchise to the upcoming release of Trolls, it seems nothing pulls in the punters quite like a fantasy feature starring the very toys any number of us played with as a kid.

Warner Bros breathed a whole new life into the genre when it brought the blockbusting The LEGO Movie to an audience of wide-eyed cinemagoers, accruing $658 million at the global box office in the process.

But beyond the current demand to see the likes of Play-Doh battle it out with Playmobil for box office share, there appears to be a new trend emerging from the studios of Hollywood: the toy origin story.

Yes, it seems that the lives of you, the toy inventors themselves, can be as equally enthralling as the threat of Lord Business and his evil plans to take over the LEGO universe.

The latest mutterings from Tinsel Town suggest that Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon is to produce a biopic focused on the captivating story of the brains behind Barbie, Ruth Handler.

If it goes ahead, the movie - inspired by author Robin Gerber’s biography, ‘Barbie and Ruth’, - will chronicle Handler’s meteoric rise in the world of business to become the president of Mattel.

And Handler’s story is most certainly one worthy of its own movie.

The tenth child of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Handler was eventually forced out from her role at Mattel amid what Gerber describes as ‘corporate scandal’, and turned the tragedy of her breast cancer into a new business that created more realistic breast prostheses, a move that changed the lives of many women around the world.

Finally honored as a pioneer, humanitarian and masterful entrepreneur, Handler certainly earned her place in the Hall of Fame, having met adversity head first at nearly every step.

It was at the 1959 Toy Fair that – much to the documented disdain of the male buyers - Handler unveiled Barbie and set in motion the (for its time, groundbreaking) philosophy adopted by some of the greatest innovators in the industry today: that through play, girls could learn they had the choice to be anything they wanted.

Today of course, the philosophy itself is a no-brainer, but thanks to the effort of one determined toy inventor, the blueprints for the industry’s ever-increasing raft of positive image dolls, were laid.

As a side note, it is fitting that Mattel is once again pioneering in the sector with its new range of DC Super Girls dolls, the first girl’s market-targeted collection of super hero action figures.

But we digress, so let’s bring this back to you and the role of the toy inventor.

Yours is a powerful position to be in and one that should never be undervalued. Because, for all the hilarity that some of the most hair-brained ideas, or the more eccentric of you may offer, it is in your perpetual tinkering, tweaking and re-evaluating of today’s accepted concepts that groundbreaking strides forward can be made.

While the attitudes that Handler faced in her heyday may have changed, there is always room for improvement and there is still plenty left to be challenged.

Perhaps next time you sit down to sketch out the latest iteration of that toy concept, think about the message you are delivering to generations to come. You may just have the power the shape future mindsets.

On that note, Christmas is in full swing at ToyNews, having already chomped my way through an entire advent calendar (and the majority of the biscuits, too) we are now engaged in a battle to the death with the bumper ToyFair 2016 issue.

If when it comes out, it reads anything like the numerous sheets of paper flying around the office, it promises to be a cracking read with some inventor nuggets in-store, too.

As we head into the thick of it then, this will be the final Inventor Bulletin of the year. It’s been a pleasure putting the last 50 odd of the year together and we can only look forward to what next year has in store.

Have a cracking Christmas one and all, and see you in 2016!