Hasbro is joining the cinematic universe wave, but it appears we will still have a while to wait for it.
Derryl DePriest, Hasbro's vice president of Global Brand Management, is one of those people in the toy industry that you can tell truly loves his job. Having met DePriest many times over the years, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who speaks about the products under his watch so passionately and you can tell he wants to play with them just as much as he wants to sell them. Besides making sure you have plenty of toys to play with each year, he is also involved in bringing together the five toy lines that will make up the Hasbro Cinematic Universe.
When bringing together five properties that had no previous connections, you can imagine how difficult it's going to be to try to merge their storylines into one cohesive universe. This is part of DePriest's job, and what we sat down to discuss with him, although he was quick to point out "I will say it's very early for all these properties to talk about which specifics we're going to rally around."
Even with that disclaimer there was no way we weren't going to try to sort some of this out.
Early on in our discussion, DePriest made it clear that most of the previous comic works were not going to be the foundation for the stories we would be seeing on the big screen, although "the one exception to that is G.I. Joe," said DePriest. "Because G.I. Joe has such a rich mythology and the foundational mythology of G.I. Joe, rooted in that original storytelling, and Larry Hama's inspiration for that. That has formed the basis of many of the plot points we've been rallying around today for the new storytelling."
One of the big questions on most people's minds is whether the two G.I. Joe movies – G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and G.I. Joe: Retaliation – will be part of this new universe. "That's still to be determined," said DePriest. "Where we go with G.I. Joe, I would say it's still too early."
While we wait for a new film, one has to wonder what is going on with the much loved 3 & 3/4-inch line. There have been exclusive sets almost every year, and that trend will continue this year with some Toys R' Us exclusives. Mixed into those sets will be a first for the line in that a fan-created character named Stiletto will be included in one of the sets. "Stiletto is drawn from the
"Stiletto is drawn from the Kindle Worlds fiction that has been created by fans," DePreiest explained. "There are currently over a hundred novels that fans have written and self-published under the Kindle Worlds banner. Last year we actually took a vote and asked of all the characters that have been created in this fictional universe, we wanted the fans to vote on which one of them should be added officially, and Stilleto won that vote."
Stilleto appears in the G.I. Joe novels of Bill Nedrow if you wish to read more about her.
M.A.S.K. was a toy line from the 1980s heyday of action figure lines and featured a storyline of the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand fighting against the criminal organization of V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem). The toy line ran from 1985 to 1988 with four distinct release cycles and spawned a popular cartoon, comic books and video games.
The toy line existed in its own universe until 2008 when a Matt Trakker figure was added to the G.I. Joe line. Nothing else was ever really said about this, but it certainly implied that the two properties shared a universe. It was then rumored the character would show up in a third G.I. Joe film, but the plan then changed to this overall Hasbro Cinematic Universe.
With the focus being on the mythology of toys being the basis for how a lot of these properties will have their stories told on screen, we did ask DePriest if the long-running M.A.S.K. cartoon would be ignored. "Not in particular," DePreiest replied. "I would say with M.A.S.K. as well we're looking more at the foundation of M.A.S.K. as well than being rooted in any particular aspects of the prior mythology."
With the inclusion of Trakker in the G.I. Joe toyline there has been fan speculation that V.E.N.O.M. could actually be a secret part of Cobra, and M.A.S.K. being the same for the Joe team, making these two properties probably the easiest to stitch together.
"As we knew, finally, at long last, we were going to activate Micronauts – because we've actually had the property for some time looking for the right to introduce it – I knew we had an opportunity to do some retro Micronauts products. Being someone who grew up with originally as a kid, it was one of the defining toys of my childhood certainly, I wanted to know if any of that original tooling existed." Considering the toys had come out in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was unsurprising that when DePriest first contacted Takara Tomy, the original company to make the toy line, told him that none of the original molds were still in existence.
"I know enough from my experience in the industry that kinda maybe come back and ask in a little bit of a different way after a period of time has elapsed," explained DePriest. "That's what I did, I came back and said 'we're ready to relaunch Micronauts, would love to do a bit of a retro play, can you take one more look and see are there any of those original tools that still exist. Lo and behold I got a different answer. In a warehouse in Japan, not China, Takara Tomy was able to find some original tools."
"We kinda had a handful of workable tools for some of the original figures, and a couple of original vehicle parts. None of them were totally complete, but what Takara Tomy did was suggest some additional parts from their more recent Microman line, and by recent I mean the 80s and 90s, as a way to kinda fill in missing parts. So what we came up with was a true hybrid set with authentic tools from the 70s that were filled in with Microman parts." Sadly, however, this is not a trend that will continue as DePriest explained this has exhausted the original tools that were located.
We asked him if he felt Hasbro would try to carry on the original look despite having to use new tools, or if they would change it in some way. "We'll probably evolve the look. We like this look for a retro celebration, but we'll have a new look though as we approach the launch."
ROM is an oddball in the toy world. He is very fondly remembered by people who bought him or received him as gifts in 1979 when he was released, but otherwise almost all memories come from the long-running Marvel comic series. Much to everyone's chagrin, the comic will not be the foundation of the film franchise, but DePriest did say that a lot of the information is still within their rights as it was included in the original Toy Fair sales video.
Beyond this, it's anyone's guess how this one-off toy will fit into the overall storyline of the Hasbro Cinematic Universe. As a fan of the original toy, I can't wait to see what happens here, and the idea of new ROM toys is one I am certainly excited about.
I admitted to DePriest this is where my knowledge falls short. I remember the toy line, but I have no personal experience with the line nor even know its storyline other than it being a fantasy story. How in the world could this work in with four other properties that are so clearly technology based?
"All of the brands we're looking at here, have a very strong reason for their existence in being brought together like this… and that's all that I'll say," said DePriest with a chuckle.
As to whether we can expect any new products before the film hits, however, it looks as though there aren't too many plans. "Primarily when the film debuts, but for Comic-Con this year we did a tribute to the main good guy Visionaries character, Leoric, we had an exclusive Might Muggs figure celebrating that. We may continue to look at little tributes like that going up to the launch, but we're going to mainly reserve the biggest emphasis for when the story debuts cinematically."
For now, it's clear that we still have a long wait to see where this is all going to go. Cinematic universes seem to be all the rage these days, but bringing together five properties into one cohesive storyline would be a monumental challenge for anyone, but with the likes of Paramount backing this, and someone such as DePriest putting it together, my curiosity is certainly piqued, and I can't wait to see how all of this plays out.
No timeline for the film releases has been set as of yet, but we'll certainly be keeping an eye out for it.
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