A Visit to Mattel HQ to Reveal Their Toy Story 4 Toys!
Disclosure: Mattel invited me to visit their Design Center. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Amelia and I had a full day of Toy Story 4 fun that was top secret until today…we went to Mattel headquarters to see their full Toy Story 4 collection coming out, and learn how the toys were made. It was a mother daughter day I’ll never forget, and for having played with Mattel toys throughout my own childhood, it was definitely bringing me back to when I was a kid!
Arriving at Mattel HQ
When we arrived, the outside looked like a traditional warehouse type space. So when I walked inside, I was completely awestruck by the scene that greeted us: A two-story tall Hot Wheels track, and a human size Barbie Dreamhouse elevator and patio! Both these things were a throwback to my own childhood, and it was definitely a bonding moment when Amelia wanted to play at the Barbie Dreamhouse with me and race cars down the massive track.
We then received our badges for the day, and walked into the room where we would kick off our day with presentations from cast members from Pixar and Mattel employees to learn about beginning the process of creating their Toy Story 4 line.
Behind the Scenes With Pixar
Our first panel was with Pixar cast member Jen Tan, who is the Creative Director of Consumer Products at Disney & Pixar. She shared that the process of creating toys for a new movie begins about 18 months prior to the release date. The film at that stage is not yet complete, so they have to create many of the toys based on concept art and storyboards.
Using the character designs they’re provided from the animators, they create pantone color chips for each character, for their skin, hair, outfit, etc and provide that to all the licensees who make toys. That way, no matter what brand is creating a toy, the colors remain the same across the board for character consistency. Pixar also provides scale to their licensees, showing the sizes the characters should be in relation to one another. They had a human-sized example of this at the event:
I was very impressed with these details that go into licensees making toys, and the dedication to making them as accurate as possible to the characters we will be seeing in Toy Story 4!
Not only does Pixar have a hand in helping Mattel create toys, but Mattel also had a hand in helping Pixar create their character designs! During the making of each Toy Story film, Pixar animators would visit Mattel HQ just like we were to look at how toys were made, how different materials looked and moved, and how clothes for toys were made. This helped inspire character designs as well as making sure their characters moved accurately to what materials they were supposed to be made out of.
Fast forward 18 months when the film is almost released and the toys are produced, Mattel has made 100’s of toys for Toy Story 4. The toys are made with love and dedication, with not only children in mind but adults as well. Tan talked about how they do make toys with adults equally in mind, since they know if adults also have an emotional connection to a toy, they are going to have more play time with their child. I loved that they kept this in mind, it is so true! Loving a toy also definitely increases that play time bond with parent and child.
A Toy Design Story
Next up, we heard from Tara McGrath, who works in toy design at Mattel. She took us through the steps of creating a toy:
- Brainstorm, every single idea thrown out gets written down then voted on later.
- Drawing concepts.
- Making foam models with materials from craft stores to create the structure of toys.
- Submit to Disney & Pixar for approvals.
- Have kids test out toys to get feedback and make refinements.
- Get a sample made.
- More refinements!
- Then the deco stage, where they add the right colors to make authentic to the character.
- Make another more finished sample and more testing out the toys with kids.
- Create packaging
- Send to stores!
It is quite a journey to create a toy, and easy to see why they get started 18 months ahead of the movie’s release!
Playing With the Toys!
After our panels, we had a lunch break in their outdoor courtyard, and when we entered the space I was floored! They had Mattel’s new Toy Story 4 carnival-inspired games out for kids to play, like a bean bag toss and bean bag tic tac to. On the tables, there were mini versions of their Toy Story 4 bean bag toss and Amelia’s favorite, Toy Story 4 Uno, Ducky and Bunny KerPlunk! She seriously couldn’t get enough of KerPlunk and wanted to play it over and over again.
Forky Creation Station
After lunch and playing with Mattel’s new Toy Story 4 toys, we went inside to their Forky Creation Station, where we played with one of their new toys coming out, which is a DIY Forky kit. It comes with a Forky, an apple and a milk carton, so you have more friends to create along with Forky, along with lots of stickers, glitter glue, markers and more to make your own variations on Forky. Amelia absolutely loved it, it was a big hit with the kids, and a relaxing activity to do together with your child.
How a Package Comes Together
It was incredible to see not only the pride and dedication the Mattel toy makers had in creating the toys themselves, but it was amazing to see the creativity they poured even into the packaging. The packaging team talked about how they wanted to make some of the Toy Story 4 Mattel toys have their packaging be an additional element of play.
For example, one of the playsets with Woody, Buzz, Rex, Slinky and Forky looks like the RV Bonnie’s parents drive to go on a road trip with her. They start out by making the structure of the box that’s going to look like the RV, then they have a sketch artist draw the details, then they add the colors. They add details like having Forky be in the RV’s front window, since Bonnie would have Forky with her up front. Kids can then use the box to have it be the RV from the movie, adding another element of play just from the packaging!
When you have a toy that talks and says phrases, they actually record a toy’s sayings at Mattel HQ in their recording studio! At Mattel HQ, they have the actors from Pixar’s Toy Story 4 come in to record for their toy as well. For the Toy Story 4 Mattel toys, all the original actors came to voice their part aside from Tom Hanks due to scheduling. But Hanks’ brother came in and did the voiceover for Woody instead! They sound so similar!
We were able to go into the same recording studio that the voice actors used, and record Toy Story 4 lines ourselves. Amelia requested to play Bo Peep, and it was the cutest thing ever!
Mattel Design Center Grand Tour
It was then one of my favorite parts of the day! A tour of the Mattel Design Center! We got to see how they make Hot Wheels, and Barbies. It was amazing to get to experience how Barbies were made, and have that bonding moment with Amelia where I learned how the toys of my childhood were made, while she was also learning about her own.
They had on display the 1983 Great Shape Barbie, which is the Barbie that Pixar animators chose when visiting Mattel to model their version of Barbie after:
They then showed us the current version of the Toy Story 4 Barbie, which was inspired originally by Great Shape Barbie. They had previously made a Toy Story Barbie, but the update with this one is she now has sneakers, instead of heels, and her colors are a little more vibrant compared to the previous Toy Story models.
Toy Story 4 Mattel Toys Unveiling
It was then time for the big reveal! We went into the room where we began our day, where a curtain hung. When the reveal moment was there, the curtains were drawn and everyone in the room gasped! The range of Mattel Toy Story 4 toys is HUGE! From Fisher-Price toys, to blind bags, to action figures, costume toys, games and more there were hundreds of amazing items!
Mattel’s Toy Story 4 Toys Now Available!
The day was one I’ll never forget! I remember when I was 5 years old and Toy Story first came out, I treasured my Toy Story toys. It was a remarkable experience to be able to see the making of the Toy Story toys for my own daughter’s generation! Who would have every thought that would happen 24 years later?