Inside the Mattel-Hasbro Corporate Brawl Over Who Gets to Make Disney Princess Dolls

Illustration for article titled Inside the Mattel-Hasbro Corporate Brawl Over Who Gets to Make Disney Princess Dolls

Wanna see a fever-pitch corporate brawl? Let the rights to a franchise like the Disney princesses go up for grabs.


The cover story for this month’s Bloomberg Businessweek takes a good look at the rising fortunes of Hasbro, culminating in their seizure of the rights to make Disney princess dolls from the Barbie-powered house of Mattel. The piece is entertaining for the inclusion of lines like, “I said, we’re not going to close the FunLab, we’re going to use it to build back our own brands.” We’re not going to close the FunLab!

However, it’s also a fascinating glimpse at how almost everybody girl-adjacent found themselves neck-deep in sparkles, ruffles, and pink, as well as what to expect from the franchise in the future.

Disney’s marketing permawar on behalf of its princesses is a relatively recent phenomenon. Once upon a time (i.e., my own childhood), the dolls and other merch were sold on a comparatively limited basis. You could get a Belle costume when Beauty and the Beast was out, but you couldn’t count on finding one two years later. The focus was the movies. Not anymore:

That changed in 2000, when a newly hired Disney executive named Andy Mooney went to a Disney on Ice show in Phoenix. “I saw these girls ages 5 and 7, waiting to go see the show in full regalia—tiara, shoes, the works,” says Mooney, who is now CEO of Fender Musical Instruments. “I asked the mothers, ‘Where did you buy this?’ They said, ‘Well, we had to make this. You don’t sell it.’ I said, ‘If we made this, would you buy it?’ They said, ‘Loads of it.’ ”

Mattel had a longstanding relationship with Disney dating back to the 1950s, but there was a certain degree of corporate static involved with selling princesses and Barbies. Meanwhile, Hasbro had developed a strategy that revolved around movies, and so boom: Hasbro got the license.

The new deal means changes. Disney is rethinking how it wants to present its longtime characters: “The focus will be on empowered heroines,” said Disney Consumer Products EVP of global licensing Josh Silverman. Hasbro and Disney also say they want the brand looking more diverse:

Both Hasbro and Disney say they plan to highlight the princesses’ bravery and skills in future advertising, and to give the nonwhite princesses more shelf space. “A 4-year-old girl doesn’t realize how the world she lives in is different from 10 or 15 years ago, but her parents do,” says Frascotti. And parents, he points out, are the ones who buy the toys.


And Hasbro’s plans are very, very ambitious.

Hasbro and Disney are redesigning and rereleasing every Princess doll, even Pocahontas, which few stores carry. Hasbro hired a few dozen people, mostly designers and developers, who work out of its newly expanded production studio in Burbank, just minutes from Disney. “We’re going to make the Princess brand far bigger and more ubiquitous than it has been in the past,” says Brian Goldner, Hasbro’s chief executive officer.


Resistance is futile!

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Was a tarsier the model for this Anna? (this is Anna, right?)

ETA: It’s Elsa?? Oops