Controversial Actress Lena Dunham Directing Film Adaptation Of Children’s Toy

Director Lena Dunham is helming a new movie that's an adaptation of a popular children's toy, something she played with as a kid

By Dylan Balde | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

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Micro-doll playset Polly Pocket is done and dusted to make its supersized debut in live-action, reveals Mattel Films and MGM in a recent Deadline exclusive by Anthony D’Alessandro. Girls creator Lena Dunham is writing and directing the feature, with Lily Collins in the lead.

Like most Millennials, Lena Dunham grew up engrossed in the miniatures. Hours of playtime were spent simulating girl life in pint-sized portions. “Polly Pocket was responsible for countless hours of childhood escapism for me,” Dunham said Thursday. “Polly gave me a tiny world of magic and autonomy to narrate, so it’s pretty poetic to be tackling these same ideas now as a director collaborating with the brilliant Lily Collins, Robbie Brenner, Mattel and MGM. I’m so thrilled to bring to bear both my love of this historic property and also my deep-seated belief that young women need smart playful films that speak to them without condescension.”

Polly Pocket was first conceived by Barbie giant Mattel in 1989, but became a 90s sensation. Young girls the world over — an enthusiastic Lena Dunham included — fawned over these diminutive worlds, begging their parents for the latest set, in an era when pocket-sized replicas of real-life environments (like LEGO, Hotwheels, and China-made pretend fastfood kits) already filled shelves and captivated customers. The original Polly Pocket were Lilliputian dollhouses retrofitted into a plastic handbag. The inside of the case had several tiny compartments representing rooms. Each figurine came with equally minuscule furniture and a wide assortment of clothes and shoes.

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Mattel eventually manufactured versions set in areas outside of the home, like ice cream trucks, unicorn fantasy worlds, playgrounds, castles, schools, zoos, and even wearable seashells. Robbie Brenner, executive producer of Mattel Films, is also producing the movie. He tells Deadline: “Polly Pocket is an iconic franchise that has resonated with children for more than three decades. The incredible nostalgia that Polly evokes, coupled with Lena’s fresh approach and Lily’s take on the character, will introduce an entirely new interpretation of this classic brand to audiences. We look forward to working with MGM to produce a feature film that will appeal to the whole family.”

Like Barbie and Ken, the micro-dolls had preset identities and personalities, the most recognizable being Polly Pocket herself, a blue-eyed blonde with a backpacker’s lifestyle and the chic fashion sense to accompany it. She was voiced by Tegan Moss, a veteran of the My Little Pony series, followed by Sue Thorpe and Emily Tennant.

The live-action adaptation recreates the playstyle of many young children over the past 30 years; the plot reportedly revolves around a little girl and her intriguing friendship with a pocket-sized person. Lily Collins presumably plays the character of Polly Pocket in Lena Dunham’s movie. The 32-year-old, who was last seen receiving her second Golden Globe nomination for playing the titular social media strategist in Darren Star’s Emily of Paris, is a fan of the toy line, just like Dunham. She gushes: “I’m so excited to partner with this inspiring powerhouse of a team. Developing this project with Robbie, Lena, Mattel and MGM to reintroduce Polly in a fun, modern way has been such a treat. As a child who was obsessed with Polly Pocket, this is a real dream come true and I can’t wait to bring these tiny toys to the big screen.”

Lena Dunham reaped awards for writing, directing, and starring in Girls, a Judd Apatow-led comedy-drama inspired by Dunham’s varied experiences living as “a half-Jew, half-white Anglo-Saxon Protestant” writer and Oberlin graduate in New York City. While her storytelling certainly evokes pathos and depicts events in her life with outstanding nuance, she is widely criticized for penning stories lacking in representation and racial diversity. Girls had a glaring all-white cast, while the few roles involving people of color were defined with dated stereotypes and relegated to service positions. Others were given demeaning parts, like being homeless. Dunham defended her writing, explaining she was simply repeating what she had seen and experienced in real life, as racially homogenous as it may be in reality. Dunham was also slammed for making racist statements on social media.

Other attempts at inclusion failed miserably as Dunham was accused of tokenism, the Hollywood practice of casting individuals from underrepresented groups to give the outside impression of ethnic cross-culturalism and therefore avoid backlash. She was also accused by the public of white entitlement — for the way she treated black NFL player Odell Beckham, Jr. — and “hipster racism” — for defending Girls writer Murray Miller, a white man, against allegations of sexual assault posed by mixed-race actress Aurora Perrineau.

Audiences also called foul when Lena Dunham, a white woman, was hired to adapt a Syrian refugee’s autobiography for the silver screen. Polly Pocket is one of the most ethnically heterogeneous playsets ever created, however, featuring dolls of varying skin colors and racial backgrounds, and may finally give Lena Dunham the chance to organically include more colored roles.

Polly Pocket remains a top brand among its target demographic across different countries, spewing an animated TV show and various YouTube content. The line endured unchallenged for 30 years before being rebooted in 2018 to acclimate to the newer generation’s interests. The upcoming Polly Pocket movie is being produced by Brennan and Kevin McKeon of Mattel Films, and Sandino Moya-Smith and Winnie Carrillo of MGM. Lena Dunham’s production company Good Thing Going is closely involved, with Liz Watson and Michael P. Cohen serving as executive producers.

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MGM Film Group chairman Michael De Luca and MGM Film Group president Pamela Abdy have this to say about the project: “We look forward to working with our partners at Mattel Films to help bring Lena and Lily’s vision for a Polly Pocket movie to audiences the world over.” Mattel Films is concurrently working on live-action adaptations of Barbie, Hotwheels, American Girl, Magic 8-Ball, Uno, and Thomas & Friends. Making popular kids’ toys cinematically visceral is definitely the most meta thing product manufacturers have attempted thus far. The Polly Pocket movie currently has no release date.