Stevenson joins 'Masters of the Universe'

Joel Silver, Warner Bros. bringing toy line to big screen

John Stevenson, the co-director of "Kung Fu Panda," has felt the power of Grayskull, signing on to direct "Masters of the Universe," Warner Bros. and Silver Pictures' live-action version of the popular 1980s cartoon and toy line.

The show, made in partnership with toy company Mattel, was known for the image of blond-haired Prince Adam on top of a mountain uttering the magic words, "By the power of Grayskull, I have the power," and turning into the heroic He-Man. He-Man and his allies -- Battle Cat, Man-at-Arms and Orko -- defended their planet Eternia from the evil forces of Skeletor, who tried week after week to conquer a fortress known as Castle Grayskull, which imbued He-Man with his powers.

Justin Marks penned the script, which skews more toward gritty fantasy and reimagines Adam as a soldier who sets off to find his destiny, happening upon magical world called Eternia. There, a being called Skeletor has raised a technological army and is bent on eradicating all traces of magic.

Joel Silver is producing. Warner's Matt Reilly is overseeing.

Barry Waldo, Mattel's vp worldwide entertainment marketing and strategy, will executive produce.

Waldo said Mattel uses plenty of visual brainstorming and what it calls "design ideation" in creating its toys and took a similar approach in its search for a director. In consultation with Warners, prospective directors were brought into its El Segundo offices.

Mattel looked for qualities showing that "we share some early common ground, that the candidate has a strong passion for it or least shares the same passion we do, and has a strong vision within and outside the current script, which shows us they are leaders," said Waldo.

He added: " 'Masters of the Universe' was a billion-dollar franchise for us in the '80s. There are so few of those in the vault; it's one of the crown jewels. So we were looking for a master storyteller."

Mattel was already aware of Stevenson's creativity, having worked with him in the making of toys for "Kung Fu Panda."

"I think it's fair to say, and knowing the epic nature of this script, you will see things you have never seen before. John has that creativity."

Since setting up "Masters" at Warners, Mattel has signed with CAA and working on finding homes for its other brands. A Hot Wheels cartoon will debut in the fall on Cartoon Network even as a feature is being developed at Silver and Warners. "Max Steel," a property big in Latin America, is being shopped to studios and production companies.

For Warners, "Masters" is the second recent project that sees the studio look to the animation world for live-action talent. Warners recently hired "Horton Hears a Who!" director Jimmy Hayward to helm "Jonah Hex."

Stevenson, repped by CAA, is coming off an Oscar nomination for "Kung Fu Panda," which he directed by Mark Osborne. "Masters" would be the live action debut for the man, who worked as a storyboard artist and character designer before directing episodes of DreamWorks Television's "Father of the Pride." That gig led to his working on "Panda."

Borys Kit reported from Los Angeles; Georg Szalai reported from New York.