Q&A with Rod Hudnut

Q&A with Rod Hudnut


ROB HUDNUT is one of the most innovative and prolific storytellers in children’s entertainment. For nearly 20 years he created movies and TV series for Barbie, Hot Wheels, American Girl and many other Mattel characters and brands. Today his company creates original faith-based kids programing. He advises animation studios, toy companies and toy inventors on play-based storytelling

Q: How have you seen the ways kids relate to resources and entertainment shift in recent years? 01

YouTube is now the number-one brand for kids 2 to 11. As a result, companies are designing entire toy or media brands around what looks good on a short “unboxing” video or something similar. The big experiment we’re all in the midst of is what it means for kids to be so screen-addicted from such an early age. You see it all the time in restaurants: Two-year-olds whose parents just hand them a phone to keep them quiet. How will our brains wire differently when they’re so digitally connected and influenced?

Q: Is there anything different about how kids play today versus 25 years ago? 02

Yes and no. In the toy business we see enduring ways that kids play in order to grow. Play is essential to development. So there’s hair play and clothes play, transformation play, storytelling play, racing play and a host of other categories we recognize. Those patterns will remain evergreen. What’s changing is how many of these play patterns kids now engage with digitally. Children 30 years ago would play with HeMan and tell stories, and that’s how they got their battle action play out. Now they get it online with Fortnite or some other game.

The outcomes of this will intensify as virtual reality becomes more of a factor in culture. A video game is a more intense emotional experience than playing with action figures—and virtual reality is a more intense experience than playing video games. And of course there are ethical implications.

But change is like a knife. You grab it by the handle or you grab it by the blade. And if we grab it by the handle, we can use it to do something useful. There is opportunity here. To return to YouTube, we have nearly unlimited ability to reach young people in their own “language.” What would it mean to effectively engage that space for good and the message of Jesus?

Culture changes. When it does, Christianity needs to both stay the same and reach people in ways that speak to them today.

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