That is very interesting. I was not aware that matlab's figure files were simply .mat files in disguise. I would presume that it would be feasible to produce some sort of importer in such a case (provided the documentation for Matlab's figure format is complete enough).
I am wary of making such a function a core feature of Matplotlib, however, because it would require creating a dependency to the scipy.io
package. However, I could see it being a toolkit package like Basemap.
Would you mind creating a feature request ticket at:http://sourceforge.net/tracker/?group_id=80706
If you include this example code, and maybe some links to some documentation on matlab's figure files, maybe something can grow from that.