Some 1,600 exhibitors have their showrooms primed and ready with the latest toys as they wait for the more than 20,000 buyers who are expected to come to New York City for the 1997 American International Toy Fair. Increasingly, toy manufacturers and film and television studios are teaming up to develop products based on licensed properties, which now make up as much as 50 percent of all toys. Our special report on Toy Fair looks at how the studios and toy companies are working their way through these collaborations.
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Banking on the success of the Street Sharks toy line, which topped US$100 million in merchandising sales in 1995, Mattel and Bohbot Entertainment have set out to make the ultimate half-human/half-creature characters to meet the sales set by their predecessors. These creatures are the foundation of the Dangerous Dinosaurs series.
The animated program, produced by DIC Entertainment and Bohbot which holds all the licensing, merchandising, television distribution, home video and promotional rights to the show stars dinosaurs who strive to protect modern-day Earth from a gang of evil raptors.
‘We wanted to take Street Sharks and do them better,’ says Doug Wadleigh, product manager for male action marketing at Mattel, explaining that the company considered icons ranging from cats and dogs to apes and dinosaurs. But in testing with kids, Wadleigh says, one icon won out unanimously. ‘Dinosaurs were the hands-down favorites,’ he says.
Backed by about US$7 million for an ad and promotional blitz, a full line of Dangerous Dinosaurs action figures will be released this spring. The series debuts this fall, and will run six days a week as part of the Bohbot Kids’ Network.
‘There are a lot of dinosaur products that are realistic,’ explains Wadleigh, but the advantage with Dangerous Dinosaurs is that they have all kinds of weapons and accessories that ‘wouldn’t make sense with the true-to-life dinosaur models.’ For instance, the dinosaurs all come with action components that fit with their breed and personalities: T-Bone, a Tyrannosaurus rex, comes with battle armor and infrared search lights for catching raptors; Bullzeye, a pteranodon, flies and attacks with bombs and a tranquilizer-firing canon; Stegz, a stegosaurus, has a boomerang-like disc launcher; and Spike, a triceratops, employs martial arts weapons.
In contrast, the raptors are more prone to use weapons of mass destruction, Wadleigh says. One raptor, Bad Rap, comes with a gun and a spare missile in his backpack; another, Haxx, comes with a special arm band from which he is able to produce whatever type of weapon he needs; and a third, Spitter, comes with a tank on his back, which can be filled with all types of substances that spit from his mouth. Mattel is already planning an advanced toy line for ’98, including Dangerous Dinosaurs play sets, transforming vehicles and advanced play figures.
But more than just create gizmo-equipped dinosaurs, Kaaren Lee Brown, senior vice president of program acquisitions and development at Bohbot, says that all involved wanted to create characters that would be around for years. ‘They’re individuals and they have personalities. I think that’s a much broader play pattern than ‘Roar! I’m going to eat you!’ They can be very dangerous to the bad guys,’ says Lee Brown, but ‘they’re also quite hip.’ For instance, she points out, Bullzeye is fascinated with TV and is especially enamored with The Home Shopping Channel.
In the series, the dinosaurs stand erect at almost nine feet, which makes them comically clumsy, she explains. ‘They’re broad and you don’t see that very often in animation. They can get through a door, but if they’re in a hurry they may take the door with them. We’re really playing with size and scale.’
The emphasis on humor in the series is a way to pull off exciting programming ‘without being overtly violent,’ Wadleigh explains. The challenge was ‘to come up with creative ways to have that conflict without having to give them a gun.’
While DIC and Bohbot are the authors of the series, Wadleigh explains that both parties run all the stories by Mattel to make sure they’re representing the characters as the toy company envisioned.
‘In the beginning, we spent a few days talking all about the dinosaurs and what direction we could go in respect to their personalities,’ Wadleigh says. ‘We’re reaping the benefits of that early development now.’