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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Guns aren’t integral to conflict in boys’ play. At least that’s what Hasbro is betting as it prepares to launch the Mummies toy line, based on the animated series of the same name. The show stars five Egyptian mummies who have been resurrected to fight crime in modern-day San Francisco, relying only on their Egyptian spears and mystical powers for ammunition. The toy line comes out in conjunction with the series, which debuts in September.
Mummies is co-produced by Ivan Reitman’s Northern Lights Entertainment and DIC Entertainment, who collaborators for six years on the series The Real Ghostbusters. Like Ghostbusters, Mummies focuses more on the occult than on battle with traditional guns. In warding off the mysterious evil entity The Scarab, who poses as a man named Harris Stone by day, the mummies don armor, conjure up supernatural forces and ride about in a solar-powered chariot called Hot Ra.
‘So much of the product that’s out for kids is combat characters,’ says Joy Tashjian, president of worldwide merchandising for DIC Entertainment. ‘The conflict is important,’ she says, but in Mummies, those conflicts are more likely to be resolved through humor or mystical forces. ‘It won’t be that typical combat resolution.’
While Hasbro worked with DIC to alter some of the character development, accessories and play environments, Tashjian says, ‘the main characters didn’t change that much. You can’t let the merchandising control story development.’
DIC and Northern Lights came up with the storyline first, and then, says Tashjian, tried to accommodate Hasbro’s needs. For instance, things like the names of the mummies and their chariot were part of the original plot. But, she says, Hasbro suggested that a lot of animals be added to the show. ‘Children relate well to animals,’ says Tashjian, and this addition gave Hasbro the opportunity to create some unusual creatures, such as an ancient breed of cat.
Before Hasbro entered the picture, she adds, ‘we always thought of the five mummies as being in wraps.’ DIC and Hasbro jointly developed armor and crime-fighting gear for the characters.
Another appealing feature is that The Scarab wears all kinds of wizard-like vests and armor. ‘So you have that mystical, magical element,’ says Tashjian. ‘They’re not like the typical characters you see in action figures.’
Hasbro also helped enrich the product accessory line, says Tashjian, which includes a helicopter called the Nile-ator, one of several flying objects in the show. An elaborate museum environment for the mummies to inhabit, as well as a communications center, all of which translate well into play environments, were also created.
Tom McGrath, Hasbro’s senior vice president for boys, is betting that the figures will be a hit, based in part on the success Hasbro has had working with DIC and Northern Lights to market the Ghostbusters toy line through its Kenner division. It’s a promising toy line, ‘both because the fantasy of these mummies coming to life is very rich and because they have various modes,’ McGrath says, referring to the armor and rag attire. ‘A lot of our interest came from the fact that [the show] is going to make great entertainment and make great toys,’ he says, explaining that there’s a growing interest in ancient Egyptian culture and mysticism because it’s ‘fun and magical for kids.’ That, combined with humor and action, make it a well-balanced series, McGrath believes.
Another part of the appeal for kids is inherent in the mummy characters, says Tashjian. ‘Mummies have always been thought of as the bad guys,’ she explains. Based on the Ghostbusters model, Reitman has ‘taken those elements that were once fearful and made them comedic.’
And while the toy line is likely to come out with some accessories not included in the show, Tashjian thinks that’s to be expected. ‘The adage that it must be in the show is not correct,’ she says. ‘You need to stay true to your foundation and to enrich it by adding accessories.’