In keeping with the monstrous proportions of a dinosaurÑand the status of one who is called ‘his Purpleness’ÑBarney is headed in a big way for the big screen. A mega marketing campaign is being developed to reach into the 30-odd countries where millions of his preschool fans tune in weekly to sing along with Barney & Friends.
From Montreal, where the US$15-million feature film, Barney’s Great Adventure, wound up shooting mid-September, co-creator and executive producer Sheryl Leach described a campaign ‘above and beyond the norm.’ When the movie is released next spring, selected theaters across the U.S. will become official Barney theaters, offering such services as valet stroller parking, a playground area that replicates some of the movie’s sets, appearances from the purple giant of love himself, interactive kiosks for merchandising, and some Barney-type foods such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There’s a lengthy list of partners participating in the campaign, including Oscar Mayer and Kellogg’s, which is developing a Barney-brand cereal. Similar strategies are being developed internationally, but at press time, the details were still in the works.
A Barney feature film had been in the works for over three years, but was held up in development until the project moved from Warner Bros. to Polygram Filmed Entertainment last year.
Leach says Barney features are part of a natural progression. Citing merchandising (15 million toys sold in 1996 and over 25 million books purchased to date), a network special, a concert tour, a live show at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, 86 television episodes, with another 60 in development at PBS, and a new Hebrew version of Barney in Israel, Leach concludes, ‘Barney has become a cultural icon, and the one thing we haven’t done is a feature film; it just makes sense.’
When asked about the issue of keeping very young children entertained for 90 minutes, Leach enthusiastically lists the ingredients of the movie like an excited cook with a new recipe. ‘We’ve got lots of action, lots of music, lots of color. We’ve put into the movie everything we can think of that children love: there’s a parade, a band, a farm, a circus, a scene with Barney and the kids flying in a makeshift airplane.’ There are other ingredients, such as a new Barney theme song by none other than Jerry Herman, the man who gave the world ‘Hello, Dolly!’
How about pleasing the increasingly demanding parents? ‘I think the preschool population will demand to go to the theater,’ says Leach. ‘But we are very cognizant of the fact that the parents will be there with the children, so we have broadened our approach to make it a family film.’