Toy Fair round-up

New Line's Austin Powers on a roll...
February 1, 1999

New Line’s Austin Powers on a roll

Since the Austin Powers film launched on sell-through home video last March, New Line Cinema has been scrambling to respond to the demand for consumer products, says David Imhoff, executive VP of worldwide licensing and merchandising. Merchandise will roll out in advance of the next movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me, to be released June 11. Mike Myers is also on board as executive producer and voice talent for an animated, 13-episode series for young adults to air on HBO in 2000. Austin Powers hit theaters in May 1997, generating a fair US$55 million at the U.S. box office, and the video has sold more than two million units in the U.S. The first licensed products-greeting cards from Kaboom, upscale costumes from Halloween Adventure, T-shirts from Changes and magnets from Ata-Boy-became available last fall. More than 20 licensees have signed on. Also showcasing product at Toy Fair will be Mattel (toy vehicles, including the Shaguar), McFarlane (action figures and play sets), Trendmasters (talking collectible figurines and the C watch), Equity Sports (Headliners figurines), Funko (talking bobbing heads), Gibson Greetings (Silly Slammers), Basic Fun (talking keychain), Disguise (mass-market costumes) and Stanley DeSantis (apparel).

Muppets blast-off

The Jim Henson Company is lining up licensees and promo partners for Muppets from Space. This sixth Muppets film, to be released July 23, will be supported with product from Grosset & Dunlap (five movie tie-in books), Golden Books (coloring and activity books), and Western Graphics (poster). Five promotions are planned with yet-to-be-announced QSR, hotel, packaged-goods and theatrical partners. Associate VP Robyn Kerner says the company is looking to the movie to drive sales of general Muppets products from more than 30 licensees.

Clifford comes to mass market

Scholastic’s Clifford The Big Red Dog is preparing for his first mass-market toy launch. Clifford master toy licensee Toy Island is creating collectible figures, wind-up and poseable toys, and plush that walks, grows or follows an infrared bone, with retail rollout planned for early third quarter. Other Clifford licensees include American Greetings (party goods), Center Enterprises (rubber stampers), International Playthings (puzzles and games), Publications International (press-the-page books), SmileMakers (stickers) and SideKicks (plush, wooden puzzles and activity sets). This is the first merchandising program for 37-year-old Clifford in recent years, and the time is right, says Peter Van Raalte, VP of consumer products at Scholastic Entertainment, because the preschool area is hot and a 40 x half-hour, animated TV series is in development. At press time, Scholastic Productions was in discussions with a potential broadcast partner to produce the series.

Jay Jay looks to land licensees

PorchLight Entertainment is introducing its real-time performance animation series Jay Jay the Jet Plane, produced with Modern Cartoons, to the licensing community at Toy Fair, and is seeking toy, publishing, interactive and music licensees, as well as promotional partners. The preschool property has already entered the video business, with a yearlong continuity program from WonderWings Entertainment that began in late December and another video line from PorchLight that will be distributed by Fast Forward Marketing to specialty stores. PorchLight will launch the first three videos at Toy Fair at a suggested retail price of US$12.95 each, for a March 15 street date. Jay Jay came to life in 1994 as a video series from creator David Michel, and the TV series launched on The Learning Channel’s Ready, Set, Learn! block last November, airing twice daily Monday to Friday.

Nelvana throws push behind Little Bear

Little Bear, who is airing in his fourth season on the Nick. Jr. block and first appeared in HarperCollins’ Learn to Read book series in the 1950s, is getting a big new toy push at Toy Fair. Nelvana has signed on nearly 20 licensees for its animated preschool TV series, including Kidpower (talking plush), Shellcore Toys (preschool toys), Gund (plush), Learning Curve (wooden toys), European Toy (finger puppets), Paramount Home Video (videos), The Learning Company (CD-ROMs) and HarperCollins (books). Paramount began shipping videos in fall 1997; products from Kidpower, Gund and Haddad (apparel) followed last fall; and other items will roll out throughout 1999. FAO Schwarz in New York City will feature Little Bear in a promotion this month, which will include a book signing by Maurice Sendak on February 7. Little Bear will be one of several properties in a Nick Jr. summer promotion with Subway. At Toy Fair, Nelvana will also be highlighting Franklin’s move from CBS to Nick Jr. last month; screening the upcoming direct-to-video feature Babar: King of the Elephants, to be released in July; and introducing new properties Puff the Magic Dragon, Redwall and George & Martha.

New Batman flies into licensing

Warner Bros. Television Animation’s new TV series Batman Beyond is a bold transition for the classic DC Comics superhero, offering new licensing opportunities. Batman master toy licensee Hasbro will unveil action figures based on the property at Toy Fair. Batman Beyond kicked off on Kids’ WB! in a 9:30 a.m. Saturday timeslot last month. Set in Gotham City in the early 21st century, the series stars teen Terry McGinnis, who defiantly dons the cloak of the Caped Crusader after his father is murdered, mentored by the retired Bruce Wayne. A Batman Beyond comic book series from DC Comics also launched last month.

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