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45-year-old lizard spawns new toy line

With various incarnations cruising around on everything from neckties to T-shirts, Godzilla, the most fearsome of all movie monsters, is waging war on shelves across North America. A far cry from his camera-shy, secretive non-debut in a TV commercial, now Godzilla...
April 1, 1999

With various incarnations cruising around on everything from neckties to T-shirts, Godzilla, the most fearsome of all movie monsters, is waging war on shelves across North America. A far cry from his camera-shy, secretive non-debut in a TV commercial, now Godzilla is everywhere, thanks to a legend that refuses to die and the licensing team at Sony Signatures.

Tomoyuki Tanaka, a producer for Japan’s Toho Films, created Godzilla in 1954. Inspired by the success of films like King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Tanaka prepared a script, some miniature buildings and a big green lizard suit, and Godzilla was ready to terrorize Tokyo. The finished product was originally released in Japan, but was redone with English-speaking actors two years later for American audiences, and named Godzilla, King of the Monsters. The Godzilla franchise consisted of 22 Japanese-made films until the summer of 1998, when Godzilla returned with a makeover from Sony Pictures, looking to destroy New York.

The Godzilla property is still owned by Toho in Japan, and all licensing for the big fellow is handled by Sony Signatures. ‘Basically, the franchise that we’re building is the look of the new Godzilla that was introduced by the movie,’ says Peter Dang, head of licensing for Sony Signatures. He adds, however, that there will continue to be a classic Godzilla line of products ‘for those fans and afficionados who still love the old guy that clunked around Tokyo.’

There are three lines of Godzilla products in all: the animated series, the live-action feature and the classic Godzilla lines. Called Godzilla Origins, the classic merchandise cluster features products for those who remember the first Godzilla and history buffs who just find the campiness of the original films appealing. There will be a lot of apparel available featuring `50s Godzilla, like shirts and ties, but additionally, posters featuring original artwork and the Japanese writing. ‘What we’re doing is raising [classic] Godzilla from a camp icon to a pop culture icon,’ says Dang. ‘We’re just classing him up a bit and targeting him at an adult audience, whereas the new Godzilla, especially the animated stuff and the merchandising, targets kids two to 11.’

The animated Godzilla debuted in the Columbia TriStar children’s program that launched in September on Fox Kids Network to number-one ratings with boys ages two to 11 across all networks. ‘I think kids are sticking with the show because of the quality of the material, and because they like what they see,’ says Sander Schwartz, president of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s new kids and family division. ‘They relate to the conflict, they relate to the character, they relate to being a fish out of water, which Godzilla is.’

Trendmasters, the master toy licensee for both the feature and animated series, is hoping to capitalize on the series’ popularity with a new line of toys streeting in the fall. Available at all major toy retailers across the U.S., the new animated series line includes an 8-inch action figure with sound available in both Godzilla and Cyber Godzilla styles, priced at US$19.99, a 5-inch Godzilla figure with sound priced at US$9.99, and an assortment of small poseable action figures including Nick, Yeti, Randy, N.I.G.E.L., Sea-Rex and Godzilla, priced at US$5.99 each. New vehicles include an F/A-18 Hornet Strike Jet and an Apache Capture Copter, both priced at US$14.99 each.

Trendmasters is also still offering an extensive line of licensed toys for the 1998 feature, despite a pending lawsuit over the deal. The toy company filed the suit against Columbia TriStar, Sony Signatures and Toho after a second license was granted to Toy Biz for action figures based on the movie. Lawyers for Trendmasters claim the company believed it had an exclusive license for the action figure category, and estimate that damages related to the alleged breach of contract exceed US$10 million, although the suit is for an unspecified amount. Spokespersons for both Trendmasters and Sony Signatures say neither company will comment on the suit while it’s pending.

Including other feature licenses granted for apparel lines, books, candy and even toothbrush holders, the Godzilla property currently has about 275 licenses worldwide across the three lines. ‘It’s the biggest dinosaur ever in the history of the universe,’ summarizes Schwartz, ‘and that gets attention in the marketplace and distinguishes the property from everything else out there.’

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