Next summer, a destitute Rocky and Bullwinkle, living off a paltry income from reruns of their 40-year-old TV series, will leap from their animated world in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota onto the big screen in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.
And on the flick’s flank is Universal Studios Consumer Products Group, which is putting the final touches on its ‘World Moosification’ licensing strategy.
Universal’s goal is to have a solid program in place that will run before, during and after the film, which has no set release date yet. The ultimate aim is to make Rocky and Bullwinkle a property that both adults and kids will identify strongly with.
‘Our licensing strategy is going to be a dual licensing strategy obviously. We’re going to capitalize on the nostalgic value of Rocky and Bullwinkle,’ says Tim Rothwell, senior VP of licensing and retail at Universal Studios Consumer Products Group.
That means licensed items like gifts and collectibles by Alexander Doll Company, jars and ornaments by Franklin Mint, as well as high-end plush by U.S.-based Mary Meyer Corporation.
Universal has also signed U.S. company Just Toys as its master toy licensee. Apparel will be produced by Stanley De Santis, Changes (U.S.) and others, and Fruit of the Loom will make underwear. Medical uniforms and accessories by American company Landau are also planned. Rocky and Bullwinkle will be entering the millenium with a new interactive game (in development), as well as a CD-ROM game by Houghton Mifflin Interactive called Rocky & Bullwinkle’s Know-It-All Quiz Game, which was released last October. The secret to the success of the licensing program is the enduring appeal of the property, says Rothwell.
‘It has kind of a dry humor that appeals to adults, while the gags and stunts-the silly humor-will appeal to kids. The characters are time-tested and proven, and I think that combination will really appeal to a very, very broad audience.’
Universal bought the rights to Rocky and Bullwinkle in 1991 from Jay Ward Productions. The property began as a television series in 1959 called Rocky and His Friends. It was followed by The Bullwinkle Show, which ran until 1964. Network re-runs lasted until 1973 on NBC, after which the show went into syndication.
New life and new fans have been breathed into the show in part due to its run on Cartoon Network for the last four years. Universal and Cartoon Network are currently planning cross-promotional activities in preparation for the movie’s debut.
In the feature film, which combines live action with computer animation by Industrial Light and Magic, the talking moose and flying squirrel are persuaded by an FBI agent to leave their cartoon existence to save the world from boredom. Citizens are in danger of becoming TV-watching zombies in an evil plot hatched by Boris Badenovv and Natasha Fatale played by Jason Alexander and Rene Russo and their boss, Fearless leader (Robert DeNiro).
Rothwell says the movie’s main characters have something for everyone. ‘Bullwinkle is a big male moose, he’s bumbling, he gets into a lot of mischief, what boy doesn’t identify with that?’ And Jill Jones, executive VP of creative and marketing for the Universal Consumer Group, adds that teen girls seem to identify with Natasha, ‘the original kind of bad girl.’
The licensing program is targeting the whole range of demos-from child to teen to adult- however Rothwell says some work is still needed to familiarize children with the property. For teens, this will be accomplished by tapping into the market via teen publications, and soft drink and restaurant promotions are planned.
The fact that the film’s characters will be
3-D rather than flat adds a lot to Universal’s licensing program Jones says, because the look gives whole new style options. A new style guide combines the contemporary dimensional look of the characters with the classic look, upon which the apparel will be based. The Wossamotta U section, containing campus-based apparel, should appeal to boomers, says Jones, for use on golf and other sporting apparel.
Jones says licensing and merchandising a property like Rocky and Bullwinkle means capitalizing on current trends in the marketplace.’It’s not just about putting cartoon characters on T-shirts.’
With about 55 licensees on board, all of the major categories have been covered and now it’s a matter of expansion in categories like die-cast collectibles, sportswear and food and magic toys for kids, says Rothwell.