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Less fast talk, more deal action at a bullish Licensing Show 2002

While robot properties and tween girl brands clearly emerged as the hot trends of last year's market, trend-tracking at Licensing Show 2002 proved challenging as an influx of retailers and international attendees kept the bulk of kid exhibitors behind closed doors for most of the show. Blockbusters-in-waiting were downplayed as show floor buzz focused on just-inked deals and new entertainment plans for established brands.
July 1, 2002

While robot properties and tween girl brands clearly emerged as the hot trends of last year’s market, trend-tracking at Licensing Show 2002 proved challenging as an influx of retailers and international attendees kept the bulk of kid exhibitors behind closed doors for most of the show. Blockbusters-in-waiting were downplayed as show floor buzz focused on just-inked deals and new entertainment plans for established brands.

DreamWorks and Hasbro raised industry eyebrows with a co-venture teaming summer 2003 theatrical toon Sinbad and action figure brand G.I. Joe. The film catches up with Sinbad and the beautiful Marina, who band together to battle the goddess of Chaos to save the fabled Book of Peace and Sinbad’s best friend Proteus.

Rick Rekedal, head of DreamWorks’ toy group, says that while Sinbad may have proven a tough sell as a stand-alone action figure brand, G.I. Joe’s sway with retailers should help to secure a bigger chunk of shelf space. Hasbro plans to release a new line of 12-inch G.I. Joe Adventure Team action figures pitting Sinbad against mythical fiends such as monstrous bird The Roq, sky-serpent Serpens and scorpion Scorpious.

Toronto, Canada-based Spin Master Toys hit a high note by nabbing the North American master toy rights to Aussie preschool sensation The Wiggles from HIT Entertainment. Spin Master’s line of plush and plastic toys is expected to wiggle its way into retail next spring. The deal should cement the up-and-comer’s U.S. market presence and could lead to more master toy deals that cover both sides of the border.

Scholastic’s Clifford will bound into playgrounds and backyards this fall with the debut of a line of equipment and accessories from just-inked licensee PlayCore. The deal marks the first character license for the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based manufacturer.

Warner Bros. announced plans for a new live-action/animated feature film starring Brendan Fraser, Bugs, Daffy and the rest of the Looney Tunes crew. Looney Tunes: Back in Action is a comic adventure that takes the gang from Hollywood to Las Vegas and into the African jungle in search of Fraser’s missing father and the legendary Blue Diamond. Production is slated to begin on July 29 for a November 2003 release. To maximize hype for the film, Warner Bros. Theatrical Animation is currently producing a series of Looney Tunes animated theatrical shorts that will run alongside Warner Bros. Pictures’ roster of 2003 flicks.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Animation is exploring a new twist on cradle-to-grave brand development with a new toon series set to air weekdays at 9 a.m. on Cartoon Network beginning September 3. Baby Looney Tunes documents the gang’s toddler years, when they lived with Granny in a large house with a library, atrium and playground. Each half-hour ep (segmented into two 11-minute shorts and a one-minute song/music video) poses a new challenge that typically involves a lot of teamwork and a little Granny guidance.

Booth Buzz: 2002′s stand-out new properties

Fungus the Bogeyman

U.K.-based Copyrights Group has picked up global rights to author/illustrator Raymond Briggs’ 25-year-old book that follows the adventures of anti-hero Fungus, a hard-working Bogeyman in the Tunnels of Bogeydom. Copyrights is currently mapping out merch plans for the property’s primary target–kids six to 10 with a skew towards boys–and is seeking partners in gifts/collectibles, apparel, textiles, accessories, cards and stationery. On the entertainment front, three hour-long live-action/CGI episodes are in production at Indie Kids for prime-time broadcast on BBC next spring.

Stray Sheep

It’s the Year of the Sheep in 2003 according to Chinese astrology, or as manga publisher Tokyopop hopes, the Year of Stray Sheep. Created by Japanese commercial director Tatsutoshi Nomura as a dozen 2.5-minute shorts for Fuji TV, Stray Sheep tells the tale of a naïve ram named Poe who sleepwalks himself into unpredictable situations on his quest to reunite with his herd. Targeting girls ages five to 12, Stray Sheep merch has sold in excess of US$20 million internationally. With plans for a feature film underway, Tokyopop’s L.A. office will launch a full line of children’s books and ancillary publications in the U.S. next year. Categories such as toys, games, apparel and accessories were up for grabs at press time.

Noah’s Park

Nabbing merch rights to this Christian book series by Richard Hays, Scholastic is set to challenge VeggieTales’ recent mass-market launch. About a group of animals that set up communal digs upon leaving the ark, Noah’s Park has already attracted an impressive licensee roster. Signed by rights owner The Illustrated Word, manufacturers on-board include Warren Industries (puzzles), Kids Headquarters (master apparel), Modern Publishing (coloring/novelty books) and Ravensburger (board games). An infant line extension called Noah’s Park BABY will march onto Wal-Mart shelves this August, with product from licensees Crown Craft (bedding/accessories), Kids Headquarters, Hamco (bibs), Kids II (developmental toys) and A.D. Sutton (gifts) in tow.

Initial D

Another anime import looking to grow U.S. entertainment and merch legs, Tokyopop’s Initial D (41 x 30 minutes) follows the adventures of Tak, a 17-year-old tofu delivery boy who gets caught up in the adrenaline-pumping world of street-racing after winning a chance race against a notorious driver. The series garnered a 47% audience share during its run on Fuji-TV (1998 to 2000) and has generated more than US$300 million at Asian retail. Tokyopop, which was in talks with U.S. broadcasters at press time, has created a new music soundtrack for the State-side market featuring hip-hop, alternative rock and electronica. Targeting the nine to 19 crowd, open U.S. merch categories include toys, video games, apparel, sporting goods, car accessories, trading cards, stationery and action figures.

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