As the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles get set to return to the big screen in a full-length CGI flick that should hit theaters in early 2007, 4Kids Entertainment is planning to use the event to introduce a wider global audience to merch based on the property.
The as-yet-untitled movie, to be distributed by the Weinstein Company and Warner Bros. Pictures, is currently in production at Hong Kong’s Imagi Animation Studios. While the script is still in development, 4Kids CEO Al Kahn says it will center around an origins story, mapping out where the heroes in a half shell came from and how they got their powers.
The longer format of a feature means the storytelling can delve a bit deeper and explore motivations, relationships and characterizations, making the end product a bit more sophisticated than a half-hour TV episode. ‘We’re taking the story back to its comic roots, which will broaden the scope of who’ll be interested,’ says Kahn. ‘The property has a terrific pedigree, and the film will attract a lot of people who have fond recollections of the first incarnation.’ To wit, three live-action films released in the early ’90s grossed a cumulative total of more than US$256 million, while a revamped version of the TV series has been airing on Cartoon Network and 4Kids.TV since 2003.
In order to cater to these nostalgic fans, the Turtles’ merch program will age up somewhat, says Kahn, particularly in apparel, where 4Kids is chasing adult clothing partners and retail channels. Gadgets and tech such as cell phones and PDAs will also be a new focus.
Reflecting its CGI style, the movie merch will have a very different look, but 4Kids is hoping to work with manufacturers already on-board the merch program. To that end, the company is busily amending existing contracts with the majority of its core licensees to roll in the movie rights, as it has already done with master toy partner Playmates.
But the promo side of the equation is wide open, and 4Kids would like to nail down partners in this space by the beginning of next year. Kahn will be chasing the usual suspects – including packaged goods and QSR partners – but he plans to be more selective about handing over global rights. ‘Movies tend to be marketed locally, country by country, partly because release dates are somewhat staggered.’ And he adds that culture may dictate a different licensing approach in some regions.