Consumer Products

Disney, Universal talk licensing life for threequels

As Cars and Despicable Me each head to the big screen for the third time this June, Disney and Universal's consumer products EVPs dish on how they're keeping things fresh on the merch front.
April 27, 2017

Even if Hollywood’s love affair with film franchises shows no signs of waning, not every movie can be like Toy Story 3 and make more than US$1 billion at the global box office. But as Cars and Despicable Me both head to the box office for the third time aroundwith June 16 and June 30 release dates, respectivelythe two aren’t just vying for ticket sales. They will have contending licensing programs both hinged on keeping the flame alive for young fans.

For Disney’s Cars 3, that involves a licensing push across every categoryfrom toys to soup.

“Some of our toy licensees include Mattel, Sphero, Thinkway, Funko and Lego,” says Josh Silverman, EVP of global licensing at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media.”In addition, we’re looking to reach new audiences through collaborations on the apparel and accessories side, with brands including Members Only, Illest, New Balance and New Era, just to name a few.” On the consumables side, licensees include Campbell’s, Pepperidge Farms, Kraft, Juicy Juice, Johnson & Johnson, P&G and Coppertone.

The first Cars movie debuted in 2006, meaning the audience for the third movie will be much older, and the younger cohort will be entirely new. These aspects were taken into account when planning the licensing for the movie, according to Silverman.

“Because our stories and characters have such universal, generational and lasting appeal, we have an incredibly unique opportunity to continually reconnect with our fans during different phases in their lives,” says Silverman. “For fans that have grown up with the Cars franchise, we’ve worked hard to ensure we’re creating products and experiences that allow them to connect with the characters they know and love, but in a more elevated way.”

The franchise is also banking on new characters to entice kids into being interested in similar products from past licensing programs. “Cars 3 is an opportunity to continue the story of a character and franchise that is already a fan-favorite, while also introducing some new ones to the world,” says Silverman. “With each film, sequel or standalone, we work closely with the filmmakers to authentically bring these characters and stories to life in product.”

Cars 3‘s licensing program has additional pressure for master toy partner Mattel, which recently suffered major losses in Q1 and is banking on the brand to re-up sales.

The New Balance Cars 3 shoes.

The New Balance Cars 3 shoes.

Despicable Me, meanwhile, has signed on fewer partners, but is jumping head-first into the collectibles trend. “With Despicable Me 3, we’re launching our biggest and most expansive consumer products program for the franchise,” says Manuel Torres Port, EVP of worldwide consumer products for Universal Brand Development. “We’ve added new product categories and partners including WowWee’s MiP Minion and the Moose Mineez collectibles line, which features the largest collection of Despicable Me characters ever.”

The Wowwee MiP Turbo collectible Minion toy for Despicable Me 3

The Wowwee MiP Turbo collectible Minion toy for Despicable Me 3

Universal has signed Thinkway on as the master toy licensee and has partnered with Mega Bloks, PUMA, Moose Toys, WowWee, Hasbro Games and more.

It is also trying to keep things fresh this time around by focusing on the latest toy trends, including STEM toys. And Illumination is introducing new characters to the franchise, which Torres Port says keeps the brand moving forward.

“Our creative partners at Illumination continue to introduce characters and storylines with enduring fan-favorite qualities, and we look to build programs for consumers that are relevant to them,” says Torres Port.  “Collectability is a space that we are pursuing with the Moose Mineez line, and we know that STEM and innovation are important to consumers.”

The Despicable Me 3 Moose Mineez collectibles.

The Despicable Me 3 Moose Mineez collectibles.

“We’re focusing on strengthening our approach globally with more programs in diverse markets, while introducing several new product categories into the franchise,” Torres Port adds.

With the original Despicable Me film grossing US$543 million globally at the box office, and US$970 million for the sequel, Universal expects the latest installment to outpace past iterations, especially on the licensing front.

“This franchise has grown year-after-year since its debut in 2010,” Torres Port says. “We’ve connected so well globally with fans that our consumer products continue to be a mainstay in the marketplace.”

Along with competing against each other, Disney and Universal also have to contend with one of the biggest years on record for movie licensing programs. There are 25 films including Beauty and the Beast and Fate of the Furious also competing for box office and licensing supremacy. In other words, it’s a tough year to stand out.

“Successful consumer programs always start with great storytelling. The Despicable Me franchise has massive global recognition and truly four-quadrant appeal,” says Torres Port. “When you couple strong demographics and awareness worldwide, with strong relationships with retailers and partners, you develop confidence and trust in the marketplace that translates to a powerful brand.”

Silverman adds, “At The Walt Disney Company, storytelling is at the heart of everything we do. The amazing team at Pixar makes movies to tell great stories, and Cars 3 is no exception. It’s an inspiring movie that has allowed us to create products in new and exciting ways.”


About The Author
Alexandra Whyte is Kidscreen's News & Social Media Editor. Contact her at


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