It's reported 'round and about that Illumination Entertainment is picking up another property:
Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri has acquired rights to turn the Uglydoll franchise into an animated feature film. Universal Pictures and Illumination will develop the film based on the global line of Uglydoll characters launched by husband-wife artist team David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim. ...
Buy a merchandise franchise and make a movie about it. What a great idea!
What gets under-reported these days is that animation is one of the big drivers for merchandise revenue, and the conglomerates know it. As a Disney Toons staffer told me yesterday:
"When I got hired here to work on Planes, the execs made no bones about the fact that Toons was making movies to support a line of toys. No art for art sakes around here. I find that kind of refreshing after some of the other places I've worked at ..."
Merchandise has been a big part of animation for the better part of a century. Walt licensed his first Mickey Mouse doll eighty years ago, and there were probably "Gertie the Dinosaur" plush toys before that. A veteran over at Walt Disney Animation Studios said to me, back when the animators were bent over their light boards creating it, that Disney corporate was behind the newer, hand-drawn Pooh feature because it anticipated big DVD and toy sales. (Gotta keep that A.A. Milne money machine humming. It's worth billions, after all.)
On the television side, animated series as moving billboards for toys has been in vogue since the days of He-Man ahd She-Ra. Nobody launches cartoons today without an eye to how the games and plastic gew-gaws will sell. (Certainly Hasbro/Hub knows what it's about. We're told that the GI Joe series is on hiatus because the toy lines are being retooled, and it won't do having new episodes featuring out-dated action figures.)
Art is all well and good, and we're for it, of course. But our fine conglomerates (and Chris Meledandri) know they're not under-writing renaissance artists' boutiques.
It's About The Toys, Amigos.