Thursday, May 26, 2011

Animation Merchandise

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.


Anonymous said...

Strange move. The dolls are cute for kids. But why wouldn't Meledandri create new characters and a story from scratch? He's got to do most of the work to give the characters personality and a story anyway--why not own the whole property? The toys are a small niche toy in L.A., but not many other places...and he could do far better.

Anonymous said...

He's a businessman and understands the balancing act of risk vs. reward with regard to the large sums of money that have to be put up front to create an animated motion picture. I'm sure his team considers the Ugly Doll whatever-it-is to be niche enough to be 'authentic' but not so unknown that it will make them look like suckers should the project truly become ugly - ugly in the way that it matters to businessmen and marketers - ugly as in a box office bomb.

Floyd Norman said...

Since I work in a building filled with toys I've no illusion about the "art of animation" these days.

Animation is in the business of creating toy commercials. If you think you're doing anything else, I'm afraid you're naive.

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