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Toy Fair Exhibitors Ready to Play

6 Feb, 2004 By: Anne Sherber


The link between children's entertainment and toys grows stronger every year, and nowhere will that trend be more apparent than at the annual American International Toy Fair Feb. 15-18 in New York City.

Although most successful licensed toys have traditionally been developed from existing entertainment properties, one development that shows no signs of abating is the morphing of established toy brands into film, TV and video properties.

An early example of the phenomenon, Care Bears, which began life as a line of plush toys in the early 1980s and became a very popular children's video property, has returned. Lions Gate Home Entertainment has acquired distribution rights to a brand-new animated direct-to-video Care Bears feature film. Journey to Joke-a-Lot, a full-length movie expected to be released on VHS and DVD in fourth-quarter 2004. American Greetings, the license holder, plans to release special toys in conjunction with the film.

More recent properties making the leap from inanimate to animated include Beyblades, which began life as high-tech toys and now star in their own programming on ABC Family, and perennial favorite Barbie. This year, Barbie-license-holder Mattel will be promoting the release of Barbie's fourth full-length animated film, Barbie: The Princess and the Pauper, in which Barbie takes on both lead roles. Mattel's chairman recently said the company would announce more such Barbie home video releases at Toy Fair. Also making the leap from blister pack to small screen is the wildly popular fashion doll line, Bratz. Less than three years after the line launched, the dolls are challenging Barbie for fashion doll supremacy.

The Bratz will be starring in their own feature-length DVD scheduled for release in summer 2004. According to one published report, at least five Hollywood production companies courted creator Isaac Larian for the right to produce and release the product. There is no word yet on which studio won the war.

There will be no shortage of properties that have taken the more traditional route from book or film character to beloved toy. Hit Entertainment and Scholastic, both with broad stables of classic family brands, will be promoting new marketing initiatives for Clifford the Big Red Dog, Angelina Ballerina, Barney and Thomas the Tank Engine, among others.

And studios with family-appropriate product also will be on hand. Although Fox's animated Robots -- reportedly with a main character voiced by Ewan McGregor -- is not scheduled for theatrical release until March 2005, more than 20 partners will be at Toy Fair displaying licensed merchandise related to the movie. Fox and its licensing partners will also be showing merchandise related to the upcoming Alien vs. Predator.

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