The Walt Disney Co.’s DIC Entertainment has signed a licensing deal with Japanese merchandiser Sanrio Ltd. to produce animated vehicles for Hello Kitty and other characters in the Sanrio family.

Kicking off at this week’s licensing industry confab in New York, DIC will spearhead a worldwide merchandising push to expand the Hello Kitty franchise beyond Sanrio’s core business of stationery, apparel and other non-toy knickknacks. Sanrio operates 150 retail outlets dedicated to Hello Kitty and its sibling characters throughout the U.S.

In addition to the new kidvid production, DIC will repackage 50 half-hour episodes of a Hello Kitty series that aired in Japan in the early 1990s for worldwide distribution. The bright-eyed white cat has become a trendy icon with U.S. teens in recent years.

“We have a wonderful opportunity with Hello Kitty because the property has been limited to just a few (merchandise) categories,” DIC president Andy Heyward said. “The products have always been sold in specialty shops — they’ve never been taken to the mass market before.”

DIC previously teamed with Sanrio in the late 1980s to produce 13 episodes of “Hello Kitty’s Fairy Tale Theater” for CBS’ Saturday-morning slate.

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