Disney was able to do it with a mouse. Rumpus is taking its first step with a rabbit. And the Internet.
In an attempt to boost sales and fill its toy box with greenbacks, fledgling toymaker Rumpus Corp. is giving itself producer stripes and hopping into the entertainment game, readying to bow a 45-minute animated pic featuring the voices of Brad Renfro (“Apt Pupil”), Brendan Sexton III (“Boys Don’t Cry”), Sean Patrick Thomas (“Save the Last Dance”), Jason Priestley (“Beverly Hills, 90210”), former New York City mayor Ed Koch, chef Mario Batali and gossip columnist Liz Smith.
Beginning Easter Sunday, the New York-based company, with a staff of 34, plans to bow “Herschel Hopper,” about a scruffy rabbit who is accidentally sent to New York City and overcomes hardship to find fame, fortune and true friendship, for a limited run of two to three weeks at Rumpus.com.
Out of the gate
What is unique isn’t just the pic’s long length, but rather that project, created by Rumpus founder and prexy Larry Schwarz, will hit the Web before promised star-studded content from emerging Netcasters Pop.com, Icebox.com and Z.com.
Creative Artists Agency-repped Rumpus.com will make the pic available to download for $3 a pop.
Naturally, a plush Herschel toy is available exclusively through Rumpus.com (orders for the $12 toy are being taken now). A “Herschel” trailer and game is also available on the site.
Two more pic projects, “The Day I Saved America” and “The Red Bison,” are being planned for release July 4 and Christmas, also with an accompanying toy in the works and celebrity voices.
“Selling toys sucks,” said Rumpus veep Jeff Roda, a former agent with Writers & Artists Agency, who is overseeing the production of “Herschel” from Darin Strauss’ script. (Strauss’ first novel, “Chang and Eng,” will be released in June by Dutton.)
“It’s really hard work to do. It costs so much money to get them out in the market. For a young company to go out with a line of character toys, it’s impossible. We’re a children’s content company. We make what we think kids think is cool.”
Rumpus originally planned to sell its line of educational and interactive toys — Gus Gutz, Harry Hairball, Space Puppies, Eggels, Science Freaks and Benny Blanket, among others — in stores, but with the growing popularity of the Internet, the company has instead decided to cash in on e-commerce. But with the emergence of Netcasting as a new form of entertainment, Rumpus also decided to create its own slate of programming based on its toys, as well.
“Our toys are characters with backstories that lend themselves to entertainment properties,” Roda said. “We thought, why not create our own studio? The Internet really gave us that opportunity.”
Rumpus.com features weekly animated and live-action series, games and movies, all based on Rumpus’ toy line and created by a dozen inhouse animators, writers and directors.
You gotta have Hart
Rumpus has also inked a co-production deal with Paula Hart and Melissa Joan Hart (“Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) of Hart Break Films to produce a television show and film based on the Monster in My Closet toy.
Rumpus will shoot a live-action show for the toy in June.
Two live-action and animated shows, including one for Larry’s Lab (which teaches kids how to make toys with things lying around the house) and Rumpus Road Rocket (a bus with Rocketeers that travel the country visiting landmarks) are in the works.
In true dot-com fashion, Rumpus is relying on word of mouth among the young school set to build awareness for its programming, as it has with its toys.
“We’re a young company,” Roda said. “We can’t spend millions on advertising like others can.”
If popular, Rumpus is hoping to syndicate its programming to other Web sites and the traditional TV and film media. Whether Rumpus will begin selling homevids of its product is still up in the air.
“There will be an offline strategy, but we’re waiting to see what the reaction is first,” Roda said. “We’re pushing the existing technology to the limits. Using Flash, we are able to create television quality animation while keeping the download time to a minimum.”
Regarding “Herschel,” the company has “no clue how many people will download it,” Roda said, “But we wanted to show that we can do this.”