Toy biz looks to new film heroes

Industry shifting from heroes to penguins and pirates

The old franchises aren’t what they used to be.

With the latest bigscreen incarnations of Batman and Superman taking darker and more complex turns, the toy lines they inspired have taken some hits.

So went the buzz at last week’s Toy Wishes Holiday Preview — a mini lead-up to February’s major Toy Fair event.

“You have to have the box office,” says Jim Silver, editor of Toy Wishes magazine. “But then the story and the theme has to be applicable to translate into the toys and into play.

“‘Superman Returns’ was a bit of a disappointment with respect to toys. It was more of a love story. If it had had more action it probably would have done better in the toy aisles.”

This Christmas, instead of traditional toy staples like superhero lines, look for more whimsical properties to dominate kids’ toy lists.

Merchandisers at the Toy Wishes confab were talking penguins and pirates.

Warner Bros.’ “Happy Feet” hopes to mine the interest stirred a year ago by the doc “March of the Penguins.” And Disney is looking to keep its “Pirates of the Caribbean” juggernaut playing well into 2008.

“Dead Man’s Chest,” the second pic in the adventure trilogy, hits DVD on Dec. 5, providing a timely spur to kick up holiday sales of toys.

Zizzle, the master licensee for the franchise’s toys, sees plenty of life left in the line through next spring’s capper film “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

“This line is definitely not something that is here for a year and then gone,” says chief marketing officer Marc Rosenberg. “Even without movies you have a continuation of the entertainment with the theme ride that 25 million people a year go through.”

Warner’s animated penguin pic “Happy Feet” hits theaters on Nov. 17, with a plush new line of toys including penguin playsuits, cell phones and figurines. That’s a far cry from “March of the Penguins,” with $129 million worldwide box office and proved so unexpectedly successful that there wasn’t even a tuxedoed bird tie-in to be found on store shelves.

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