Pixar pic makes merchandise debut

The rollout for Disney/Pixar’s “Wall-E” began in earnest this week during the annual Licensing Show expo, while 20th Century Fox is stoking the revived market for “Alvin and the Chipmunks” merchandise.

Mouse House is banking big on “Wall-E” toys and other merchandise to generate some $30 billion in retail coin this year. Mouse House’s “Wall-E” push encompasses everything from pricey deluxe robots to branded “Wall-E” Crocs shoes that leave caterpillar-tread-like tracks.

Disney hopes the story of cute robot Wall-E will be much more translatable into licensing coin than was last year’s Pixar pic, “Ratatouille,” which may have wowed critics but left licensees less charmed by the pic’s rodent motif.

“We were definitely able to find more applications” for “Wall-E,” said Mary Beech, Disney’s VP-general manager of animation consumer product marketing.

Meanwhile, Pixar’s “Cars,” the lowest-performing Pixar film at the B.O. ($244 million domestic) since “A Bug’s Life” in 1998, has enjoyed licensing success, notably Mattel’s toy versions of some of the film’s 217 characters, and a sequel has just been greenlit.

With “Wall-E,” the Mouse House hopes to have both a bona fide hit and a brand that continues to renew itself.

While Disney didn’t have much licensing success with CG rodents, but Fox had so much with “Alvin and the Chipmunks” that the studio missed licensing opportunities the first time around.

“The first film came very quickly — eight months from greenlight to premiere — so we had only a short list of licensees. We’ll be doing a lot more with the Alvin character,” said Fox licensing and merchandising exec veep Elie Dekel. Fox has plenty of run-up this time — the studio has announced a “Chipmunks” sequel for 2010.

Fox Entertainment’s flagship initiative at the expo was a little more adult-focused: an “Entertainment Rewards” branded credit card in partnership with Washington Mutual. Dekel said that the card would include incentives ranging from DVDs to walk-on roles for eligible consumers who earn enough “frequent buyer” points.

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