Toymaker lands master toy license for sequel

Make way for more Minions.

Universal is planning a major merchandising push around its “Despicable Me” sequel through an exclusive deal with Thinkway Toys when the film hits theaters in 2013.

The partnership is significant because it’s the first in a series of deals Universal plans to make around the toon and its characters — including those mischievous yellow Minions — to grow it into a major franchise for the studio and NBCUniversal overall to target the kids and family market.

In addition to the sequel, a 3D theme park ride is skedded to open at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, in Orlando, Fla., this summer, which will have retail outlets to fill with new product.

“We’re back in the family event business, especially with Illumination,” Stephanie Sperber, prexy of Universal Partnerships and Licensing told Variety. “This is the biggest toy property that Universal has had since ‘Jurassic Park.’ It’s very exciting for everyone involved.”

With the toy category generally the anchor for a family film when it comes to consumer products, Thinkway will serve as the sequel’s master toy licensee, with the first products — featuring the Minions and other key characters as interactive toys, figures, plush, dolls, playsets, vehicles, role play and novelty items across all pricepoints — set to hit store shelves globally when the film bows July 3, 2013.

“Our team is ecstatic to create an all new line of toys for ‘Despicable Me 2,'” said Albert Chan, CEO of Thinkway. “The characters are endearing, filled with humor and adventure and we can’t wait to include these elements into the toy line.”

Thinkway is best known for producing electronic, interactive and animatronic movie-themed toys around characters in Disney and Pixar’s “Toy Story,” like the talking Buzz Lightyear doll, and the dancing Erik penguin from “Happy Feet 2.” It’s also planning on releasing playthings around Disney and Marvel’s “The Avengers” and Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” both out this summer.

UP&L brokered the Thinkway deal, working closely with “Despicable Me” franchise producer Illumination Entertainment to select the toy partner. Toon studio is also developing family pics based on “Curious George,” “The Addams Family,” “Uglydolls” and “Woody Woodpecker,” among others. Its “The Lorax,” based on the Dr. Seuss book, bows in March.

While Universal had “Despicable Me” merchandise in stores in summer 2010, the lineup of products at retailers like Best Buy was small, given that the property wasn’t based on familiar characters or a sequel.

Its pop-culture profile changed, however, when the film earned $251.5 million in the U.S. and another $291.6 million overseas. It also was a hit on homevideo, selling 13 million units worldwide, and has become the top animated title ordered on VOD since January 2011. What few Minion plush toys existed sold out quickly.

“The first ‘Despicable Me’ surprised everyone in the way it was embraced around the world,” Sperber said. “Gru and the Minions made ‘Despicable Me’ a tentpole franchise for Universal and we know Thinkway’s innovation, reputation and global reach make them the best partner for us to bring the Minions to life through toys.

“We see this as a chance to grow the franchise through consumer products around the world. It’s now a massive global program.”

U is now closing in on deals for apparel and other “Despicable” merchandise.

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