‘Batman’ toon direct-to-video

WB bets on animated vid release

Robin & Batgirl romantically involved?

That’s one of the plot devices of “Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero,” the first direct-to-video release based on the popular crime-fighting character. The full-length animated pic will bow March 17 and will be backed by an ambitious marketing campaign.

Animated direct-to-vid fare, such as the “Aladdin”-based franchises from Disney and the “Land Before Time” series from Universal, have found finding favor among consumers.

“We’re seeing a very strong market for these kinds of franchise properties,” said John Trasher, video veep for Tower Records and Video. “They are consistent sellers.”

The “Batman” vid also boasts a sympathetic Mr. Freeze who must do whatever it takes to save the life of his terminally ill wife.

The studio’s vid arm is hoping this latest addition to the franchise will follow in the footsteps of the live action “Batman” pics, which boast more than 35 million units sold through to consumers. The animated vid will sport a pre-rebate retail price of $19.96.

“The ‘Batman’ series is one of the most successful homevideo franchises ever,” said Brian Moreno, veep of marketing for Warner Bros. Family Entertainment. Moreno said the new vid “gives retailers fun, action packed entertainment featuring state-of-the-art animation.”

The vid, which had initially been slated for a July/August bow but was moved, is being billed as one that can appeal to adults and kids as a result of its story and characters with depth. Kevin Conroy, Michael Ansara, Loren Lester and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. provide the voices of the characters.

“We also used computer animation extensively, combined with traditional cel animation, to create a film with visual excitement and dimension,” said Boyd Kirkland, a Warner Bros. animation producer/director who also co-wrote the story with Randy Rogel and helped shepherd the project.

To lure consumers, marketers at the vid arm will use an extensive slate of web TV and print ads to tout the availability of the vid.

A rebate tie-in program with Act II popcorn will be pushed on more than 1 million popcorn packages, which also will include a Mr. Freeze comic book. A free “Batman & Robin” cartoon maker CD-ROM also will be available by mail.

The trailer for the “Batman” vid will be included on vids of “Space Jam” and “Free Willy 3: The Rescue,” among other releases, as well as the live-action “Batman & Robin.”

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