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Artisan comes to Fisher-Price’s rescue

Action figure-inspired franchise hits the bigscreen

NEW YORK — Continuing to bulk up in the kids market, Artisan Entertainment has partnered with Fisher-Price on a movie based on the popular Rescue Heroes toy line.

It’s the first foray into film for Fisher-Price, a subsid of giant Mattel, as toy companies look to the big- and small screens to boost awareness of their products. Rescue Heroes is a hot-selling line of action figures launched in 1998, followed by an animated TV series that airs on Kids WB!. The process is the opposite of a standard Hollywood deal, where a successful film morphs into toys and TV.

Some 15 million action figures — firefighters, police officers and construction workers — have been sold to date. Sales soared after 9/11.

Nelvana, which makes the series, will produce the CGI adventure pic “Mission Select Rescue Heroes: Storms of Destruction.” It is aimed at direct-to-video, but may be supported by a limited theatrical release, the companies said.

Pact builds on Artisan’s relationship with Mattel, for which it marketed and distributed two direct-to-video Barbie pics that have sold more than 7 million copies. It adds another title to Artisan’s ballooning family video catalog, an area where the company, behind edgy fare like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Requiem for a Dream,” has carved out a lucrative niche.

Glenn Ross, prexy of Artisan’sFamily Home Entertainment, said the unit brings in annual revenue of roughly $100 million and has about 10% of the market. Ross said FHE is the fifth-largest supplier of kids programming on videocassette after Walt Disney, Warner Bros., HIT Entertainment and Paramount.

Giving prod’n a pass

Since “The Tangerine Bear” in 2000, which FHE produced, Artisan doesn’t usually make the movies. “Nobody’s really asked us to do it,” Ross said. Mattel made the two Barbie videos inhouse through its Mainframe Entertainment.

“Whatever the movie cost to make — say $4 million — by the time the Barbie video hit the street, we had probably put $12 million on the line” with marketing and other costs. “We’re a partner,” he said.

Other properties on Artisan’s video roster include Scholastic’s Clifford the Big Red Dog, Care Bears, Hallmark Entertainment, Animal Planet and the Learning Channel brands.

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