Cars

2007 Hot Property

Principal: Andy Mooney, chairman, Disney Consumer Products; Mary Beech, VP animation consumer products marketing, DCP

Licensees include: Mattel for toys, Hallmark for party goods,  THQ for interactive, Random House for publishing

The story: In terms of being well positioned to defy expectations, Disney-Pixar’s “Cars” started its race about as far from pole position as you can get. In fact, when an animated feature takes in $462 million in global box office and garners on Oscar nomination, like “Cars” did, yet still is dogged by critics who compare it unfavorably to previous Pixar efforts “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles,” the bar is set perhaps a bit too high.

While many refuse to rank “Cars” as Pixar maven John Lasseter’s finest two hours, its merchandising campaign has become a global phenomenon. A year after the motion picture release, a sojourn to a local Toys R Us will reveal collectors — boys to men — on the prowl for the new shipment of Mattel-made die-cast miniatures, with the movie’s extensive ensemble of characters yielding an endless array of product iterations (Dinaco Blue Chick Hicks, anyone?).

Merchandising campaigns for tentpoles are supposed to peak around the time of the DVD release, then begin to taper off, but “Cars” is only getting hotter.

“Do you think anybody knew it would have these kinds of continual legs? No way,” says the merchandising topper for a rival studio. “I’ve just been impressed. It’s doing this without anything supporting it in the marketplace.”

Indeed, “Cars” has become as ubiquitous as “Dora the Explorer.”

If parents try pulling their tikes out of the toy department and into bedding to escape the onslaught in the mass-merchant aisles, the tiny lobbyists will no doubt shift their strident filibustering toward purchases of “Cars” pillow cases and comforters. There’s no relief at the grocery store either, where parents must say no — “I said, ‘No!'” — to demands targeting Lightning McQueen-themed cereal bowls and Huggies Pull-Ups.

POV: “In a year without content in the marketplace, we’ll do $2 billion in (‘Cars’) sales,” Mooney says. “It underscores the fundamental point that not every animated movie is created equally in terms of merchandising. ‘Cars’ gets into the very fundamental play pattern for kids. And it seems every boy and every man in the world has a panache for vehicles.”

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