Angry Birds take aim at ‘Rio’

Fox, Rovio Mobile team on new game

Twentieth Century Fox is showing marketers that it can court moviegoers by piggybacking on the popularity of another franchise when its film isn’t based on a known property.

Fox said last week that it’s paired up with Finnish gamemaker Rovio Mobile, creator of the hit “Angry Birds,” to create a version of the cellphone game for the studio’s upcoming toon “Rio.”

The “Angry Birds Rio” game will bow in March across all mobile platforms, weeks before “Rio” flies into theaters on April 15. Free and paid versions will be available.

Deal reps the latest effort by studios to use mobile apps as a promotional tool to tout their upcoming releases as an increasing number of moviegoers — especially kids and families — play games or download apps on their phones and tablets. Fox’s digital division has already produced 20 mobile apps., with more popular ones based on “Avatar” and “Ice Age.”

With so many pics competing at the megaplex, however, launching a potential film franchise that isn’t tied to a toy line, comicbook, videogame or sequel can prove difficult. Fox needed “Rio” to stand out — the studio’s been rolling out its marketing campaign earlier than usual to introduce the toon’s characters — but didn’t want to spend money to launch its own game and hope auds would simply discover it.

“To say that ‘Angry Birds’ is a cultural phenomenon is one of the great understatements of all time,” said Fox topper Jim Gianopulos.”Angry Birds” has been a hit since its launch in December 2009 in Finland. It bowed in the U.K. last February and later in the U.S. in April and May.

According to Rovio, free or pay-to-play versions of “Angry Birds” have been downloaded more than 75 million times. Last year, Apple racked up more than 13 million paid downloads of the game, making it the most successful selling app for mobile phones.

Partnering with “Angry Birds” isn’t a stretch for Fox.

In “Angry Birds,” players take revenge on a group of villainous pigs by propelling birds at their buildings, using a slingshot, to destroy them.

In “Rio,” the 3D pic revolves around Blu, a rare macaw who discovers he’s not the last of his kind and embarks on a quest leaves the comforts of his cage in Minnesota to find his mate in Rio de Janeiro and the rainforests of Brazil. Along the way, Blu and his new feathered-friends are captured by poachers and must escape.

Digital media and videogame entrepreneur Peter Levin and Russell Binder, whose Striker Entertainment sets up licensing deals for Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment and DreamWorks, including the “Twilight” franchise, helped broker the Fox Mobile deal for Rovio.

Rovio agreed to adapt “Angry Birds” for “Rio” after Fox rented a movie theater in Helsinki and flew filmmakers from Los Angeles to screen the pic for the mobile company’s executives there.

The company does not have other plans or deals to adapt its franchise for other films. “After (‘Rio’) we’ll see,” Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio Mobile, told Variety. “We’re open to all possibilities.”