Fox on firm international ‘Ice’

Toon franchise counts on global grosses, licensing to bolster bottom line

When “Ice Age: Continental Drift” unspools Friday, it will have to support more than just a multibillion-dollar film franchise.

The toon, like so many family films, serves as an international marketing tool for all of the franchise’s licensing deals, which will make up a substantial portion of 20th Century Fox’s profits from the latest installment.

The fourth film in Fox’s prehistoric-toon series has already grossed north of $200 million overseas since its opening in Australia last month, and the animated pics have taken in more than $2 billion in worldwide box office — plus some $2 billion more in home entertainment and consumer products sales — since the first film opened in 2002.

The property has spawned toys, a live arena show and other branded offshoots, including a pact, announced Tuesday, with Internet developer Bigpoint for a Web browser-based game.

“Drift” also has lined up a slew of promotional partners which include McDonalds, Post Cereal and MovieTickets.com. And with a plan to criss-cross 30 countries over five years, a live show from Stage Entertainment Touring Prods. promises to be a lucrative endorsement for the franchise when it bows in November.

Industry insiders estimate that Fox could earn 5% to 10% of the weekly arena gross — amounting to $100,000 to $200,000 — from each week of the tour’s run. (Fox did not respond to a request for comment on that number).

To be sure, Fox isn’t the only studio to see the potential in live shows based on popular family properties.

DreamWorks Animation preemed the “How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular” in Australia in March, while the studio’s theatrical division is prepping “Kung Fu Panda: The Arena Spectacular” for a fall launch in China. The Mouse House has “Disney on Ice” and “Phineas and Ferb Live!” on tour. And the BBC live show based on docu series “Walking With Dinosaurs” has toured the world since 2007 and drawn big numbers from family auds.

Don’t be surprised if Fox decides to link up with a hotel chain and/or theme park. Nickelodeon has attractions at Universal’s parks and its own at the Mall of America. Dreamworks Animation has attractions at U’s parks as well.

Fox has been eager to turn “Ice Age” into a brand that lives beyond the plexes, aiming to keep the pic fresh in auds’ minds — especially in international territories like Italy and Russia, which have proven surprisingly strong for the pic. Franchise has earned approximately three quarters of its box office grosses overseas.

Toys, games, t-shirts and other branded partnerships have become increasingly important for family entertainment. And Fox has ramped up its efforts in the consumer products arena exponentially from just a few years ago.

When the studio’s first installment in its “Alvin and the Chipmunks” franchise unspooled in 2007, it had little support by way of promotional partners. When the third edition — “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” — opened at the end of last year, it had a number of branded deals in place, including a pact with retail giant Walmart for an exclusive line of apparel. When “Rio” opened in April 2011, Fox had 82 promo partners for the pic — a record number for the studio.

The studio now ranks as the 24th largest licensor in the world, according to a May report from branded info site Licencemag.com, which estimated that Fox’s consumer products division had earned the studio $2.2 billion in 2011. (That puts it behind Disney Consumer Products, Warner Bros. Consumer Products and DreamWorks Animation but ahead of NBCUniversal and Sony Pictures Consumer Products).

Ice Age: Continental Drift” continues the saga of Manny and his woolly mammoth family as they find their lives disrupted by the separation of supercontinent Pangaea. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott and Queen Latifah voice the principal characters. Steve Martino and Michael Thurmeier directed from a script by Michael Berg and Jason Fuchs, while Fox’s Blue Sky Animation produced the project.

Ice Age:
Continental Drift
Budget: More than $100 million
Marketing strategy: Film is supporting — and being supported by — an ecosystem of promotional partnerships and branded off-shoots, including a worldwide touring live show and deals with McDonalds, Post Cereal and Movietickets.com
Rollout strategy: Toon launched throughout Europe and Latin America during the two weeks prior to its Stateside opening. Key day-and-date territories include Russia and the U.K.
Tracking: Pic, which has already earned more than $200 million overseas, should have no problem hitting the high $30 million mark in its opening domestic frame.
Variety review: “An amusing, adds-nothing fourth chapter in which Manny and his woolly mammoth family find their lives disrupted by the separation of Pangaea — an event that occurred roughly 200 million years before their time.” — Peter Debruge