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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ Grows Merchandise Rollout With a ‘Much Stronger Focus’ on Groot (EXCLUSIVE)

Marvel has unveiled plans for an expanded merchandising program for next year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2″ — with plenty of Groot.

The moves come in the wake of the first film grossing $770 million at the worldwide box office in 2014. Marvel will give retailers a first look at the new line on Monday at Licensing Expo 2016 in Las Vegas, with categories including toys, games, books, apparel and accessories.

Hasbro, Lego, Funko and LB Kids are among dozens of licensees who have helped the franchise’s Disney XD animated series focus on younger consumers. The show launched last September and has been renewed for a second season starting in the fall.

Groot, a key component to the first film’s appeal, is central to the new campaign. The “Dancing Groot” bobble-head is Funko’s best-seller of all time in its Pop! line. Hasbro, the lead toy partner, is releasing a range of action figures and roleplay products based on the new film while Lego adds to its lineup with new construction sets.

Paul Gitter, senior VP of licensing for Marvel at Disney Consumer Products, told Variety that the overall campaign is aimed at turning “Guardians of the Galaxy” into a tentpole franchise.

“As affinity and awareness for the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ franchise and its characters continues to grow by leaps and bounds, we are building out a much larger merchandising program to meet the increasing demand from fans,” he said.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” originated in a 2008 comic about a ragtag group of space heroes including Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Quasar, Adam Warlock, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer and Groot. Gitter admits the property is unlike any other in the Marvel Universe.

“Guardians fills an unoccupied space in our portfolio of Marvel brands, as it features an unlikely group of heroes who come together as a unique family,” he noted. “Plus its blending of music, humor, and sci-fi adventure is unlike anything we have seen before.  The response from retailers and licensees after a recent event we had to showcase key story points and characters from the new film was even stronger than expected, so we know that there will be lots of interest.”

The film, which will open May 5, 2017 stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan and Djimon Hounsou. James Gunn returns to direct. The story will include Pratt’s Peter Quill learning more about his father.

Most of the new products will be timed with the theatrical release but Marvel also plans to satisfy the market with new, evergreen merchandise this year.

“It will be a much broader line [than 2014] expanding beyond collectors to include kids and male/female fans of the film,” Gitter said. “Also, as it is now a proven franchise with appealing characters, licensees will invest more in design and innovation. Finally, there will be a much stronger focus on Groot, who proved to be the breakout character from the first film.”

Gitter admitted that the success of the Groot merchandise took him by surprise two years ago.

“Our key learning is that we had to chase products featuring Groot and we want to be sure we are ready for the excitement across multiple age and demo segments who want to bring home Groot in a variety of innovative products,” he said. “The animated series, animated shorts, and unique products we have already released have helped to add to his affinity.”

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