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Toy Sellers Wish That Pocahontas Were a Lion

July 24, 1995

The toys of summer are sputtering.

Manufacturers, hoping to capitalize on a raft of kids’ movies released this summer, created action figures, games and dolls tied to ``Pocahontas,″ ``Batman Forever,″ ``Casper,″ ``Congo″ and others.

But some summer movies have performed poorly, dragging down retail sales. Meanwhile, the kid appeal of one of the season’s biggest hits _ ``Apollo 13″ _ was so unexpected that no advance toy licenses were signed at all. The situation underscores toyland’s vulnerability to the public’s unpredictability at a time when licensed products account for almost half of annual toy sales.

Final toy sales figures won’t be in until after Christmas, but analysts, buyers and retailers say no movie is expected to match the success of ``Lion King″ _ which last year grossed $310 million for Walt Disney Co. at the box office in the U.S. alone and $162 million for toy makers, led by Mattel Inc.

Delays in shipping toys tied to Warner Bros.′ ``Batman Forever″ have hurt Hasbro Inc.’s Kenner this year. Retailers were conservative ordering products from Tyco Toys Inc. based on ``Casper,″ a Universal Pictures release. Disney’s ``Judge Dredd″ received an R rating instead of the PG-13 Mattel had hoped for. And Mattel’s Pocahontas dolls appeal mostly to girls, while ``Lion King″ appealed to boys as well as girls.

Here’s an early read of how some of this summer’s movie-linked toys are doing:


Led by a collection of dolls that change color in the sun, the Mattel toy line is probably the best-selling tie-in, retailers say. The Disney film ranks second behind ``Batman″ among summer releases, with about $117 million in box-office revenue so far. Jill Krutick, a Smith Barney analyst, estimates Mattel shipped $30 million in Pocahontas products in the second quarter on its way to grossing ``close to $100 million″ by year end.

``Pocahontas is doing pretty well,″ says Toy Book trade-magazine publisher Jim Silver. ``It’s just that the Lion King did so well.″


The June 29 release from News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox has taken in more than $33 million at the box office, so it’s no blockbuster. But the movie has given new life to a toy line that was beginning to slow down, says Deran Muckjian, a toy buyer for discount retailer Bradlees Inc. The pickup is expected to help the figurines from Bandai Inc. ring up more than $300 million in toy sales this year, up from $225 million last year. But Mr. Silver notes that the film hasn’t been much help to other Power Ranger merchandise, such as lunch boxes and flashlights.


Now in its fifth week, the Warner production has taken in about $171 million at theaters, making it the summer’s biggest success by far. But shipments of the Kenner toys have been late, retailers say. ``We have the Batman figures at Bradlees,″ says Mr. Muckjian, ``but some of the play sets and accessories, like the Robin Cycle, the Batwing Jet, the Batcave and the Batmobile, are late coming out.″

Earlier this year, Kenner told retailers that it plans to ship $150 million to $170 million in Batman toys. But because of shipment delays, Ms. Krutick says, she doubts that the company shipped more than $20 million in the second quarter.


Retailers reckoned Tyco’s Casper toys wouldn’t do much better than Mattel’s disappointing Flintstones line last year, says Seth Siegel, co-chairman of the Beanstalk Group, a New York licensing agency. As a result, he says, not many Casper toys were ordered even though the movie, with more than $89 million in ticket sales, is a hit.

Ms. Krutick had originally estimated Tyco would sell $5 million in Casper toys. Now, anticipating a timely release of the video around Halloween, she has raised her estimate to between $10 million and $15 million. But she guesses that sales thus far have been less than $5 million.


Paramount Pictures has taken in more than $77 million at the box office from the Michael Crichton tale about gorillas. But kids weren’t crazy about the movie, and the Kenner toys hit the shelves ``dead on arrival,″ says Ms. Krutick. Sales are too far below analysts’ radar screens for estimates. ``The main character in `Congo’ is a martini-drinking gorilla named Amy,″ says Weston Anson, president of Trademark & Licensing Associates Inc. ``It just doesn’t have the danger element that the dinosaurs of `Jurassic Park’ brought.″


Sylvester Stallone’s latest testosterone treat has grossed a mere $31 million. The toy, by Mattel, ``is a nonissue,″ says Mr. Muckjian.


The $111 million box-office smash from Universal Pictures is the sleeper of the summer. ``Even though kids love to play outer space,″ says Mr. Muckjian, toy makers never thought children would be clamoring to accompany their parents to the PG-rated movie. Hasbro, which belatedly signed a license, is rushing a small line of Apollo 13 toys to stores.

Lego Systems Inc. doesn’t have an Apollo 13 building set, but it’s trying to make the most of the situation. The U.S. unit of Denmark-based Lego Group got the film’s star, Tom Hanks, to join its advisory board and has hung posters for a Lego spacecraft-building contest at thousands of theaters showing the movie.

``The sad thing about it is there was no product on the shelves when the movie″ opened earlier this month, says Mr. Muckjian. Toy sales won’t amount to much, analysts say.


Plagued by bad publicity, the Universal Pictures film no longer looms as a great toy hope. Analysts expect the toy tie-ins by Kenner to go the way of the Mattel toys linked to ``Last Action Hero,″ Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1993 bust.

Ed Roth, a spokesman for NPD Inc., a retail-sales tracking firm, cautions that toys tied to summer theatrical releases can pick up steam as Christmas nears. Last year, for instance, Lion King toys had rung up $65 million in retail sales by Aug. 31, but rose to $214 million by Christmas. And in 1993, the summer take of Jurassic Park toys was a mere $33 million. They went on to sell $162 million by the end of the year.

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