Disney plotting happier ending for 'Toy Story'

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Studio stacks up bigger supply of toys for video release

Walt Disney Co., which missed the toy market this past Christmas for its megahit "Toy Story," still hopes to write a happy ending to that tale.

Disney is expected to announce this week that "Toy Story" will be released on home video for the holiday season at a low sell-through price.

"And this time," said a Disney insider, "the toys will be there."

The "Toy Story" announcement is timed to coincide with the American International Toy Fair in New York, where a number of new products will be unveiled.

WHERE WERE THE TOYS?

When the movie hit last fall, toy industry executives decried the lack of licensing deals for toys tied to it. One report said market research failed to predict the rush on classic baby-boomer toys and games mentioned in the film, such as Slinky Dog, Lite Brite and Candyland.

Talks are under way to do a promotion with Thinkway Toys, which is coming out with some new "Toy Story"-related items.

Thinkway is one of the original licensees, but only produced Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys, and not enough of those.

The new products will be toys of the aliens and mutant baby head that are in the film.

"The folks at Pixar [the computer animation company that made the movie] begged Disney to get toys for those characters the first time around, but they wouldn't do it," said a Disney executive.

There also will be a new Woody toy from Thinkway, with a sitting Woody that goes limp at the touch of a button.

A toy showing Woody and Buzz fighting one another, as they do in the film, is also coming from Thinkway. There also will be Bo Peep and Rex toys.

WHAT WENT WRONG

How Disney blew the toy marketing for the film "should be studied by Harvard Business School," said one toy licensing executive at a competing studio.

In retrospect, the problem may have been that Disney wasn't geared up for two major animation features in one year, "Pocahontas" and "Toy Story."

" `Pocahontas' got the big Disney push; it was the in-house movie. `Toy Story' took a back seat," said a Disney executive.

NOT ENOUGH TIME

On the toy licensing front, Disney was behind the eight ball at the time. While the usual lead time for consumer products is 18 months before a movie comes out, it was less than a year before "Toy Story" was released that the toy push started.

"That's one of the main reasons it went to Thinkway," said the Disney insider. "They could have the Woody and Buzz Lightyear action figures ready."

Thinkway didn't return calls for this story.

With Disney not really behind the movie in the months before its release, retailers never got excited about it. Thinkway had initial orders for only 50,000 units of Buzz Lightyear, according to some executives, though the company made close to 250,000. It made about 200,000 Woodys.

"Then the movie opens and goes through the roof," said the insider. "The demand was for at least 2 million units of each full-size action figure ... the Disney stores were filled with `Pocahontas' figures they can't get rid of and nothing for `Toy Story.' "

BURGER KING BENEFITS

The beneficiary of Disney's miscue was Burger King Corp., which gave out millions of small-size "Toy Story" figures.

"We underanticipated the demand," said Chuck Champlin, director of communications for Disney consumer products. "We saw the boutique way people responded to another special, different picture, `Nightmare Before Christmas,' " he said, and the company decided `Toy Story' toys would get a similar response.

Indeed, Hasbro, which made the "Nightmare" toys, passed up the opportunity to make the original "Toy Story" toys, insiders said. However, the company did allow the use of its venerable Mr. Potato Head in the film, and during the Christmas season packaged the toy-veteran in a "Toy Story" box.

The Disney executive is amazed at the missed chance.

"You had Disney, a film about toys and it's Christmastime; it seems like a no-brainer. Let's hope we can make it up when the video's released."

Copyright February 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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