Brand-Packed Animated Film Still Waiting for Big-Screen Opening

Hundreds of Ad Icons in 'Foodfight' Could Be Test Case for Multiple Integrations

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The deal: Hollywood filmmakers create "Foodfight," an animated all-family movie set in a grocery store and packed with nearly every consumer packaged-goods product found up and down the aisles.

The result: The film, which features Charlie Tuna, Mr. Clean, the Chiquita banana lady, Twinkie the Kid and other iconic mascots, has been in the works for six years and still has yet to land a release date.

The producer of 'Foodfight' likens his long-awaited animated film to 'Casablanca.'

It was announced with much fanfare six years ago and, when it's released, it could be one of the most significant brand-integration projects that Hollywood has ever created. An animated movie called "Foodfight" will pack in hundreds of familiar brand icons that run the gamut from Sunkist's Charlie Tuna to Procter & Gamble's Mr. Clean.

The $50 million movie, produced by Threshold Entertainment, will be distributed by independent powerhouse Lions Gate Films' family-entertainment division. It doesn't have a firm release date, but the studio is considering a spring 2007 launch.

How to integrate multiple marketers

"Foodfight" could be a test case for how multiple marketers are integrated into feature films and could serve as a template for how promotional partnerships are structured in such cases. So far, the producers have secured rights from heavyweight brands such as Cadbury Schweppes, ConAgra Foods, Hormel Foods, Masterfoods, Energizer, Del Monte and others for use of their logos and spokescharacters.

Lions Gate executives and Larry Kasanoff, Threshold's chairman-CEO, declined to comment because details are still coming together for the movie's release.

Back when the project was announced, Mr. Kasanoff called "Foodfight" "an epic film that just happens to be animated. For us, this is 'Casablanca.'"

Mr. Kasanoff, executive producer of "True Lies" and "Strange Days," is perhaps best known for his company's hugely successful "Mortal Kombat" franchise. "Foodfight's" squeaky-clean family focus will be a major departure from the violent video-game and action-movie world Mr. Kasanoff's known for. But Mr. Kasanoff came up with "Foodfight's" story with executive producer Joshua Wexler. He also picked some alums from "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation" to work on the film and has produced the movie with Alison Savitch, president of Threshold’s special-effects house and visual-effects supervisor for "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and "Bram Stocker's Dracula." (Threshold had also landed a deal in late 2004 with IBM to power the rendering needed to create the animation, and reduce some of the costs of the production.)

Delay not without precedent in Hollywood

The fact that the movie has been in the pipeline for six years isn't entirely without precedent in Hollywood, where projects can languish in development or wait long periods for a release date.

It's somewhat unusual, though, for a finished product to sit for as long as "Foodfight" has without being put on a studio's slate. Those involved with the movie didn't give an explanation for the delay.

"Foodfight," which has been produced using computer animation, centers on the world of a grocery store at night when people leave and products come to life. Its central characters, such as Dex Dogtective, are fictional but they're surrounded by well-known everyday products playing mostly supporting roles.

The voice talent in the movie includes teen idols Hilary and Haylie Duff, Charlie Sheen, Wayne Brady, Eva Longoria and Chris Kattan. All the actors lend their voices to fictional characters, rather than brand icons.

Glut of animated family fare

The movie will launch into an environment that's now becoming saturated with animated all-family fare. There are more than a dozen computer-animated movies set to hit the multiplexes between now and next summer. Some recent films, including Warner Bros.' "Ant Bully" and Fox's "Everyone's Hero," didn't excite audiences while Sony's first foray into the genre, "Open Season," captured the top spot at the box office recently with a solid $23.6 million opening.

So "Foodfight" will need all the help it can get from its marketing partners to rise above the clutter of toons hitting the multiplex. That may not be a problem.

G-rated family movies are big business for marketers, who tie-in with them to reach children and gatekeepers (usually parents). "Foodfight" will be competing with major-studio fare for those partnerships, though it might have an advantage in negotiations because most animated children's movies don't have product placement. They sometimes feature parody brands, but very rarely include the real thing. (Notable exception: Universal's "Curious George" had Dole and Volkswagen placements, stemming from corporate relationships between the marketers and the studio.)

"Foodfight" offers an embedded marketer a chance to play off the in-content integration for any consumer promotions it might create. There could be possibilities for ads that play off the movie, using the real and fictional icons.

Threshold executives have plans for "Foodfight" that stretch well beyond one feature film. There's website potential, with animated shorts or prequels to the story as possible content, along with toys and other merchandise.
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