Chicago, IL – Last weekend Disney and Pixar’s Cars 2 hit theaters to over $66 million in ticket sales, a number on par with typical recent Pixar releases including Wall-E, Up, and anything without the words “Toy” and “Story” in the title. Still, Cars 2 is a sequel to what is critically referred to as Pixar’s worst picture; Cars was also the lowest theatrical grosser from Pixar’s film roster. Rotten Tomatoes rates Cars 2 at 33%, a rotten rating indicating few critics found much to like. Why, then, did Cars 2 get made?

Anybody working in toys and licensing knows that Cars 2 got made because the Cars franchise is perhaps Pixar’s most lucrative. With $461, 983, 149 gross revenue, Cars was a success in theaters, but licensed merchandise is where the brand truly shines. According to Disney, Cars has generated sales approaching $10 billion at retail, found in this article by the Los Angeles Times. Apparel, Direct to DVD, episodic television, storybooks, video games, and a plethora of toys cars and race tracks makes Cars one of the primary reasons Pixar has been able to make more popular, four quadrant films like Up, Wall-E, and the upcoming Brave. These merchandising numbers put Cars in the ranks with Star Wars, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Toy Story, and Batman, perennially popular brands reaping billions worldwide in addition to inside the cinemas.

Films like Up and Wall-E hit theaters to massive acclaim, but failed to register in merchandise sales. Disney has long built its film schedule around merchandising opportunities. But is the reception to Cars 2 so bad? Is this a game changer for Pixar? Are the days of quality stalwart over? The age of sellouts arrived?

A quick look at Cars 2 cinema score paints a rosier picture. Audiences gave Cars 2 a solid A-, and we have to assume mostly parents are rating the flick. A closer look at the actual reviews on Rotten Tomatoes also changes the picture: critics didn’t dislike Cars 2, they were surprised it wasn’t the all-audiences entertainer Toy Story 3, Up, and Wall-E were. I found only a few reviews actually calling Cars 2 a bad movie, and there are always a few haters.

It is important to remember the intended audience of a film and not compare it to films by the same studio that are intended for a differing or more expansive audience. It sounds like the intended audience loves Cars 2, which isn’t unexpected considering Pixar’s track record.

So is Pixar selling out? Why, because Disney wants to make some big money? Why, because Pixar executives decided to make a film not aimed at general audiences, but specifically at young boys? What is the harm in selling some toys?

Cars brought delight to a lot of 2-10 year old boys and a big part of that was the toys and apparel that accompanied the movie. Pixar chief creative officer and Cars 2 director John Lasseter is a huge geek, a toy collector, and a father. Sounds like he made the movie he intended to make…and a choice that looks nothing like selling out from where I’m standing.

I hope Pixar doesn’t make a habit of producing sequels, but then again I’m pumped for Monsters University and I would love to see The Incredibles 2 get made. Pixar has an enviable record for success, critically, financially, and in the hearts of viewers everywhere. I’m excited for Brave, a new conceptualization of the classic Disney princess. I don’t think Cars 2 changes my expectations in the slightest.



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Chicago, IL – The ‘Social Media Lounge” popped up over the last few years as a hallmark of reality television talent contests and award shows. Between performances or awards presentations, usually just prior to a commercial break, viewers find themselves looking in at the social media lounge, where a bunch of people happen to be hanging out (rarely a computer or smart phone in sight) and the commentator has a printed stack of tweets, wall posts, and text messages in hand. These lounges have found their place on programs like NBC’s The Voice, The BET Awards and dozens of others.

Does anyone else think this is downright silly? The involvement of social media in television is nothing new. Users get involved in the fun by voting or just voicing opinions. Networks champion these efforts due to the brand advocacy that is built by interaction on social media.

Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, My Space, and other top sites offer a fantastic atmosphere of participation, but I wish networks could come up with more original and less old-fashioned ways of integrating social media into their programming. A social media lounge? Printed pages? Spoken voice? These are physical elements that have no place in the digital lexicon of social media users; their inclusion just makes no sense. Think harder, advertisers.

I don’t think advertisers need to bring in scientists or science fiction authors to make social media and television work together. Since both television programming and social networking sites are visual media, simply use screen graphics to display social talkback. Make this visual interface a striking screen presence. Tried and true pop ups don’t underscore the importance of social media, rather seamlessly integrate social media with a viewing experience.

Social media lounges raise a larger conversation regarding the continued growing pains of advertising and marketing interaction with entertainment media. As trends cycle in, traditional media often struggles to make sense of each trend’s inclusion.

After all, tweets and posts aren’t meant to be read off a ream of paper in a swanky lounge. See Mashable’s pictures of the BET Awards 2011 Social Media Lounge here.

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Chicago, IL – Think Facebook is just for the youngins? Social Media isn’t just for the young or the young at heart. Check out Mashable’s article on grandparents and social media here.

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For years, Comic Con International in San Diego has been more about movies, television, video games, and toys than it is about comic books. Fans lament the days of back issue scrounging, all the while waiting in a twisting line for a panel on the next Tim Burton movie. But are the days of the entertainment industry’s blind obsession with fanboys, fangirls, and comic book material coming to an end?

The New York Times is reporting that a number of high-profile film studios are benching plans to showcase their upcoming releases at Comic Con this year. Warner Brothers utilized Comic Con to launch films like Sherlock Holmes, 300, and Sucker Punch, but aren’t buying up booth and exhibition space this year. Walt Disney Studios marketed Tron: Legacy last year, but has no plans for the convention in 2011. Likewise, DreamWorks (Megamind) will be nowhere to be found.

The New York Times signals the Comic Con alarm with Sucker Punch, Buried, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, three flicks that failed to reach an audience after being pushed by their studios at Comic Con last year.

Is the entertainment industry leaving Comic Con behind? I doubt it. The reality is that Hollywood’s obsession with comic book properties has yielded some extremely successful releases as well as some unsuccessful releases. But until Hollywood starts coming up with more than one or two fresh big ideas each year, we are destined for a continuous stream of adaptations, comic book and otherwise.

But Hollywood is right to question Comic Con as a marketing opportunity. Comic book fans are tastemakers, but 130,000 fickle attendees do not a successful marketing venture make. I’m glad to see the studios rethinking past marketing mistakes.

What do you think? Should Comic Con return to the good old days of back issue scrounging or is today’s marketing festival the way to stay?

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Las Vegas, NV – Feeling lucky? Kunoichi is set to attend Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas Nevada, June 14-16, 2011. Licensing Expo is the industry’s biggest annual event, leveraging properties and brands to develop merchandise.

Kunoichi is a leading provider of brand and intellectual property development for kids’ entertainment, toys, and games properties. Having helped dozens of major brands by way of award-winning creative and interactive services, Kunoichi is on the look out for new brands seeking a creative boost or just transitioning to new licensing ventures.

“This is Kunoichi’s first year attending, “ says Anna van Slee, Associate Account Director, “and we are excited to talk to new and existing brands entering the transmedia arena. Our armor is well-worn.”

To schedule a meeting, contact Anna van Slee or just visit any Star Trek-themed slot machine, in which case she will find you.

About Kunoichi

A boutique creative, interactive, and animation/video studio, Kunoichi extends brands, advertising, and marketing campaigns across all media – consumer products, television, film, online, mobile, video games, and more.

Kunoichi can be found innovating brands of all kinds, but is well known as a leader in youth entertainment, specifically the toy and game industry. Clients include Capcom, Cartoon Network, Fox, Hasbro, McDonald’s, The Marketing Store, New Balance, Shout! Factory, SouthPeak Games, Step2, THQ, and more.

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Chicago, IL – Is it another Crisis on Infinite Earths or just a paltry Zero Hour? Comic book fans gave cautious greeting to yesterday’s announcement that Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern publisher DC Comics, a subsidiary of Time Warner, Inc., is set to reboot the continuity of their entire DC Universe line in August. A plethora of titles will be cancelled, revamped, and hit stands with #1 issues in August and September.

Unlike competitor Marvel Comics, DC has a history of rebooting. Marvel prefers to gloss over inconsistencies or provide mild retcons (a “retcon” replaces established continuity with new story elements) to perfect problems such as character age, history, and other troublesome elements that pop up after decades of publishing history. Marvel’s own continuity has been going strong since the 1960s when Fantastic Four #1 marked what is known as Marvel’s “616 Universe;” many stories from as early as 1940 are also canonical. Sure, it is problematic that Iron Man’s origins are in the Vietnam War, making his 35-year-old appearance ridiculous (Marvel fixed this problem by creating retellings placing Tony Stark in a more timely conflict that appears to be the Gulf War). Sure, Captain America returned in the 1950s, prior to his famous Silver Age revival in 1963, but that is easily explained away as an imposter or imitator. Sure, some of the X-Men are about 25 years old and have been so since 1970. Marvel’s stories reflect the time period and current events of the world in which they take place, allowing for a multitude of adventures, but slowing down their characters ages, establishing perhaps that only 10 years have passed since Marvel’s 616 Universe commenced. Figuring out all those little (and big) contradictions could drive a full force of editors nuts, so Marvel just leaves a lot of it open to the reader to figure out.

DC Comics, on the other hand, rebooted their entire comic book line continuity in 1985 with Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s classic Crisis on Infinite Earths. DC was the first publisher to create a “shared universe” for their characters. Late in connecting all the dots, the DC Universe was almost immediately mired in contradictions and paradoxes. DC briefly solved the problem by creating an infinite number of worlds for their stories to take place on. A story doesn’t jive with continuity? It happened on Earth 3, silly. Don’t you know your multiverse? Of course, Crisis was only partially successful; in 1994 DC Comics did a less substantial reboot with their Zero Hour event. While DC Comics has the richest publishing history of any major comic book publisher, the DC Universe is much younger than Marvel’s.

Any determination of who has the better method of shared universe publishing is purely based on opinion. One method does not lead to more innovation or originality than the other. Marvel chooses to publish additional shared universes, such as their Ultimate Comics line, fulfilling a gateway for new readers. The only consensus between the two publishers is that storytelling needs to be refreshed every once in a while.

In August, DC Comics is set to reboot continuity yet again in a controversial move accompanied by day-and-date digital release. Day-and-date release means periodicals hit retailer shelves on the same day that the same content becomes available for purchase by electronic means. The announcement has been met with frustration and anger from many fans, retailers, and creators. For now, the nature of DC’s reboot is mostly a mystery. Fans have some tantalizing hints, such as a new Superman series by Grant Morrison and a Justice League series by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, but DC has yet to put many of their cards out on the table.

Is a rebooted universe a bad thing? I don’t think I have enough information yet to make that decision. It is certainly exciting! Do all previous stories become exit continuity? Are there any drastic changes to characters? Are the new stories a step up from the old ones? The best part of the announcement is also the most difficult for many industry leaders to accept. DC plans day-and-date release of their periodicals by electronic means, cutting out the necessity for comic book retailers. Retail specialty shops have been the lifeblood of the comic book industry since the mid 1980s, but it is a tough reminder for the industry that comics used to be sold to a much wider audience via newsstand distribution. Newsstand interest subsided (I would argue that the audience stopped buying via newsstands) and the best gateway for new comic book readers disappeared. Digital distribution offers the best chance for comic book readership to grow. Will retailers suffer? Down the road, I forecast a continuing decline in retail-based sales, but I am not sure any evidence exists that the current comic book readership will stop purchasing comics at stores and choose to do so electronically. There may even be benefits for retailers, such as new foot traffic for products not available for direct download such as action figures. Electronic distribution will garner a new audience –possibly the massive audience downloading comics torrents every day. I’m excited to see a publisher embracing potential new readership. Free Comic Book Day just doesn’t hit new readers in the way it does casual and obsessed ones. Digital distribution isn’t the enemy.

What do you think of DC Comics plans? Should Marvel follow suit? Is this the end of shared universe or a great step aimed at new readers? Check out USA Today’s article.

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This is pretty priceless – Is My Little Pony scientifically feasible? This classroom presentation attempts to prove that validity of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic using physics.

Check it out here!


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Check out Richard Gottlieb’s post on Global Toy News regarding the continuing decline of same-store sales for Wal-mart. Richard has written a series of posts over the last few weeks briefly discussing Wal-mart’s dismal sales in areas outside of groceries. How does this effect the toy industry?

Check out the article at Gobal Toy News.

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Yep, I know we already announced it. But here it is again, this time with a fantastic, super-awesome postcard. If you are extra good friends of Kunoichi, one of these is already in the mail on its way to you. Collect em all!

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Chicago, IL – Who knew that Chicago is a haven for inventiveness in the toy and games industry? Sure, Kunoichi has always made Chicago our home base, serving a variety of leading toy, game, and youth entertainment brands with content. But our clients are typically stationed on the East and West Coasts. The “Toys In The Hood” exhibit, currently on display at the Elmhurst Historical Museum, is a great reminder that there is a whole history of playfulness in the Windy City.

Lincoln Logs, Radio Flyer, Beanie Babies, Tinker Toys, and more owe their origins to companies and inventors in the Chicagoland Area. “Toys In The Hood” tells the story of these products and many more, focusing on toy and game inventors. Suddenly a legion of talented toy tinkerers comes to light. McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, those tiny treasures that delighted only to quickly find their way into the trash can, are designed and created by McDonald’s vendor The Marketing Store, with two offices in Chicago. Marvin Glass & Associates, Chicago native, can only be described as the inventor of the business of toy invention. Duncan Yo-Yo turned that product into an international craze.  In addition to the history lesson, the exhibit provides an interactive demonstration of the process an idea takes in becoming a toy or game.

A small exhibit, “Toys In The Hood” is nonetheless successful in capturing varying eras of toy and game manufacturing. There are products from the early 1900s on display (Lincoln Logs, Radio Flyer) nearby products from the 1970s (Weebles) and those of my own childhood, the 1990s (Stretch Armstrong’s foe VacMan!). The kids at the museum seemed to be having a great time (particularly in the play room upstairs) but the exhibit is even more fun for adults. Regardless of the attendee’s generation, it is likely they will find a half dozen or so objects from their own toy chest.

Chicago has a fantastic inventor community, and outside inventors are still important to many toy and game manufacturers, but the vast majority of ideation and production occurs at the direction of the manufacturers. In today’s marketplace, manufacturers rarely take chances on a new idea from an inventor, focusing instead on extending the offerings of perennial big brands and signing licensing agreements with dominant entertainment brands from outside toys and games. Sadly, it seems the role of inventors is being marginalized, making “Toys In The Hood” all the more compelling a story to tell. I would have personally preferred a more rounded look at the industry, but it is always fun to take a look at the little guy with the big idea.

What’s missing? Chicago was the home of Tiger Games, now part of Hasbro. Tiger was conspicuously absent, but that makes some sense considering the electronic component to the products. I can’t help wanting to see a few more displays to round out the impressive bunch. The premises of the Elmhurst Historical Museum are confining, and the exhibit makes great use of the space. It’s one of those exhibits I could never get enough of!

What was your favorite childhood toy? What defining gadgets, boxes, and objects will forever mark your youth as a golden age for toys? For me, it started with Star Wars and the Super Powers Collection from Kenner. Kenner, Hasbro, and Playmate started a wave of exciting innovation in action figures in the 1980s-1990s. Somebody build an exhibit about that!

Check out the exhibit through September 18th. Find more information here.

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