Elvis Presley once sang ‘Bright light city gonna set my soul, Gonna set my soul on fire’, and he really wasn’t fibbing.
Why? Because this year’s Licensing Expo in Las Vegas took place during the city’s biggest heatwave in years (it smashed the daily record when temperatures spiked to 46°C).
But away from the boiling heat, the bright lights and the endless slot machines, Mandalay Bay hosted a raft of licensors and licensees (and a few of those pesky press folk), each either touting or hunting for brands they believe will pave the way to consumer product glory.
The big hitters were out in force, showcasing brands that are already making waves in toy town. Warner Bros showed off a raft of toy deals for its DC slate, Rovio showcased designs for upcoming Angry Birds theme parks while we spoke to eOne about its heavily anticipated PJ Masks toy line.
Elsewhere, Trolls is already DreamWorks Animation’s biggest and most expansive consumer products effort to date, and if the firm’s remarkable stand didn’t indicate the studio’s high hopes for the brand, the surprise appearance of Justin Timberlake during the company’s Entertainment Celebration presentation did.
It also evoked the most surreal moment of the show, 1,000 licensing execs donning Troll wigs for a selfie with Timberlake.
Alongside an exciting TV slate (including Voltron and Guilllermo del Toro’s Trollhunters), it was next year’s big screen outings The Boss Baby and Captain Underpants that properly excited both film fans and licensees alike.
Elsewhere, Fox showed off a replica of one of its The Simpsons stores. The firm is opening a fleet of them across Asia, and Sandra Vauthier-Cellier, SVP of consumer products EMEA for Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products, told ToyNews that it’s open to exploring pop-up The Simpsons stores in London.
We were also given a sneaky glimpse of Fox’s Son of Zorn (pictured, right), a sitcom from the guys behind The LEGO Movie that blends live-action with animation. It follows an animated warrior from a faraway island in the Pacific Ocean who returns to Orange County, CA, to win back his live-action ex-wife and teenage son. It sounds strange but it looked fantastic and it will be interesting to see which opportunities licensees snap up around it as it hits TV screens later this year.
A stop by the Hasbro stand also revealed that having enjoyed success on both the big screen and the small screen, the toy firm is now looking to conquer the stage by teaming up with the Araca Group to develop Monopoly into a Broadway musical.
The first in a series of stage projects to be announced, all that is known at the current time about the Monopoly musical is that it’s not going to be about people playing Monopoly, so that’s a relief.
There was just as much fun to be found in some of the smaller stands, with many niche brands setting their sights on launching toys.
Mensa has signed a top-secret toy deal with ‘a major player’ (more on that soon), Pennzoil, the US motor oil brand, is looking to spill into the toy space with a die-cast partner while Pink Key is looking at extending the Slush Puppie brand into toys and games.
Elsewhere, indie horror film producer Charles Band told me he is looking to launch toy lines inspired by a range of his cult movies including Puppet Master, Gingerdead Man and, brace yourself, Evil Bong.
We also had a raft of slightly more mainstream movies sign toy deals at the show. Mattel has signed on for Fast & Furious toys, there’s Baywatch figures on the way from Funko and Playmobil made history with its first ever licensing deal – a partnership with Sony Pictures for a Ghostbusters (the original) set.
One of the most interesting chats we had while in Vegas was with the trade magazines Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, both of which are already launching official products including headphones and apparel.
So who knows, maybe we can launch a licensing push for ToyNews next year? If JLS can get away with doing condoms, I’m sure we can get away with ToyNews Monopoly or a new line of Barbie dolls inspired by the team.
On second thoughts, there’s probably more chance of seeing an Evil Bong LEGO set.