The 90-minute Thomas & Friends: Kings of the Railway the Movie won’t be playing in theaters ... ; it will be a direct-to-DVD [animated] release Sept. 17 through Lionsgate, as part of a deal with London-based HIT Entertainment, which was acquired by Mattel in 2011.
It is part of a multimillion dollar promotional push by the big American toy maker to reposition Thomas the Tank Engine -- a 67-year-old print and video franchise -- to make it more of a household brand name that can compete on TV and video and on toy store shelves with its other long-running toys like Barbie and Hot Wheels.
Already a franchise estimated to be worth more than $1 billion -- with a related series Thomas and Friends airing on PBS Sprout -- the effort will include similar promotional events built around the movie in 46 U.S. cities over the coming weeks. ...
Along with the movie, there will be a digital app with games and clips that lead back to the revised Thomas and Friends website. There are also about 40 new items, including Stephen, one of several new trains that will hit toy stores including Toys R Us, Target and Walmart. ...
Toys and animation have gone together like corn flakes and whole milk for the better part of a century. Plush toys were a factor in keeping Walt & Co. afloat in the 1930s. Toys were what helped make Filmation the biggest animation studio in L.A. during the 1980s. (He-Man and She-Ra were happening, baby! And also, too, selling a sh*t-laod of plastic action figures!)
Comic book live-action and full-bore animation have always been good sellers of merchandise for small frys. Cars might be less than the best of Pixarian movie-making, but billions have been made on toys because Cars I and Cars II rolled into existence. ("Selling toys" was also one of the rationales for producing Turbo the movie and cartoon series.)
So I totally get why Mattel is making new Thomas the Tank Engine movies. It's one of the proven toy franchises, therefore one of the obvious roads to riches.