Disney to leverage licensed characters

Plans Pooh film, new Mickey Mouse property

Disney is moving on a new Winnie the Pooh hand-drawn animated theatrical release, and it's also creating two primetime TV specials starring "Handy Manny."

The announcements are planned for Tuesday at the Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas, where execs also will discuss plans to pump more enthusiasm into the world's largest licensed character franchise: Mickey Mouse.

That effort, said consumer products chairman Andy Mooney, could include classic footage of an animated Mickey mashed up with contemporary Disney properties, with the resulting creations running on the Disney Channel.

"Through extensive research with kids, we found they actually love the original Mickey Mouse property," Mooney said.

As for Pooh, the movie's planned release for spring 2011 will come six years after "Pooh's Heffalump Movie" was largely panned by critics while earning just $18 million at the domestic boxoffice.

Pooh, though, is the world's second-biggest licensed character franchise behind Mickey Mouse, according to Mooney, hence, a renewed focus on the property that will include merchandise and books.

On the "Handy Manny" front, one TV special is set for this year and another for next, and a new 20-episode short-form series called "Handy Manny's School for Tools" will debut next year as well.

Based on revenue, Disney's consumer products unit is its second smallest, after interactive media, but in the latest quarter it was the fastest growing, mostly because of the company's decision to take back ownership of Disney Stores North America.

Disney's licensing-show event also will feature executives discussing plans for the re-release of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" in 3-D in October followed by "Toy Story 3" next summer.

"Toy Story" merchandise in the works includes a Buzz Lightyear robot that responds to 25 voice commands and a first-ever line of LEGO products based on the film franchise.

Disney Channel entertainment president Gary Marsh will be on hand to officially announce a fourth season of "Hannah Montana." Plot twists will have the character played by Miley Cyrus -- along with her family -- grappling with a decision to move from their Malibu beach house.

Executives also will tout at the licensing show a fifth Disney Fairies DVD and its upcoming hand-drawn animated feature "The Princess and the Frog."

Disney execs also will promote the Oct. 6 Blu-ray release of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Released in theaters in 1937, it was the first full-length animated feature film in history.
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