DreamWorks Launching High-Tech Mall Santa Experience, Reviving 'Felix the Cat'

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In a keynote at Licensing Expo, Jeffrey Katzenberg details plans for diversification — which includes a digitized holiday campaign and DreamWorks Animation nabbing the rights to the silent movie-era feline.

On the heels of the announcement of DreamWorks Television this week, which marks an expansion beyond theatrical animation, DreamWorks Animation has acquired rights to Felix The Cat, a cartoon character that dates back to the silent era of movies.

"Felix goes beyond evergreen status and rises to something even more uncommon, as he is a true icon," DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said Tuesday during his keynote speech at the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas.

Katzenberg indicated Felix will serve as the basis for everything from entertainment to fashion. Katzenberg also announced DreamWorks' DreamHouse, what he calls "a complete overhaul of the Santa experience, utilizing all of the high-tech gadgetry in our storytelling box."

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The high-tech Santa experience will roll out to malls for the holiday, taking the place of the old-fashioned guy in the red suit who talks to kids one at a time. Katzenberg said they have already finalized a number of mall deals for this year.

"Shoppers will be treated to a fully immersive story that will appeal to parents as well as kids," says Katzenberg. "It will be hosted by our characters and include a thrilling four-minute flight on Santa's sleigh to visit the big buy in his home at the North Pole."

Looking back on the first 20 years of DreamWorks, Katzenberg said the lesson is that change is not only good but necessary. "We need to engage customers in a world that is constantly changing," he said. However, the lesson is that  "change is hard. It's not a warm embrace. It's more like being doused with ice water."

For DreamWorks, said Katzenberg, it means that they are no longer an animation company but are a storytelling company. "And we needed to tell our stories in as visually exciting a way as possible," adds Katzenberg. "This required us to stay on the technological cutting edge."

He said the decision in 2009 to produce all the animated movies in 3-D was an example; and now they are implementing a "technological transformation" called Apollo, "an entirely new technology platform for making our films."

He said in the recently released How To Train Your Dragon 2, Apollo "unleashed a whole new level of creativity that is unbelievably exciting for our artists and audience."

Katzenberg also emphasized the importance of international, saying it now represents over 60 percent of their revenue on most movie releases.

He said it started with Kung Fu Panda, which they made because they had a good story. Now they have launched Oriental DreamWorks, a Chinese brand for families that will play in China and be exported around the world.

DreamWorks Animation has also been busy diversifying beyond theatrical movies and beyond animation. He noted they have acquired other groups of classic characters besides Felix, more than 450 IPs from Lassie to Casper The Friendly Ghost and Rocky & Bullwinkle,  as part of their move into TV and online.

They also are creating product for Netflix, which Katzenberg called "the biggest first-run deal in Netflix history." He said they will create more than 300 hours of original content for them.

They also have new global partnerships with Super RTL and Planeta Junior.

Part of that is expansion into theme park attractions around the world, or what Katzenberg calls "location-based entertainment." He noted partnerships already with Merlin Entertainment, Gaylord Hotels and cruise line Royal Caribbean.

Katzenberg said last year DWA "came out" at the Licensing Expo to let the world know they are "serious players in licensing and retail."

Since then they have made a slew of hires to expand that area and launched new initiatives. He said DWA now has "a new type of consumer products organization, one that integrates retail decision-making at the highest levels of the company."

Katzenberg said he doesn't agree with the "Chicken Littles" who have said online will destroy traditional retailing any more than he buys claims digital will be the end of movies in theaters.

"People enjoy getting out and interacting with the world," says Katzenberg.