Turtle fare emerging from shell

Success of 'TMNT' spurs DVD biz to soup up releases

For some time now, penguins have been the animal of choice in Hollywood. The theatrical success of the 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins" and such animated features as two "Ice Age" films, "Madagascar" and, most recently, "Happy Feet," easily migrated to DVD, spawning all sorts of imitators and piggybackers.

Just this week, MGM Home Entertainment came out with a "Family Fun Edition" of the 1995 film "Pebble and the Penguin."

Are turtles next? With the $25.5 million opening last weekend of Warner Bros. Pictures' "TMNT," the latest film incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the DVD industry could well see an onslaught of DVDs with turtles -- real or animated -- in the starring role.

"Almost any success is likely to start a trend in this business," said home entertainment industry analyst Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research. "This especially holds true in the children's video arena, where recognizable properties or concepts are granted a free pass by players along the pipeline who tend to buy into the theory that it will work if something like it just did."

Indeed, no sooner had the weekend ended than HBO Video issued a news release announcing a new original direct-to-video movie starring Franklin, the Scholastic children's book character.

"Franklin and the Turtle Lake Treasure" will be released May 22, just as the TV show, seen on Noggin, is enjoying a new burst of popularity. A previous direct-to-video movie, "Franklin and the Green Knight," sold more than 200,000 copies, and HBO is hoping for even better results with the new film now that "TMNT" has put turtles back into the spotlight.

Sofia Chang, HBO Video vp marketing, predicts a "reptile phenomenon" in the wake of "TMNT," particularly if the film continues to perform well in theaters.

"Franklin is very excited to become part of America's coolest entourage," she said.

Lionsgate beat HBO to the punch. Two weeks before "TMNT's" surprisingly strong theatrical opening, the studio released the complete fourth season of the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" TV show, which bowed in 1987. The five-disc set includes such extras as a featurette on the Turtles' arch nemesis, Shredder, as well as a "Fresh From the Oven" segment featuring the recipe for "cowabunga" pizza.

The video release is being cross-promoted with the February DVD release of Season 1 of the "TMNT Fast Forward" series, which airs daily on Fox's 4Kids TV programming block and reaches an estimated 1.2 million viewers, according to Lionsgate.

Also in the market is a boxed set of the three original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movies, from New Line Home Entertainment. According to spokesman Josh Sabarra, the trilogy was reissued in June at a new lower price "in anticipation of the (new) feature film."