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When it comes to the retail world, Speed Racer whomps WALL-E

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When it comes to the retail world, Speed Racer whomps WALL-E

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WALL-E sure gets around, doesn't he?

Late last month, this cute little robot was spotted at the Philadelphia Science Museum. This past weekend, Pixar's latest star made an appearance at the Miami Science Museum. And this Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class unit was recently seen rolling around Seattle Center, where he then seemed drawn to the Space Needle.

Copyright Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But you know where you won't find WALL-E? At least not in the quantity that Disney / Pixar officials would have liked? The toy aisle at your local mall.

Oh, sure. If you go over to Amazon.com and search for WALL-E toys, you will discover some very fun items. But the meager assortment of WALL-E merch that's currently available for purchase simply pales in comparison to the huge amount of "Speed Racer" -related stuff that you'll find out there.

So why can you find more Mach-5s in the toy aisle than WALL-Es? Intriguingly enough, the continuing popularity of "Cars" merchandise was actually a factor here.

Andrew Mooney, Chairman of Disney Consumer Products,
speaking last Tuesday at the Licensing International Expo.
Photo by Jeff Lange

As Andrew Mooney -- Chairman of Disney Consumer Products -- explained last week at the Licensing International Expo, " ... there's only so much shelf space out there. And this time around, we had a really tough time selling WALL-E against Speed Racer."

Remembering how well the "Cars" merch sold (and continue to sell), most of the bigger toy manufacturers opted to go with the better-name-recognition, more-boy-friendly "Speed Racer" franchise instead. Which then forced Disney & Pixar to go with much smaller companies like Thinkway Toys in order to get "WALL-E" merchandise out on store shelves this year.

Which is kind of ironic. Given that -- back in 1995 -- when the Mattels & the Hasbros of the world turned up their noses at "Toy Story" ... That's what Disney & Pixar had to do too. Recruit Thinkway at that year's Toy Fair to quickly churn out Buzz Lightyear & Woody toys. And in 8 short months, this Canadian-based toy company was able to do just that. Which is why Thinkway wound up with two of the hottest toys of the 1995 holiday season.

Copyright 1995 Thinkway Toys, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Now before all you Disney / Pixar fans out there start crowing about how stupid all of these toy companies were to go with "Speed Racer" instead of "WALL-E" ... Know this: Even though the Wachoski brothers' big screen version of this Japanese import crashed and burned at the box office (To date, this Warner Brothers release has only earned $42.5 million domestically. Which is less than a third of what it cost to actually make this movie), all of the "Speed Racer" -related merchandise has been selling very well. Those miniature Mach-5s have been flying off of store shelves at WalMart and Target. At least for the short run.

Which you'd expect would be somewhat disappointing to someone like Mooney. But in his role as Chairman of Disney Consumer Products, Andrew has to take the long view. And in the case of WALL-E ... This is a character that Mooney genuinely believes audiences will eventually connect with. More importantly, by the time the DVD version of this film goes on sale in November, Thinkway will finally be shipping the really cool  WALL-E tie-in toy ...

Copyright 2008 Thinkway Toys, Inc. All Rights Reserved

... the Ultimate WALL-E to stores.

Check out this video that the nice folks at Gizmodo took of this toy robot during Thinkway's presentation at last month's Maker Faire. With its 10 motors, infrared sensors (Which allows this miniature WALL-E to detect objects and steer around them) as well as its voice activation and follow-me mode ... This is -- in essence -- a tiny, stripped version of the Living Character Initiative WALL-E that's currently working the science museum circuit.

Be warned, though: The one thing that's not tiny & cute about the Ultimate WALL-E is its price tag. This Thinkway Toy (which -- FYI -- isn't supposed to ship 'til the Fall) has a suggested retail price of $189.99.

Would you pay that much to have your very own version of WALL-E wandering around the house? Or -- given how typically tough kids are with toys -- would you just prefer to spend your holiday dough on sure-to-be-discounted-by-then "Speed Racer" merchandise?

Your thoughts?

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  • I think this is gonna be a rough Christmas for those of us who remember how hard it was to get a Buzz, then of course the whole Talk & Yodel Jessie saga (thanks Art!).

    They *can't* be this shortsighted again, can they?  Even Pixar films that haven't done as good as we hoped kick *** in merchandising.  

  • The reason why "Speed Racer" merch. has been "flying off the shelves" is simple: Because the movie was such an ENORMOUS and TERRIBLE bomb at the box-office, stores that had expected (as had the film industry) otherwise were stuck with LOTS of stuff related to a film most people NEVER saw, so they did the sensible thing: They DISCOUNTED it massively to get RID of it and get over their bad bet on the film. That's not unusual, but it's hardly a great statement about the movie's popularity and/or its merch. value. Let's remember that times are tough, gas is pricey, families are cutting back, and when a gift for Junior's birthday can be a whole LOT cheaper if you buy the discounted (and often rebated re. the discount BY the wholesaler, too, in cases of serious burnouts like "Speed Racer") toys...well, let's wait 'til the total figures are in on net-net merch value to the studio/producers of the film once all it said and done, shall we? And don't be fooled by "units sold" until you see the DOLLARS those units brought in, especially if compared to predictions at the full retail most stores never, ever were able to peddle them at except in the first few days or a week after the bomb opening.

    In the history of merch tie-ins to movies, btw, the BIGGEST "bomb" or "mistake" of all still goes to "Babe"--the studio never, ever anticpated ANY merch. potential and there were NO "authorized" or "official" Babe toys or gimmicks when the movie opened and was a huge "sleeper" hit. The folks at "Gund" had a stuffed pig that vaguely resembled the one in the film, however, and got oodles of sudden orders from toy vendors for that item which was prominently displayed to attempt to salvage the deal for the stores.

  • I have no idea where you get the idea that Speed Racer stuff is "flying off shelves." It isn't. Stores are having to discount the toys like crazy, and they have already made their way to Big Lots. I was at a Big Lots store in downtown Los Angeles the other day, and they had a whole asile full of Speed Racers merchandise - plenty of Mach 1s.

    Speed Racer toys flopped just as big.

  • Another factor that hasn't been mentioned yet: WALL-E hasn't been released yet, and its advertising campaign, aside from a few commercials, seems kind of small.  When the movie comes out, I've got a feeling demand for merchandise is going to grow pretty quickly.

  • Yet another start of the "Pixar will flop" articles.  YAWN

  • The fact that R2-D2 continues to sell well, and the robotice version is still quite popular, I expect that Wall-E will fly off the shelves, and also have a long life after the film. The robotic unit looks awful good as a big ticket Xmas item for the kids (especially if you can get him to deliver the DVD to the kid that morning).

  • Part of the blame here lies in the lack of publicity to this movie.  Beyond Wall*E and his "girlfriend" (I think it's Eve but the lack of my certainty of her name speaks volumes,) what other characters are in the movie?  I'm sure there may be other characters but honestly I don't know, maybe there aren't.

    Kids don't want to play with just one toy, they want a bunch of different characters to interact with.  The Cars movie had this in abundance.  Ratatouille did not and suffered because of it.  (There is only so much you can do with just Remy and Emile and a few pots and pans.)  Speed Racer has the advantage of different car styles and color schemes to interact with whether kids know if the cars have names or not.  Essentially it's just like playing with Matchbox cars, you don't even need to know that they are from a movie.

    Beyond a remote-control Wall*E maybe it's good that no one is offering "toys." This movie seems more suited to video games anyway.  I can't envision a Wall*E plush, can you?  We shall see.

  • I bought a "Cube N Stack WALL-E" from Toys R Us. That same store had hundreds of Speed Racer items which no one was buying.

  • Ok, I just looked at the official Wall*E website.  I guess I should have done that first.  So there appears to be about 12 main characters, some of them quite creative.  But 8 of them appear to be "hovering" characters, meaning without wheels or the ability to stand upright on there own.  When that translates to play-ability among toys that equals two words:  Tough Sell

  • We just started getting Wall-E merchandise at the parks and it is FLYING off the shelves.  We can't keep stuff in stock!  Disney is gonna have a lot of "I told you so's" for toy companies when all is said and done.  And the buzz on the movie from screenings?  Speed Racer is gonna be roadkill the first 24 hours this picture is out!

  • Ultimate WallE will be mine.....oh yes... I wasnt that impressed with the larger $10 WallE figures...too generic with the colors.  The individually packaged, smaller WallEs  are much better in my opinon as they look more like he does in the film...little dirty..little scuffed.

    If Ultimate WallE comes as "clean" as he is shown in the photo....he may be getting a make over...


  • craigdvc, I must be reading the article wrong.  Can you please point me to the exact spot in the article where Jim says this?

    I see where he's saying toy buyers - the company ones, not the consumers - are making some short-sighted choices and repeating old mistakes by not ordering up Wall-E merch, but I can't seem to find the Pixar sucks stuff.

    If you could point it out to me, I'd appreciate it.  Thanks.

  • Given that the premise of the movie is that the Earth has been trashed by too much consumer junk, maybe it would be a bit hypocritical to have real-world store shelves filled with Wall-E products?

    Then again, Pixar would probably be clever enough to brand the real toys as being from the movie's "Buy N Large" company, to help make sure we all *got* the moral.

    FWIW, my six year old has been pining for Wall-E for months, and has no use for daddy-the-anime-fan's collection of hastily marked-down "Speed Racer" cars from Target.

  • Pudge the Fish,

    Yes, I can envision a Wall-E plush:


    They've already begun selling them at WDW.

  • "Yet another start of the "Pixar will flop" articles.  YAWN"

    Nice troll - did you see the article three or four down from this one on the main page?  About WALL-E's potential box office, with a POSITIVE tone?

    The site was excessively negative towards Cars and Ratatouille, but it looks like that trend might reverse this year.  Might - time will tell.

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