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MCA Pulls a Rabbit Out of Its Hat : The Firm Acquires Rights to Bullwinkle Cartoon Characters

June 18, 1991|ALAN CITRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocket J. Squirrel are taking their act to Universal City.

MCA Inc., parent of Universal Studios, has acquired worldwide merchandising and theme park rights to the slightly bent Bullwinkle cartoon crowd in a long-term deal with the heirs of creator Jay Ward.

MCA expects to have Bullwinkle merchandise in stores by Christmas. Costumed characters from the show will be added to its Los Angeles and Florida amusement parks, and the company will develop an attraction around the Bullwinkle theme.

MCA declined to reveal the terms. But sources close to the talks said Walt Disney Co., which distributes the 156-hour library of Bullwinkle TV episodes through its Buena Vista Home Video unit, also was in competition for the characters.

Disney will retain the video rights for the old Bullwinkle shows, which reportedly fetched more than $1 million.

Sources close to the talks said MCA viewed the Bullwinkle licensing and merchandising agreement as a way to become more competitive with Disney's cast of cartoon legends.

"It's very difficult to come up with classic characters that have meaning in the marketplace, and these are some that do," said one person familiar with the deal.

Ron Bension, president of MCA's recreation services group, said the Bullwinkle agreement has renewal options into perpetuity. Nearly a year of discussions preceded the agreement between MCA and the Ward's heirs. The deal also includes publishing and promotional rights. Bension said MCA will consider basing a film or television series around the characters.

"We're talking about ways in which we can develop the characters and expose them to a whole new audience," Bension said. "It's another world from when Rocky and Bullwinkle were the pillars of Saturday and Sunday morning television."

Any doubts about the enduring popularity of Bullwinkle, Rocky and others regulars such as Dudley Do-Right and Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale vanished earlier this year when Disney's initial video releases from the old Bullwinkle show flew off the shelves. In March, the Bullwinkle gang held half of the top 10 positions on the Billboard video charts.

The Bullwinkle series ran intermittently, from 1959 to 1973, and remains in syndication. But the show may be more popular now than ever. The satirical edge that creator Ward, who died in 1989, brought to the show has gained it fans among adults as well as children.

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