Even Babe the clever pig couldn't save the day in this case. Fans of the new hit film will be very disappointed if they try to find a toy version of the barking sheepherding pig or his chatty barnyard buddies.
Universal, the studio that brought "Babe" to the screen a week ago, simply never planned for any toy tie-ins. Although he studio did plan plenty of plush "Casper" toys and "Waterworld" action dolls, "Babe" and its success took the studio by surprise. So Universal has been scrambling to find last-minute toy tie-ins.
Universal's senior vice president of business development, Linda Berkeley, said in a statement: " 'Babe' is a very special property, which we have always believed needed to find its own audience. We currently have Hasbro on board as our lead plush toy licensee, and 'Babe' will be featured in [an upcoming] JC Penney catalogue."
But those toys, unlike the distinctive movie pig, won't bark or resemble the talking, industrious pig. They will be existing, generic stuffed pigs hastily put into "Babe" packaging.
"It's really too bad they didn't make toys for this movie," says Fabian Rolon, manager of the Toys 'R' Us in Burbank. "If this movie really takes off, we are going to hear about it. They gave us plenty of Casper toys."
"Let's face it, this film seems to have caught Universal off guard," says Gordon Armstrong, a marketing consultant and head of The Entertainment Marketing group. "They have a very good marketing department, but with a film like this, a marketing person over there should have taken it on as a labor of love and really pushed for it. If you're good at marketing, you should be able to determine what a film like this can do. Do you have to have a critic tell you it's a sleeper hit?"
But Johnny Friedkin, a spokesman for filmmaker George Miller, who produced "Babe," says Universal's marketing staff did the best job they could. "Universal went to the Toy Fair [in New York] in February, but we didn't even have enough footage for them to really show to [toy licensees]. If I was a licensee, I wouldn't have put up any money for something I couldn't see.
"This happens more often than you think. Remember [1977's] 'Star Wars'?" Friedkin says. "I was at [20th Century] Fox at the time, and they had absolutely no merchandising. That film was such a surprise hit, they didn't have a clue about what they had. It was so embarrassing. They were giving out gift certificates at Christmas for toys being rushed into manufacturing.
"It was the complete reversal of [1967's] 'Doctor Dolittle'," he added. "That movie was such a flop for Fox, but they sure planned for a hit. They had 16 albums recorded to sell. You can still find Dolittle dolls around."
But Friedkin, like Gordon, doesn't believe that it's too late for "Babe" tie-ins.
"Believe it or not, people are already talking about a sequel," he says. "People [are] calling it: 'Pork Fiction,' 'Jurassic Pork,' 'Porkahontas.' They could always have a toy line if there was a sequel" or a spinoff TV series.
And for the video release, Gordon says, "they could easily build a promotional program with a food franchise. What would be more perfect than a family food farm pack at ol' McDonald's?"