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For Warner Bros, a 'cinematic universe' built of Lego bricks

Both ramp up promotion for their third film together, The Lego Ninjago Movie

Gregory Schmidt & Brooks Barnes | NYT 

The Lego Ninjago Movie
Poster of The Lego Ninjago Movie. Photo: www.warnerbros.com

and Entertainment seem to be perfect partners: One is a multinational toy company in search of expansion, and the other is a global entertainment giant looking for more content.

But as both ramp up promotion for the September release of their third film together, “The Movie,” some are wondering whether the cinematic landscape is cluttered with too many bricks.

“The Movie” was a surprise smash in 2014, costing about $60 million to make and collecting $469.2 million worldwide. A sequel to that film is planned for 2019. But a related follow-up to the original, “The Batman Movie,” released in February, took in only $311 million, in part because girls were not as interested. And now, a short seven months later, comes “

The stakes are high for Few films on its schedule are more important than “The Movie,” which it sees as part of a continuing “cinematic universe” and a pillar for the studio, with additional original installments and sequels exploring different genres planned for the next decade and beyond.

But is more than just a movie for The brand was introduced in 2011 with a martial-arts themed line of toys and a TV series. anticipated a short life span, but consumer response was stronger than expected, so brought it back in 2014 with new building sets and new seasons of the TV series.

“There is an affinity for the property,” said Michael McNally, the senior director of brand relations for

Still, some industry watchers say the ambitious movie slate, combined with an equally elaborate merchandising push, could end up hurting.

Jim Silver, the chief executive and editor in chief of TTPM, a toy industry website, said the overall market was oversaturated with movie-related toys this year, and children were not making an emotional attachment to the brands and the characters.

“There is less attention span on their property,” Mr. Silver said. “Kids are bouncing from one to another.”

Underscoring the importance of “The Movie,” and headed to Comic-Con International, the annual comic book convention in San Diego, over the weekend to mount a full-court press to woo die-hard fans.

Each morning, hosted a yogalike workout (“for the ninja in everyone”) on a lawn that it billed as “ninjoga.” The studio also flew in several actors who voiced characters in the film — Dave Franco, Michael Peña, Kumail Nanjiani and Olivia Munn — for a presentation that included the unveiling of a new trailer set to Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”

“The key for us is to reach both adults and kids,” Dan Lin, the producer behind the “Lego” movie series, said at the presentation. “How do we reach the broadest audience possible to introduce ‘’”

For its part, planned building activities, autograph signings and the unveiling of life-size models at its enormous booth on the convention center floor. And in a new strategy, also introduced 14 movie-themed building sets for sale at the show, a month before they will appear at mass-market retail stores in August.

It is common for toy companies to promote their hottest lines at Comic-Con with exclusive offerings, which fans line up for hours just for a chance to buy. For instance, Hasbro offered two versions of Optimus Prime from its Transformers line, as well as deluxe versions of Marvel Comics’ Daredevil and Luke Skywalker and his landspeeder. Mattel promoted the coming “Justice League” movie with a limited-edition Cyborg action figure and a Hot Wheels Batmobile, and it offered a two-pack featuring Wonder Woman and Cheetah from its DC Super Hero Girls line.

“We lean into our consumer insights” to give the fans what they want, said Samantha Lomow, senior vice president of Hasbro brands. “The economic model around these items is less about the financial than they are about the fan base.”

has its own exclusive building sets at the convention as well, but the introduction of a retail line at Comic-Con is a first for the company.

“The timing works really well,” said Mr. McNally, creating a slow build for the movie that “stands out and drives buzz.”

All the attention at Comic-Con will help build awareness among influencers and the media, Mr. Silver of TTPM said. “is keeping the brick front and center,” he said.

Still, the questions surrounding the movie percolated throughout the presentation. Justin Theroux, who voices a character in the movie, said that boys 10 and under were “obsessed” with the “Ninjago” line, in part because of the Cartoon Network series “Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu.” “If you are over that age,” Mr. Theroux said, “you don’t know it exists.”

Mr. McNally played down concerns about having back-to-back movies, saying “The Movie” stood apart from its predecessor and was a good opportunity to reach a wider audience.

“That theatrical experience is then shared through a play experience,” he said, and that could result in consumers buying new sets or even playing with old ones.

“For us, the portfolio can benefit from the movie event,” Mr. McNally said, “even if the action the audience takes is to pull out the bricks they have and continue building.”

First Published: Mon, July 24 2017. 22:45 IST
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