Yabba Dabba Doo! New `Flinstones' Movie Is a Rich Quarry for the Toy Industry

Article excerpt

BARNEY and the inhabitants of Jurassic Park had better look for a large rock to take cover. Another cutesy purple dinosaur is ready to thrust himself into the grabby hands of America's children. Dino of Bedrock and the whole Flintstone family - including a Fred doll that yells "Wilma" - is coming to a store and movie theater near you.

Yabba Dabba Doo.

Toyland is still in the Stone Age, thanks to the power of licensing, which allows toymakers to cash in on the heroes of pop culture and the movie industry to cash in on consumer spending.

"Our industry has been driven by licensing - movies and TV shows - for about 15 years," says Stephen Sandberg, a toy distributor from Foxboro, Mass., who was among those attending the American International Toy Fair in New York.

The phenomenon has reached such critical mass that Fairchild Publications this month launched a magazine, called index, to cover the licensing industry. "Everything drives each other," says Larry Carlat, index's editor and publisher. "The movie drives the products and a well-planned and integrated marketing approach helps drive the movie."

Growing up in today's interactive media environment, a child's view increasingly is shaped by the faces he or she sees on television, at the movies or on video. That's why the hottest toys of the moment so often are spinoffs of those familiar characters.

Whether parents approve of all the cartoons, videos, video games, comic books or movies their children are taking in, they can't control the flow of images that pop out of billboards, school supplies or even McDonalds' Happy Meals.

At the 10-day trade show last month, 22,000 retail buyers looked at more than 120,000 toys that will find their way onto store shelves sometime this year. Retail sales of toys were relatively flat in 1993, growing by only 1.6 percent to $17.5 billion, according to Toy Manufacturers of America, the industry's major trade association.

So a number of big-name toymakers looked eagerly to Hollywood for help in this highly competitive business.

"There are lots of classic toys that sell, year in and year out," says Wayne Charness, Hasbro's vice president of corporate communications, ticking off classics like Mr. Potato Head, Tinkertoys and G.I. Joe. "But licensing is what comes in and helps you with a new toy."

"The Flintstones," the film being produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures, will kick off the summer movie season. It is scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend.

Based on the 30-minute animated Hanna-Barbera TV show that premiered in 1960 - the first prime-time animated series - the film stars John Goodman as Fred Flintstone, Rick Moranis as Barney Rubble and Elizabeth Taylor, who makes an appearance as Fred's mother-in-law. …