Which matters more, the movie or the toys?

I’ve talked before about the love/hate relationship I have with children’s toys based off of popular movies and shows. Some of the toys are awesome; saying “toys with commercial tie-ins are bad” is far too broad of a brush. On the other hand, I’ve not been shy about sharing my opinion on the omnipresence of junky little toys *cough*cough*Happy Meals*cough*cough* along with each new feature film. And really, tying in favorite characters with the consumption of junk food is a whole ‘nother topic for another time.

Nevertheless, the reality is that the production of licensed merchandise isn’t just changing the world of children’s playthings, it’s changing media production companies, as well.

Want to learn more? Go read Toy Story 3: The Cash-In over at Times Online. Author Kevin Maher had me right from the intro:

I blame the Decepticons. Although they attempt to destroy humanity in Michael Bay’s Transformers, what they signify to the wider movie-going world is far more sinister. By their presence alone — as living toys in a toy-friendly movie adapted from a toy-tie-in cartoon based on a vaguely innovative 1980s toy — they represent the reductio ad absurdum of mainstream cinema’s increasingly obsessive relationship with, well, toys.

The article runs the gamut from current offerings to the pivotal moment that may have kicked off the current climate of toy tie-ins:

In 1977, when [George Lucas] chose to take Star Wars merchandising profits rather than box-office receipts, he set a modern movie precedent. The merchandising wave that followed peaked with the likes of ET, Batman and Jurassic Park (which famously included a shot of Jurassic Park toys in the Jurassic Park souvenir shop).

(I always knew that Lucas guy was smart.)

The entire article is well worth the read, but if you—like me—are often inclined to think ill of the “mainstream” media spewing its commercialism everywhere, pay attention in particular to this bit:

Becky Ebenkamp of the marketing trade magazine Brand-week, suggests that these same toys might just be the very reason why we get to see films such as Broke-back Mountain and Syriana. “Hollywood studios need to have a movie that’s toy-friendly out there,” she says. “These movies are the ones that carry the studios for the rest of the year. That means they carry the smaller films, and the so-called indie films too.”

In other words, the Transformers water blaster pays for the production of Flags of Our Fathers.

That may make it a little easier to swallow the next time your kid starts begging for some plastic monstrosity you’d rather pretend you didn’t see.

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