DreamWorks buys rights to 'He-Man,' 'Fat Albert,' 'Gumby,' 'Casper the Friendly Ghost' and other Classic titles

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Image Credit: Everett Collection

There are dozens of pop culture references that could be used to start this story.

We could go with a Fat Albert-esque question: “Hey, hey, hey… guess who just bought a huge portfolio of classic kids’ titles?”

And answer it He-Man and She-Ra style: “DreamWorks Animation… has… THE POWER!”

Or there’s the Lassie route: “What’s that, girl…? A company called Classic Media found a bunch of family entertainment characters down in a well? And now they’ve all been scooped up by Jeffrey Katzenberg?”

On Wall Street, they’re just saying it straight: Classic Media, an entertainment firm that has been amassing rights to a huge library of beloved-but-languishing family-friendly characters since 2000, was acquired today by DreamWorks Animation, which paid $155 million to own the titles. (Michelle Kung of The Wall Street Journal first reported the sale Sunday.)

Think of DreamWorks Animation CEO Katzenberg as the ultimate collector who just bought someone’s massive toy box on eBay.

In a peculiar quirk, the deal now puts DreamWorks Animation directly into business with Walt Disney Studios, Katzenberg’s old home and current rival. One of the characters owned by Classic Animation is The Lone Ranger, which was licensed to Disney for Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer’s upcoming western adventure, due in theaters July 3, 2013.

Classic Media co-CEOs Eric Ellenbogen (a former Marvel Entertainment chief) and John Engelman (an executive with Broadway Video) founded the company to acquire characters that previously enjoyed strong followings but had fallen out of the active pop-culture zeitgeist. They will remain in charge of the newly branded DreamWorks Classics division.

The nearly 450 titles in Classic’s rights portfolio include Gumby, Pat the Bunny, Dick Tracy, Lamb Chop the puppet, Where’s Waldo?, and the old superhero Shazam TV show.

Classic had a longstanding partnership with Jay Ward Productions, which made the Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle, and Dudley Do-Right cartoons, and the DreamWorks Animation deal means Katzenberg and chief creative officer Bill Damaschke will also have access to those and several other companies’ characters, including:

– The Harvey Comics catalog, including Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Wendy the Good Little Witch, and Hot Stuff.

– Filmnation’s cartoon shows He-Man, She-Ra, and Fat Albert.

–  the Rankin/Bass animated holiday specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.

Since DreamWorks Animation didn’t buy these rights to let the characters languish on a shelf, fans will likely see these characters return in new movies and TV shows, as well as home entertainment and digital releases, consumer products, and theme parks.

Classic Media didn’t let the characters lie fallow either, so some of its titles, such as The Lone Ranger, have already been licensed for active projects. Last year, Relativity Media announced it was developing a movie based on the Classic Media character Voltron, about a group of giant, robotic tiger vehicles that form a massive intergalactic warrior.

DreamWorks Animation itself previously licensed content from Classic: It is producing an animated feature film based on the time-travel cartoon Mr. Peabody and Sherman, due in late 2013 with Modern Family’s Ty Burrell voicing the genius canine.

Assorted other pre-existing deals and partnerships will occasionally limit what DreamWorks can do with some of these properties, and existing agreements will remain unchanged. But as the license holder, the animation studio can now work to capitalize on these various projects in new ways.

Have a look at Classic Media’s full catalog here. Which characters would you like to see DreamWorks Animation resurrect?

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