What’ll be hot for the holiday toy season? Disney’s Frozen

Premiere Of Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Frozen" - Red Carpet
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Actress Bailee Madison attends the premiere of Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Frozen"at the El Capitan Theatre on November 19, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Photo by Frazer Harrison—Getty Images

The magic of Disney’s “Frozen” is unlikely to thaw anytime soon.

With Christmas less than five months away, toy industry insiders already agree the “Frozen” craze will be a huge holiday shopping season hit for Disney (DIS), toy manufacturers and retailers.

Sales of “Frozen” toys, games, shirts and more could hit $1 billion in the United States alone this year, observers estimate — a staggering sum for gear tied to film released less than nine months ago. And that number doesn’t even include sales of the actual movie through DVDs and downloads.

The brand “doesn’t appear to be dimming in popularity,” said Adrienne Appell, toy trend specialist for Toy Industry Association, joining a chorus of observers that says the film’s merchandise will be one of the top selling toy properties this holiday season. The film’s prominence in pop culture will not only lure children and their parents, but also other gift-giving adults that aren’t as attuned to what’s hot in the toy aisle, Appell said.

Because the movie hit U.S. theaters in late last November, retailers and companies that license Walt Disney products couldn’t fully piggyback off the film’s success in for the 2013 holiday season. But everyone is making up for lost time now.

“Frozen exceeded Disney’s expectations,” said Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of toy-focused website TTPM.com. “Nobody expected this.”

Walt Disney’s animation studio hasn’t had a hit this huge since 1994’s “The Lion King,” and the film’s strength has extended beyond its more than $1.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales. DVD, soundtrack and children’s book sales have continued to soar. Disney knows it has a hit on its hands, and will soon sell “Frozen”-themed juice, yogurt, oral care products and fresh fruit.

“We are excited about the new Frozen line debuting this fall, which will incorporate more musical elements into the products and also includes several new categories to meet the strong demand for everything Frozen,” said Josh Silverman, executive vice president of global licensing at Disney Consumer Products.

The roughly $22-billion U.S. toy industry is also getting a jolt in sales from “Frozen,” growth that has accelerated throughout the year, executives and toy experts say. The popular film brand has already been a bright spot in the latest earnings reports from toy manufacturers Mattel (MAT) and Jakks Pacific (JAKK).

“Frozen” is so hot that toy manufacturers admit they have been struggling to put products on the shelves fast enough to meet demand.

“We’re working very hard to literally chase demand on this,” Mattel Chief Executive Bryan Stockton told analysts earlier this month. “It gets greater and greater every week.”

Jakks Pacific also said demand exceeds supply and the company is gearing up to offer a more comprehensive lineup this fall, including children’s costumes based on the characters for the Halloween season and a snow cone machine. Chief Executive Stephen Berman said the brand should fuel “significant sales throughout the remainder of the year.”

Silver, of TTPM.com, estimates “Frozen” toys could have a wholesale value of $500 million globally in 2014, with up to $300 million of that for Mattel and $150 million for Jakks. By contrast, 55-year-old Barbie’s sales totaled $1.3 billion globally last year.

Most “Frozen” toy sales this year will be for girls, as the story focuses on two Scandinavian princess sisters named Elsa and Anna. But analysts say the popularity of Olaf, a male sidekick snowman featured in the film, should boost sales to young boys as well.

“It reminds me of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and that time frame when Disney movies did well and helped sell products across a number of product categories,” said Needham & Co. analyst Sean McGowan. “This is one of the hottest properties we have seen in toys in over a decade.”

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