The Trouble with Shrek
April 23, 2010


It is the holy grail of the toy industry. Finding a property that remains both popular and viable in the marketplace even when there is no media support.

Every year there is a flurry of movie licensing as toy companies scamble to catch lightning in a bottle and, hopefully, find the next Star Wars. Almost every movie based toyline fizzles out either while the movie is still in the local multiplex, or shortly thereafter.

A successful movie is no guarantee of a successful toyline, either. 2009 brought us JJ Abrams‘ new vision for Star Trek as well as James Cameron’s phenomenon, AvatarStar Trek was a solid hit at the box office, and Avatar went on to become the highest grossing movie in history. Both movies had toys. Playmates released a wide range of product for Star Trek, while Mattel did the same for Avatar. Despite robust ticket sales, neither toyline managed to do very well. Star Trek even saw it’s second series get scrapped altogether (which still breaks my heart). Avatar’s second series is hard to find as most stores clearanced out the line.

So, here we are the cusp of another summer movie season. As usual, there’s a bevy of big budget blockbusters waiting to come between viewers and their hard-earned cash.  One of those movies is Shrek Forever After (aka Shrek 4), the (supposed) final chapter in the Shrek saga.

A brief box office history for the franchise:

Shrek (2001) – $484,409,218.00

Shrek 2
(2004) – $919,838,758.00

Shrek the Third (2007) – $798,238,218.00

(grosses from

Shrek has also made the leap to the stage with Shrek the Musical. After a year long stint on Broadway, the production is now touring.

Each of the movies, including the soon-to-be released Shrek Forever After has had an accompanying toyline. What’s interesting is that each movie was licensed to a different toy company. While each movie was a considerable success, again the toys just sort of fizzled out.

McFarlane Toys
handled the first movie. It was their first time as a Master Toy Licensee and they produced several products that were a first for them, like plush.

stepped in for Shrek 2 and apparently handed the line to an intern and released a terrible toyline with products that were so off-model it was just sad.

MGA Entertainment branched out from Bratz and got the license for Shrek the Third and released some solid product that seemed to have nothing to do with the third movie. We got action figures of Shrek, Shrek in armor from his rescue of Princess Fiona in the first movie, Donkey and Puss N Boots and Prince Charming in armor from Shrek 2. Nothing was drawn from the third movie at all.  A real wasted opportunity.

Playmates Toys has signed on for Shrek Forever After and product is just now hitting shelves. Playmates is doing a wide range of toys, but so far nothing like traditional movie-accurate action figures. There’s a series of semi-articulated Swamp Buddies that clock in at 2" tall, and feature very cartoony looks. There’s also a range of 1" figurines released in sets that cover a lot of the World of Shrek.  But, definitely nothing targeting the action figure collector (although, personally, I really dig the look of the Swamp Buddies range).

So, will Playmates be the company that can figure out how to turn this four picture (plus a TV Christmas Special, Shrek the Halls) into an evergreen toy property? Or will it be another one (release) and done toyline?

The jury is still out. Kids are the target demographic, not collectors, so we’re bound to hear a multitude of disparaging remarks online from the collecting community. But will kids and parents respond?

Does Playmates have more ideas up their sleeve to keep Shrek on the shelves? I don’t know, but I hope so.

I think Shrek is one of those rare properties like Star Wars and Toy Story that can keep a toy presence going. It just takes some shrewd marketing and toy design to keep both kids and adults coming back to the well. Heck, I’d kill (well, perhaps just maim) someone for a 4" articulated Shrek line covering all the movies.

Comic book publisher APE Entertainment has enough faith in Shrek that they are launching a comic book series, including a prequel to the new movie that’s due out any week now.

I’ll be watching closely how Shrek 4 does both at the box office and in the toy aisles. I don’t know about you, but I’m rooting for that lovable old ogre.

Jeff Cope
Jeff Cope has been collecting toys and action figures since he was a wee lad growing up in the 70s, and is still waiting to grow out of it. He's been involved in the online collecting community since he first started writing for Raving Toy Maniac in the mid-90s, and is proud to call AFi his online home.
Read other articles by Jeff Cope.





  • demoncat says:

    if done right and they do not do just shrek and donkey in different out fits plus given how even after the movies are done with shrek still seems to be around and in the spotlight. playmates may do well with the toys considering they decided to not do star trek and turtles and just focus on shrek putting all their eggs in one basket buyers will be the determining factor if play mates breaks the shrek curse of toys.

  • Jeremy SpyMagician says:

    Great Blog Jeff!

    It’s ironic that most major retailers put so much faith in Movie based toylines, when they are so short lived. I guess it’s a case of getting those early sales while the movie is hot…?

    I was surprised how well “How to Train Your Dragon” toys at Wal-Mart seem to be doing. The larger action dragons are completely sold out at most stores in my area…

    As for a movie-to-evergreen toy line? The only line I could say has made that leap in recent memory is Disney Pixar “Cars.” And that’s not even an action figure line…

    Mattel certainly seems to be hoping Toy Story 3 will have the same effect, launching Toy Story into evergreen status… Personally I just want a good articulated version of the MOTU inspired bug guy and the Rock Lords inspired guys w/ the changing faces…


  • Brainlock says:

    I actually liked the Shrek 2 toys, even if Prince Shrek (human) looked more like John Goodman in “Kingfish: The Huey P Long Story” than the cartoon character. No, seriously, check it out:

    I had him, human Fiona, and Dragon, but the couple got lost in a move and now I only have Dragon. She’s still MOC, but pretty useless without any other characters.

  • Danny CantinaDan says:

    Thanks for breaking that down, Jeff!
    I kicked myself for not buying into the McFarlane Shrek line. It was only after it had pretty much come and gone that I realized how good some of that product was. Ah well.

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