Disney embraces Pooh for animated feature

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Walt Disney Studios has a new Winnie the Pooh hand-drawn animated theatrical release in the works, and it’s also creating two primetime TV specials starring the main character of the animated series “Handy Manny.”

The announcements are planned for Tuesday at the Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas, where executives also will discuss plans to pump more enthusiasm into the world’s largest licensed character franchise: Mickey Mouse.

That effort, said consumer products chairman Andy Mooney, could include classic footage of an animated Mickey mashed up with contemporary Disney properties, with the resulting creations running on the Disney Channel.

“Through extensive research with kids, we found they actually love the original Mickey Mouse property,” Mooney said.

As for Pooh, the movie’s planned release for spring 2011 will follow by six years “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie,” which was panned by critics and earned just $18 million at the domestic box office.

On the “Handy Manny” front, one TV special is set for this year and another for next, and a new 20-episode short-form series called “Handy Manny’s School for Tools” will debut next year as well.

Based on revenue, Disney’s consumer products unit is its second smallest, after interactive media, but in the latest quarter it was the fastest growing, mostly because of the company’s decision to take back ownership of Disney Stores North America.

Disney’s licensing-show event also will feature chief creative officer John Lasseter discussing plans for the re-release of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” in 3-D in October followed by “Toy Story 3” in summer 2010.

“Toy Story” merchandise in the works includes a Buzz Lightyear robot that responds to 25 voice commands and a line of LEGO products based on the film franchise.