LOS ANGELES • For the first time, Hello Kitty is coming to Hollywood. But will a character who never talks finally get to?
Warner Bros said its New Line division and producer Beau Flynn had persuaded Sanrio of Tokyo - after a five-year courtship - to entrust its US$6-billion (S$8.1-billion) cat to the studio for a feature film.
Sanrio, which created Hello Kitty in 1974 and turned her into a merchandising superstar, has never brought the character to global movie screens. That has allowed her to remain silent: Hello Kitty has no mouth.
Well-known intellectual properties of all kinds - even apps and emojis - have become coveted by movie studios like Warner as a way to compete with a free-spending Netflix and a supersized Disney.
The film deal also involves related merchandise rights and possible spin-off projects. Terms were not disclosed.
New Line can use roughly 20 Sanrio characters, including the popular Gudetama, a disgruntled cracked egg, and My Melody, a rabbit who wears long ear warmers.
Bringing the whiskered character to global movie screens as an attraction for both children and adults, as planned, will require Warner and Sanrio to walk a tightrope. Films require characters to evolve. But if she changes too much, fans will yowl.
Licensing experts say Kitty's popularity - she appears on 50,000 different products in 130 countries - involves simplicity: Because the character does not emote, people of all ages and nationalities can project themselves on her.
A talking Kitty was once created for a pilot cartoon series in Japan, causing fans loyal to the cat's mouthless look to become apoplectic, a Sanrio designer told The New York Times in 2010.
Her identity has prompted other uproars, including when the curator of a 2014 Hello Kitty exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, citing pushback from Sanrio, pronounced that the cutesy character was not actually a cat.
"I was corrected - very firmly," curator Christine R. Yano said at the time. "She's a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She is never depicted on all fours."
The Internet melted down. Sanrio eventually clarified its position - she is "a personification of a cat", the company said - and world order was restored.