Mad Libs and Weird Al: A Match Made in Parody Heaven
Penguin Young Readers’ Mad Libs brand is pairing with The Roku Channel and its upcoming Roku Original film Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, for a collection of three downloadable Weird Al stories and a sweepstakes. Both launch September 30, in advance of the November 4 premiere of the parody biopic starring Daniel Radcliffe.
Both brands focus on over-the-top fun and silly spoofs based on existing materials. “In our initial call with them, it just seemed to all of us that Mad Libs and Weird Al had a lot in common,” said Brian Clark, senior editor of Mad Libs, who wrote all the Weird-based stories. “It was like two meteors that were meant to crash and they finally did.”
The film’s trailer generated more than a million views in its first three weeks and is up to almost 1.4 million now. Very early reviews seem to be positive, with a 92% rating on the review site Rotten Tomatoes. While the movie itself might skew too old for some families, Clark said, Weird Al’s entire body of work in general holds strong appeal for kids. “There’s the playing around and the silliness that kids really like,” he said. “They enjoy the comedy and the quirky and offbeat humor.”
The three Mad Libs stories are “Where the Weird Started,” “My ‘Weird Al’ Playlist,” and “Primetime Weird.” Each is connected to a major story beat from the film that fans would expect, while avoiding spoilers. “We have a lot of leeway, being Mad Libs,” Clark said. “If we’re worried that something might be a spoiler, we can just put a blank there and let the user decide.”
Mad Libs continually pairs brand with movies, museums, indie bookstores, Arby’s menus, calendars, and the like, sometimes for printed books for sale and sometimes for free downloads like this. “We want to be everywhere,” said Clark. “If there are any fans that don’t know Weird Al or Mad Libs, we’ll find them with this cross-pollination.”
The sweepstakes gives fans who fill out and share their stories online and tag The Roku Channel (@TheRokuChannel) on both Twitter and Instagram between September 30 and October 5 have a chance to enter a digital sweepstakes on the Mad Libs Facebook Page (@TheOriginalMadLibs). Grand prize winners will receive a Hawaiian shirt worn in the film, as well as a prize pack of 10 Mad Libs titles. Official rules to the sweepstakes can be found here.
Empowering Rebel Girls Through Consumer Products
The consumer products program for the Rebel Girls brand has grown significantly in the past year. New licensees include PlayStories for personalized storybooks; Fashion Angels for craft and stationery products sold through Amazon; Mad Engine for graphic t-shirts available at Target, as well as one Hispanic Heritage month t-shirt featuring Sonia Sotomayor at Walmart; Centric for a line of pajama sets at Target.com; and Jay Franco for bedding. The company has also done a number of collaborations with fashion and lifestyle brands.
“The consumer products are a way to deepen our connection with our audience,” said Michon Vanderpoel, head of book sales, who oversees licensing. “For me, the consumer products program is all about Rebel Girlhood,” she added, explaining that the property’s mission is to empower girls, and part of that is self-identifying as a Rebel Girl. “Licensed consumer products help you do that. They also expand awareness and get us in stores or in parts of the store we may not be in.”
Each year 12 to 15 women are highlighted as part of a company-wide campaign or theme, and most of the products feature portraits of those figures. But there is flexibility. Some products, such as board games or puzzles, need to depict many women beyond the core group, while others might be centered around a theme or a new collection of stories. Fashion Angels’ collection, for example, supports the book Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Black Girl Magic. Meanwhile, a number of products feature the Rebel Girls logo along with an empowering phrase, rather than the art. “It’s not just about the art, it’s about our ethos and our mission,” Vanderpoel said.
Each product also includes an element of storytelling, whether a phrase on a t-shirt, text on package, or a QR code taking the reader to an original story on the Rebel Girls app. “Storytelling is our number one superpower,” Vanderpoel said.
PlayStories’ personalized books feature original stories that repackage content themed to artists, athletes, and scientists. In each story, the reader’s avatar interacts with a historical character who introduces her to other figures from history. In general, Rebel Girls keeps all publishing activity in-house, but it will consider licensing “publishing-adjacent” categories, Vanderpoel said, in cases where it does not have expertise and can reach new audiences through a licensee like PlayStories.
Rebel Girls currently has a reach of 22 million girls and it hope to expand that number to 50 million by 2025. The new licensed products, and more categories to come, represent one way to help achieve that goal. The fifth volume in the Rebel Girls’ Good Night Stories series, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers, will be released on October 4.
Random House Launches New Programs with Key Partners
Random House is launching brand-new publishing programs with three of its long-time licensor partners, Netflix, Disney, and DC Comics.
For Netflix, Random House is publishing books tied to Spirit Rangers, a preschool fantasy adventure created by Karissa Valencia, who is half Mexican and half Chumash. In the show, Native siblings and junior park rangers transform into spirit rangers, protecting the environment and saving their home. The show, which is produced by Chris Nee, creator of Doc McStuffins, launches on October 10, and the first book, a hardcover storybook written by Valencia, releases the next day.
“The show has core themes of family, problem-solving, ecology, and team work, which always sell well,” said Chris Angelilli, Random House’s v-p and editor-in-chief of licensed publishing. “It’s a major initiative at Random House to acquire the rights to new, diverse properties, and we liked that the creator, cast, and characters are all Native. It has an extremely colorful CG animation style. And it’s a series Netflix is very excited about.”
For Disney, meanwhile, Random House is releasing seven tie-in titles for Strange World, an original animated film that releases in theaters on November 23. It is about a family in a “steampunkesque universe,” Angelilli said, which journeys to unknown lands, meeting “really weird creatures” along the way, on a mission to save the world.
“Imagine that Jules Verne made a Disney movie,” said Angelilli. “The animation is really stunning, and at heart it’s a movie about family.” Titles will be in the typical licensing formats: junior novelization, Little Golden Book, two Step into Reading titles, and an 8x8 among them. Next year will come a graphic novel retelling of the story, likely timed to the release of the movie on the Disney+ streaming platform.
For DC, Random House has a new publishing program for the preschool series Batwheels, which airs on HBO Max and Cartoon Network. The first title is a hardcover storybook, Lucky Wheels, which came out in September. This is a format Random House has been including on its lists for a growing number of licensed properties recently. “It feels a little more bookish and gifty, especially at the launch,” said Angelilli. About five titles per season will follow starting in 2023, in formats including Little Golden Books, Step into Reading, 8x8s, board books, and activity books.
“We’re really excited about this,” Angelilli said. “There hasn’t been an animated DC series for preschoolers in a very long time. It’s about crime-solving anthropomorphic vehicles, but they haven’t been self-aware for long, so they’re like children. It also has the core play patterns of vehicles and superheroes.” The Batmobile, the Batgirl Cycle, the Robinmobile, and the Batwing are the main characters, with DC superheroes also making an appearance.
Dynamite is publishing a line of comic books, Garbage Pail Kids: Origins. This takes the property up a bit in age from the middle-grade readers, by R.L. Stine, published by Abrams…. Random House’s new licensees for Richard Scarry include Bioworld for apparel and accessories, Clarkson Potter for stationery and baby books, and Small Planet (Japan) for apparel, accessories, and onesies…. Dr. Seuss Enterprises has licensed its classic properties to AT Games for virtual pinball tables on AT’s Legends Arcade platform…. In the U.K., Caroline Mickler Ltd. added Winning Moves and Bookeez as new licensees for Novel Entertainment’s book-based Horrid Henry; Igloo Books has acquired the rights to CoComelon from Moonbug Entertainment and agent The Point.1888 for a storybook advent calendar; and Studio 100 Media named Macmillan Children’s Books as the master publisher for Vegesaurs…. Dark Horse has secured the license for Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary, as well as the license Usagi Yojimbo, which will be published under the company’s new Dogu imprint…. For older teens and adults, HarperCollins is publishing a companion guide to Cobra Kai, which is in its fifth season. Sony Pictures Consumer Products is the licensor…. Candlewick has licensed David Ezra Stein’s Interrupting Chicken to Apple TV+ for an animated preschool series launching in November.