Happy 40th birthday, Sanrio’s iconic mouthless cat, who its Japanese creators insist is actually a small British girl. Whatever you are, you’re finally getting your own animated feature film.
The Japanese kawaii titan recently created a new American unit — Sanrio Media & Pictures Entertainment, led by Sanrio managing director Rehito “Ray” Hatoyama — to launch the film project, which is expected to cost a hefty $160-240 million to produce and market.
The film is slated for global release in 2019, according to Nikkei Asian Review. The unit is also considering standalone films based on other characters from the lifestyle franchise, which has seen its fair share of Hello Kitty television cartoons but never a dedicated feature film devoted to the character.
It is reportedly the same unit that is overseeing the animated feature based on Sanrio’s Mr. Men and Little Miss characters, whose film rights were granted to Fox Animation in January. That movie’s global release is expected to arrive in 2017 or 2018, a year or two before Hello Kitty’s cinematic debut.
Nikkei reported the moves are perhaps responses to Sanrio’s shrinking overseas operating profit — which declined 14.5 percent to $142 million in its last fiscal year — as well as the increasing market share claimed by products based on Disney’s popular Frozen characters.
Even though its financial and cultural capital are in decline, Hello Kitty is still something of an economic force. Since first appearing in Japan on a purse in 1975, the cute cat-girl with the red bow has brought in billions globally. The character still claims over 50,000 licensed products worldwide, with annual corporate sales consistently averaging over $600 million.
This continuing success is why you can fly out of Houston today on a Hello Kitty-themed Boeing 777, or why the world’s largest Hello Kitty theme park just opened in China. Now, if kitty can only stop getting arrested for street brawling long enough to make a film…