A movie about a rat in a kitchen may not appear to be the best hook for a high-end merchandising campaign, but Walt Disney Co. is using the upcoming film Ratatouille to expand its move into upscale branding.

The animated Pixar film about a cuisine-loving rat who risks his life to follow his passion for French cooking will debut in theaters on June 29. It will be accompanied by a small but posh merchandising program featuring items that appeal to the gourmet sensibility in adults, while attempting to cultivate a taste for the finer things in children.

Given that so much of the movie is set in a kitchen, it's fairly logical to go from there to a high-end collection, Disney Consumer Products Chairman Andy Mooney said in an interview.

In addition to toys, books, stationery and video games, the program includes bedding, cookware and tableware for kids and adults sold at the high-end kitchen store chain Sur La Table.

For the first time, Disney will offer red and white wines to compliment the film's backdrop, a five-star Parisian restaurant, as well as cheese platters, both from Costco Wholesale Corp.

Carrefour will carry Ratatouille-branded water, tomato sauces, milk, cheese and yogurt.

I am totally confident that everything will sell through rapidly so we'll probably do a higher level of business around the DVD release, Mooney said. I think we're going to have a good year(-long) run with 'Ratatouille.'

Disney has had a better run with luxury goods than Mooney said he expected, although taking the brand upscale was one of his priorities when he took over the division in 2000.

The upscale marketing push marks a different approach for the company, which for decades made its mark using the mass appeal of family-oriented movies, theme parks and related merchandise.

The company does not break out sales from its high-end products or costs related to designing those goods, Mooney said.


Meanwhile, Disney's consumer products division has strengthened its relationships with mass market retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Carrefour and C and A, which Mooney said he believed were destined to become bigger and global, and we wanted to grow with them.

Having a significant presence in mass (market) and having committed to growing with mass (market retailers), we felt that simultaneously we had to go up-market, which is a challenge, he said.

Disney began its push into the upscale market by giving top clothing designers access to the company's archives for inspiration. The result was a line of casual couture, called Disney Vintage, sold at the world's priciest boutiques that later drove the company's mass market apparel sales.

You get influential people who show up (at high-end boutiques) and wear the stuff, like celebrities, particularly in Los Angeles, Mooney said.

But more important, I would argue is the buyers for mass channels show up there ... to look because they figure whatever's happening there is going to be happening in their stores in 12 months or 24 months from now, he added.

Lines of jewelry and home furnishings -- including high thread-count linens, silverware and china -- as well as couture wedding dresses and furniture inspired by Walt Disney's life and era have followed, licensed to category leaders such as Drexel Heritage, or up-and-comers like Kidada Jones and Kirstie Kelly.

Michael Stone, chief executive of the Beanstalk Group, said Mooney was doing a smart thing by positioning Disney at both ends of the price spectrum.

It's a multi-channel strategy, Stone said. Disney is not abandoning the mass market, as a matter of fact, they are mining it, not with a shovel, with earth movers.

No Disney characters appear in many of the luxe products, although designers often draw on color schemes, background art or themes from the company's animated movies.

We very much want to move upscale because we think moving upscale is good for the brand, it's turned out to be better than we anticipated for the business, bigger business than we thought it would be, Mooney said.

Michael Silverstein, a senior partner with The Boston Consulting Group and author of Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer, pegs the total new luxury market worldwide at close to $1.5 trillion.

The segments in which Disney has a presence -- apparel, jewelry, travel and home goods -- account for around $500 billion worldwide, Silverstein said.

Disney is a fascinating brand for core consumers, it has tremendous pull and value, Silverstein said. It is not a luxury by old definitions. It is not for aristocrats only. But it is a brand that the upper- and upper-middle income consume at a high rate.