Gumby the Movie? DreamWorks Eyes Catalog Of Retro Characters

If the idea of Lassie 3-D or a big-screen version of Where's Waldo gets your juices flowing, then keep your fingers crossed.

DreamWorks Animation (Nasdaq: DWA) is said to be eyeing an acquisition of Classic Media, which owns an extensive portfolio of characters from the annals of retro culture, including Gumby, the Lone Ranger, He-Man and Casper the Friendly Ghost. The New York Times on Monday reported that DreamWorks is far outpacing other bidders with an offer of more than $150 million.

News of the pending acquisition comes amid continued declines for DreamWorks stock, with shares down 8 percent over last year. Classic Media's extensive stable of well-known properties could give the company a significant boost, both in the short term and down the road. Each Classic Media character represents a potential multi-picture franchise, readymade for the company's signature pop-culture-laden CGI blockbusters. And although such characters as Lassie and Richie Rich may not have quite the level of brand recognition among young people as Spider-Man does, reviving them would nonetheless involve less risk than developing completely original ideas.      

For fans of the DreamWorks Animation brand, there is a certain somber irony in its bid to acquire a catalog of pop-culture relics. The company, founded in 1994 out of a merger between DreamWorks SKG and Pacific Data Images, built its name on inventive storytelling and original offerings  such as Antz, Shark Tale and Kung Fu Panda. However, while its big-screen brands typically perform well, they have failed to match the stellar results achieved by its archrival, Disney's Pixar Animation Studios (NYSE: DIS), whose long-running franchises such as Toy Story and Cars seem to defy all laws of diminishing longevity. For instance, a prequel to Monster's Inc. is slated to hit theaters next summer, and Deadline Hollywood just reported on Tuesday that a sequel to Finding Nemo is in development.

DreamWorks Animation, meanwhile, has not seen the bulk of its properties age as well. Even its most successful franchises, Shrek and the Madagascar movies, have probably run their course.

And yet if DreamWorks acquires Classic Media, the road to a big-screen take on Archie Comics may still not be hurdle-free. According to the Times, Classic Media does not control all the rights associated with the characters in its portfolio, which essentially limits what it can charge in licensing fees.

Consider that Walt Disney Studios is currently prepping its Jerry Bruckheimer-produced reboot of The Lone Ranger, which is due to hit theaters next summer. The live-action film, which stars Armie Hammer as the title character and Johnny Depp as Tonto, is the result of an arrangement between Disney and Classic Media. Then again, if it flops, there'll be no stopping DreamWorks from reviving the cowboy hero for a fantastic CGI spectacle.

Depp could still provide the voice. 

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