Snow White, Cinderella & Catalogue Of Fairytale Characters To Be Reimagined By Transmedia Firm Elf Labs

Snow White, Cinderella & Catalogue Of Fairytale Characters To Be Reimagined By Transmedia Firm Elf Labs

EXCLUSIVE: Ever wondered what a zombie Cinderella or Snow White in a Dia de los Muertos universe might look like?

A next-gen transmedia business, Elf Labs, is planning to answer those questions by bringing reimagined versions of dozens of classic characters to life.

The LA-based Elf Labs officially launches today after amassing over 400 copyrights and 140 trademarks for some of the most popular characters in children’s literature, also including Peter Pan, Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty.

The company was previously known as Toon Studio but has rebranded and refinanced with plans to create new versions of classic characters.

Deadline hears Elf Labs is building an immersive, cloud-based streaming platform for the characters and will also launch content based on the characters directly on YouTube, bypassing traditional gatekeepers. AI animation and digital distribution tools have developed, with content targeted at all age ranges.

Elf Labs counts DreamWorks alumnus and Beavis & Butthead director Mike De Seve and branding industry titan Bernt Ullman among its team and global tech biz Cosmic Wire as a partner and investor. Company founder Billy Phillips, who initially acquired the character trademarks, is now Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, with his son David Phillips the CEO since 2022. Mark Rowen has been hired as Head of Content and Thomas Gerrit is Head of Partnerships.

De Seve, who is the founder of Baboon Animation, will work with Elf Labs’ IP to develop and produce content, which Elf Labs will then use as a jumping point to strike licensing deals around the characters. “A creative production is only as good as its storyline, and the all-star roster of characters that Elf Labs secured has provided my team with an incredible jumping-off point,” said De Seve.

First up is RoboStars, a series including characters such as Robo Cinderella and Robo Pinocchio “as a metaphor for free will, inspiring kids with the power to reject robotic reactions to internal and external challenges because we all possess the power to create proactive, positive change,” according to Elf Labs.

“Elf Labs’ platform is a multi-patented system designed to incubate, develop, and launch mega IP franchises,” said David Phillips, CEO of Elf Labs. “Combining the world’s most iconic IP with captivating creative and revolutionary technology will allow Elf Labs to truly reimagine entertainment.”

He added that Elf Labs would generally look to release content itself, but admitted “it makes sense to work with other platforms such as Netflix or Amazon Prime,” and was talking to potential partners.

The lineage of the company can be traced back to 1913, when mapmaking business Rand McNally launched book arm Elf Children (later renamed Junior Elf) and published ‘Cinderella’ while growing a library of over 200 titles. After the library was bought and sold several times in the late 20th century, it was acquired in 2012 by Toon Studio, which was led by Phillips’ father Billy Phillips.

A period of court battles followed as Toon Studio began trademarking characters such as Zombie Cinderella around 2012 and 2013. The US Patent and Trademark Office and US Office (USPTO) initially refused a number of applications, but after appeals to the highest level, Toon Studios was victorious.

“My dad founded this company 14 years ago because he came across the Junior Elf book,” said David Phillips. “He saw the opportunity to monetize and build words without going through gatekeepers, so he started trademarking characters over the years.”

As part of the USPTO’s trademarking process, those deemed as competitors such as Disney were given the right to contest the decisions. Toon Studio was ultimately victorious trademarking more than 140 character, which have been on the market for several years since.

Many classic characters are well over the copyright limit of 70 years after their authors’ deaths, while trademarks usually last for around a decade before needing renewal. In recent years we’ve seen seen the likes of Winnie-the-Pooh being repurposed in new guises after they fell out of copyright.

However, David Phillips told Deadline that Elf Labs’ relationship with the major U.S. studios and traditional rights owners was now “great.”

“I’m a big fan of those companies. We’re not trying to ruffle their feathers — that’s not what I mean by not going through the gatekeepers,” he added. “This is 15-year project. We want to take these characters in the future. I see an opportunity in the market — we have the characters and thew history and we have a duty to do it.”

The new-look company has investment from tech firm Cosmic Wire, which is aiding the push into the physical and digital markets. Among Cosmic Wire’s assets, it owns an integrated marketing engine that Elf Labs said can “democratize its characters and stories across millions of channels.”

“Cosmic Wire’s technology allows for a whole new level of immersion into IP, unlike anything that has existed before,” said Jerad Finck, CEO and founder of Cosmic Wire. “Elf Labs’ willingness to push the boundaries creatively and experientially makes them the perfect partner for us to co-create a groundbreaking transmedia storytelling experience.”

Before its official launch, Elf Labs quietly created the ‘Once Upon a Zombie’ book series, which features the Zombie Cinderella, Zombie Rapunzel, Zombie Tinker Bell and Zombie Peter Pan characters. They sold 100,000 copies and won Purple Dragonfly and President’s Awards for young adult and juvenile fiction.

Ullmann, who has helped build the profiles of several stars and companies, will lead on the branding front, beginning with RoboStars. Global consumer product licensing of books, apparel and other merch is planned, while the strategy also includes AI-powered toys, animated and live-action feature movies, and augmented reality experiences.

“I have coordinated thousands of licensing deals and have never been as excited as I am to join the Elf Labs team due to the enormous growth potential for its IP,” says Bernt Ullmann, who will be Head of Licensing. “With access to some of the most monetizable character brands in history, the possibilities are endless.”

Ullmann, a specialist in building global lifestyle brands, is known for work with Jennifer Lopez, singer Adam Levine, rapper Nicky Minaj, FUBU and Phat Farm among others.

Phillips said Elf Labs’ “evergreen brands”, proprietary tech and “agile, nimble” structure mean it could “release content that is both tradition and immersive, which no one had seen yet, quicker than anybody.”

“The characters we’re sitting on have been in public consciousness for over 100 years,” he added. “That’s what lured me back to the family business. We are finally coming out and saying who we are.”

Read More






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *