The outfits are less sexy, the makeup and hair a bit more demure and the heels not as sky-high, but the saucy Bratz dolls are strutting their way back onto toy shelves.
During the last few years, a legal tug of war between Bratz maker
But when a federal appeals court in July overturned the 2008 ruling and ordered a retrial, MGA's outspoken Chief Executive
Updated versions of Sasha, Cloe, Jade and other
popular Bratz dolls began to reappear on toy shelves in recent weeks,
and 10 new characters are scheduled to be released
Yet the road to recovery for financially and morale-weakened MGA, which built its toy empire on the Bratz dolls, is fraught with challenges.
In a recent interview at Larian's
"It's going to take a long time for Bratz to become what it was before because of the damage that's been done," Larian said. "But it still resonates with kids."
At their peak, annual U.S. wholesale sales of the Bratz dolls and related products were estimated to be more than
Getting retailers back on board has been an arduous process, and Larian recalled his frustrations at having to re-pitch a line that had already proved to be a hit among young girls. With continued uncertainty surrounding the brand, privately held MGA is releasing a limited number of different Bratz products this year compared with hundreds in the past.
Those retailers he has persuaded to sell the dolls again — including Toys R Us, Target and
"Literally all of them were hesitant because of the legal issues," he said. "Retailers don't like to get involved with competitors' disputes. I don't blame them."
Longtime fans might be surprised to see the Bratz characters a bit toned down from a few years ago.
Unlike the bare midriffs and tube tops that were popular during the "age of
For example, an earlier version of the Yasmin doll, named after Larian's daughter Jasmin, sports a long, thick mane of Goldilocks-style curls, oversized pink sunglasses and a skimpy gold swimsuit with pink ribbons crisscrossing her slender waist.
In a 2010 version, Yasmin wears a pink baby-doll top
over gray leggings, a fitted navy-blue cropped jacket and studded black
boots. Her earrings are smaller, her lips less
"Sometimes brands can come back and sometimes they can't," he said. "I think that retailers would say it's a safer bet that Bratz will sell better than something that's unproven. But right now, there's no shortage of proven dolls."
That was the case at a Toys R Us in
Even with all the choices, Bratz made an impression on 9-year-old
"They're really cool and they're really fun to play with," the
Executives at several major retailers declined to discuss the specifics of their Bratz orders.
"We evaluate each product on its merits and we
believe the product and the brand has merit, so we definitely carry
it," said Toys R Us Chief Executive
For Larian, seeing the hip dolls back on toy shelves instead of in the courtroom has been "like getting my kids back," he said. But with a retrial set for January, Bratz still has some major hurdles ahead.
The bitter dispute with
Larian has characterized the multi-year saga — which he said has cost MGA an estimated
Larian balked at analysts' suggestions that the two
sides settle by working out a profit-sharing agreement that would allow
MGA to continue making the dolls while giving
"There's too much bad blood," Larian said. "I don't think there's ever going to be a situation like that. They're not who I want to do business with."
Bratz will be put to the test quickly with the all-important holiday season coming up, analysts said, which could set the tone for the company's future plans for the dolls.
"I don't predict it'll soar to the top like it did 10 years ago or that it'll flop. I think my prediction then is sales will be successful," McGowan said. "And that's not something that looked like it was in the cards a few months ago."
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