Local actress, toy company strike deal

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Actress Roma Downey and JAKKS Pacific, Inc. to distribute line of toys for young children worldwide.

By Jimy Tallal

Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu-based toymaker JAKKS Pacific, Inc. announced in late February a deal to manufacture and distribute a line of toys based on the animated multimedia series “Little Angels,” developed by actress and Malibu resident Roma Downey and co-creator Phil Lollar.

The worldwide master toy license allows JAKKS to manufacture, market and distribute a line of toys for preschoolers, toddlers and infants derived from “Little Angels,” a series of faith-based educational DVDs, CDs and books. Downey is best known for playing the angel Monica on the long-running TV series “Touched by an Angel.”

The series revolves around a pair of pre-school twins guided and mentored by eight young angels. The series has been designed to teach the preschool audience practical learning skills like ABC’s and 1,2,3’s, as well as introduce the spiritual, moral and ethical principles of the Bible. The “Little Angels” line of toys will be produced by Tollytots, the infant and preschool division of JAKKS Pacific.

Downey said in a recent interview with The Christian Post that her role in the “Touched by an Angel” series as well as her Irish Catholic upbringing is what gave her the idea for “Little Angels.” The first three volumes of her faith-based educational DVD series from Twentieth-Century Fox Home Entertainment hit store shelves on Feb. 14.

Roma Downey and her husband, television producer Mark Burnett, are friends with JAKK’s Pacific co-founder, President and CEO Stephen G. Berman, “which is how the original partnership developed,” said Carolyn Sutton, Director Public Relations for Tollytots, Ltd. Downey, Burnett and Berman have connections to various children’s charities, and all three are involved with Operation Smile, which raises money to perform surgeries on children with various facial deformities in third-world countries.

Downey and Lollar, a writer, director and producer (“Adventures in Oyssey”), spent the past 18 months developing the animated series through her production company LightWorkers Media. She told the Christian Post that “sometimes you hear of celebrities who have just slapped their name on a product, and this is not that.  I’ve been nurturing it and bringing in a great team to give it life. I’m really excited as we roll out Little Angels.”

The series has turned into a family project, with Downey’s daughter Riley singing on many of the tracks, her oldest son James playing guitar, and Downey herself doing the voice of the mother in the series.

The animated DVD series is based on the lives of preschool twins Alex and Zoe, and the eight Little Angels who watch over them.  Each angel has a name and a distinct personality and strength; and it’s the eight angel characters plus the two twins that will most likely form the basis for the new toy products.

The Little Angels toy line from JAKK’s Pacific will cover a broad range of categories, including dolls and accessories; plush, pre-school, role play, educational and musical toys, games and puzzles, building and construction toys, kids’ furniture, ride-ons and more.  

“The toy line won’t launch until fall 2013, so we don’t have concepts or details of how the collection will shape up as of yet,” said Sutton.

Darryl Wizenberg, President of the Tollytots Division, said in the JAKK’s Pacific press release the company is looking forward to “helping to provide children with real practical skills while teaching core family values.”

JAKKS Pacific, Inc. is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and is generally considered to be the third- or fourth-largest toymaker in the U.S. Its headquarters overlooks Pacific Coast Highway just east of the Malibu Pier. It has previously licensed hundreds of national and international trademarks and brands for the toys it produces, including Hello Kitty, Hannah Montana, Care Bears and Cabbage Patch Kids.

In the past year, it has also successfully fended off multiple hostile takeover bids.