Paul Frank’s Julius Swings for Primetime

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Julius the monkey is an unparalleled soccer player, (as seen above) and like others in his league, is now preparing for his Hollywood debut.

Saban Brands, the Haim Saban business that last year bought Julius and his creator, Paul Frank Industries, has begun pre-production on a Christmas television special for 2012, featuring Julius and his buddies. Touted as combining the heart of Modern Family with the spirit of The Simpsons, the holiday special is being produced by Mike Reiss, Emmy-winning producer of The Simpsons.

Since Los Angeles billionaire and entertainment mogul Saban bought Paul Frank Industries last year for $50 million, the quirky, wide-mouthed sock monkey’s star has been steadily rising.[more]

A promotional blitz starts this week as Julius, in a custom Winnebago, embarks on a nationwide Academy of Awesome tour, dropping in on Graceland in Memphis, with stops at malls and music festivals. The tour will wind up in New York, as Julius makes his debut as a giant helium balloon in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

“Julius is ready for the big time,” said Elie Dekel, president of Saban Brands, to the Los Angeles Times. “It is very unusual that a design-based brand, versus a media-driven brand, would be able to achieve this amount of reach — on its own merits.” 

Saban certainly knows what kids want, having earned his millions in children’s television in the 1980’s and 90’s with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers and X-Men, before selling his Fox Family Worldwide channel (co-owned by News Corp.) to Disney in 2001 for a personal profit of $1.6 billion.

Saban has big plans to expand the beguiling monkey brand into an array of new products, including games, mobile apps, gardening gloves and pancake mix (promoted with in-store appearances), adding to the plethora of Julius books, stationery, eyewear, apparel and home décor items already available — not to mention the TV programming.

“With this holiday special we aim to establish Paul Frank as an entertainment brand with a transmedia approach that will build, enhance and extend brand affinity across our key demos,” commented Elie Dekel, President of Saban Brands.

Julius is no Curious George. He was born as a hipster/surfer icon in the Huntington Beach garage of Paul Frank Sunich and Ryan Heuser in 1995. Launched into California’s surf culture, he quickly gained quasi rock star status. 

Today, while there are only standalone four Paul Frank stores in the US, and a partnership with Target for Julius pajamas, sheets, backpacks and T-shirts, there are more than 20 retail outlets abroad, and Julius’ reach is global to the tune of an anticipated $300 million in international retail revenue in 2011.

Popular in Europe, the brand is spreading to Asia, Vietnam, where Paul Frank bikes are the rage, and in China, where a new store opens monthly, its mobile app about making virtual cupcakes is a popular iTunes app in the country.

The target audience is kids and their parents, and the TV plan includes producing Julius animated specials for Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Easter.

“There needs to be a thread of consistency,” adds Heuser in the LA Times, connecting the TV plans to the bigger Julius brand, “the same reverence for nostalgia, and that tactile feel and look of being hand-sewn and hand-done.”

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