Animation is becoming a very attractive business, not only because of the huge revenue compared with the relatively low costs, but also because many animated characters are so beloved that they have achieved iconic status.

Not stopping at making billions of dollars in box office revenue, these animated icons, which have come to life, are gold mines for the entertainment industry.

From beloved on-screen phenomena to follow-up merchandising

On June 30, 2017, the third installment of the Despicable Me animated franchise, featuring the popular Minions characters, hit theatres and earned at least US$1.027 billion worldwide. The franchise’s box office revenue went against critics’ reviews, with the third movie given only 6.3 points from 10 by Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Similarly, the first part got 7.7 IMDB points and earned $546.1 million, while the second installment got 7.3 IMDB points and earned $975 million.

"Many people think it is paradoxical that these movies with rather low ratings score well at the box office, but in fact, seven years since the first installment, the Minion characters have become a household name worldwide through the well-known process of bringing these characters to life from the screen to the real world," according to an article in Rolling Stone magazine.

What famous characters outside the cinema such as the Minions or Japan’s Hello Kitty have in common is the popular culture appeal, dubbed “pop cute-ture,” making them the favourite of the audience right from the first look. "Their specialty comes from appearance, voice and personal attraction as perceived by the audience, and from there, these characters have been brought to life," Rolling Stone added.

The “Famous Author” contest organized by VinTaTa aims to find a cartoon series script revolving around the given character Monta. The contest will officially be receiving script ideas from October 31 to November 30, 2017. Contestants will go through four rounds -- entrance, qualification, filmmaking and reality shows -- to have the best scripts selected. Total prize value is up to nearly VNĐ2 billion ($89,000).

Once established off-screen, businesses in the entertainment industry are well aware of how to exploit the commercial value of their popular characters.

According to David O’Connor, executive vice president of Global Franchise Management and Brand Marketing at Universal Pictures from 2011 to 2015, the company’s consumer products division generated $2.5 billion in sales from Minions merchandise alone.

"From fashion items such as trousers, shirts, hats, headbands or underwear to household items like toothbrushes, bed sheets, carpets, pillows or tissues, the entertainment industry is involving their characters in every aspect of life, as long as the character can step out into the real world from the screen," O’Connor said.

Gold mine theme parks

Universal Studio is still, however, no match for Disney - master of cartoon characters’ commercialization. Walt Disney Company has the highest grossing movies of all time, with the latest being Zootopia, Finding Dory, Moana and other classics.

However, box office revenue from these movies is less than half of what the company earned by offering products and services based on the movies and their characters. In particular, worldwide Disneyland theme parks and souvenir shops contributed a combined $22.5 billion in annual revenue for the company.

According to statistics from, the entertainment industry mogul has nine out of the 10 most visited theme parks, with hundreds of millions of visitors each year. In particular, in 2015, Disney’s Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World entertainment complex in the United States received a record-breaking 19 million visitors, almost matching New York City’s population.

Each of these Disney theme parks come with a lot of subdivisions, complete with cartoon characters from the early days such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck to modern characters such as Elsa the ice queen or Nemo the clownfish.

"Theme parks need to be constantly improved with added characters to maintain their attractiveness and novelty for visitors, while the characters also need a place to live in real life after stepping out of the screen. So, this combination benefits both parties and the most benefits go to entertainment companies like Disney or Universal Studio," continued Rolling Stone’s article.

Thanks to this model, these animated characters have long-lasting vitality and generate huge profits. Homer Simpson of The Simpsons series brought home $12.9 billion in revenue from image sales for Fox Broadcasting Company, Simba from The Lion King also brought in $7.85 billion for Walt Disney Company, while Shrek the ogre helped DreamWorks make $3.92 billion in total.