The Top 7 Product Placements in Animated Films

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It’s weird enough in live action, but these secret ads get even more unsubtle when someone has to animate it all…

There’s a million reasons not to see the Minions movie, but my personal gripe is that I’ve seen enough of them already. No matter how good the movie is, or how much money it earns, The Minions movie have clearly set another even more obnoxious record… in advertising. And yet, as annoying as all of that is, we’re going to use the space below to showcase something similar, that’s somehow even more obnoxious (see the headline!).

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Though nothing this insulting, thank God.

Now, cartoon characters hocking brands in commercials is hardly new, but product placement within cartoons doesn’t happen all that often. Actually, television has some clearly defined regulations against such things in children’s entertainment, and while films may not, doing so can be a tricky proposition. The great thing about animation is, when done well, it’s kinda built to last forever, seen by generation after generation. And nothing would date a movie more than an ancient Pepsi logo plastered next to an animated fox or a talking deer all in the name of making a quick buck. Plus, most brands (I imagine) would demand some authenticity, and that kind of accuracy can’t always be easily adapted to every art style… would you like to see why?

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The Flintstones have been hocking products for longer than they’ve been making cartoons. But this ain’t what we’re talking about.  

Look: I’m barely making any judgments here. In fact, I’m so numb to it that I literally do not notice product placements these days. Infusing live-action films with purchasable merchandise, subtle or otherwise, has become so ubiquitous it doesn’t even register unless it’s wagged in my face for a minute straight. But in animation? It may as well be written in fire across the sky!

DOESN’T COUNT: Toy Story – Mr. Potato Head

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Let’s get this one out of the way because I don’t wanna see anyone calling it out in the comments. Mr. Potato Head has been a toy since 1940 (back when the potato was sold separately) and is on of Toy Story’s most beloved characters. But if legend is to be believed, Pixar asked to include him and not the other way around. That would be around the same time Mattel/Barbie famously turned Pixar down until the second movie got made.

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I honestly believe what we’re looking at here was included organically, as specified by the writers and artists, and not via paid product placement. What’s my proof? Look closely at his eyes. Toy Story’s Potato Head is based on a retro’ 80s/early ’90s model of the toy containing two individual eye components. It’s part of a gag in the movie, yet at the time of release, Mr. Heads toy eyes consisted of single eye component (with two eyes) and still has primarily for two decades… So there? Whatever, let’s not mention it again, agreed? We need to move on to actual commercials.

7. Bee Movie – Cinnabon

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Aside from being one of the weirder career moves made by a post-sitcom Jerry Seinfeld, Bee Movie is otherwise known as that one Dreamworks Animation film without sixteen sequels and a spinoff TV show. Not that any filmgoer ever asked for a follow-up, mind you, yet it’s still bizarre we never saw another one considering Bee Movie seemingly had no trouble landing co-financing.

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Before you go heaping Better Call Saul with a praise over any pastry related corporate sponsorships, please give a nod to Bee Movie for blazing that sickeningly sweet trail, with Cinnabon used as a very, VERY specific reference to the greatness humanity can achieve. I wish I was joking. I mean seriously, look how much work was put into recreating that box and the caked on frosting.

6. The Chipmunk Adventure – Honey Nut Cheerios

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As I’ve detailed several dozen times this year without provocation, The Chipmunks Adventure is way better than it should be. It’s unbelievably well animated, relies on almost zero parody, and instead of the usual excruciatingly high-pitched cover songs (though there’s still a few of those), Alvin and company perform several stellar original jams. But the money for that kind of production has got to come from somewhere, so why not a bee’s cereal?

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Just like the rest of the movie’s “better than it should be” vibe, the level of detail on this box of Honey Nut Cheerios is ridiculous. You can even see the goddamned bee! For further proof that this is a paid product spot, note that these two images take place within seconds of another and the box of cereal magically teleports across the kitchen in order to receive more screen time. This is animation, people! Stuff doesn’t get accidentally left in frame.

5. Oliver & Company – Coca-Cola, Ryder, USA Today

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Sure, the 1980s VHS clamshell case that contained Oliver and Company probably stored enough Duracell battery and Tropicana juice box coupons to choke a Wall Street paper shredder, but there was an even more sinister corporate synergy hidden within the tape itself…

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Okay, that’s probably a bit of an overstatement. The House of Mouse’s retelling of Oliver Twist starring Billy Joel and a bunch of feral pets is special not just for being one of the few Disney films set in the (then-)modern day, it’s also the only theatrically released Disney cartoon production with (what looks to be) paid product placement. Now… Oliver and Company’s New York setting can excuse some of that. YES: There are/were massive Coke and Sony ads in Times Square, so I understand why that’s represented in the movie.

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But USA Today? I can think of about half a dozen other publications, even ones that have survived the culling of print media and exist today, with the word “New York” on the masthead, let alone, I dunno, something actually based in Manhattan in the 1980s. For the record, USA Today is headquartered in Virginia. Oh, and that Ryder truck figures in way too prominently. Remember: That could’ve been any truck. Only one requires that much yellow paint, and yes, I’m willing to bet someone paid for it.  

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Monkeys, mice, and Adam Sandler await your revulsion on the next page.

20 thoughts on “The Top 7 Product Placements in Animated Films

  1. Mother of god, I forgot how grossly blatant those ‘Eight Crazy Nights’ ones were. As if I needed more reason to loath Sandler…

    1. I have never seen 8 Crazy Nights (and never will) so this article was my first introduction to the fresh hell of an animated Sandler and how his corporate whorish-ness invaded an entirely new medium.

  2. Thanks for posting this. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Oliver & Company that I thought I might have imagined all the product placement. Turns out it was a lot more than I remembered, since the only parts that stayed with me were the Times Square shots.

  3. Foodfight! may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I have a habit of watching terrible, half-finished CG practice test films made by ameture hobbyists with no budget or talent, and Foodfight! is below a lot of them in quality alone. If you aren’t hip to the YouTube community, it’s become a bit of a Kung-Pow!-esque tradition to do a full commentary for it, and for good reason: it’s a fantastic mess.

  4. Wow, it’s almost as if movie executives greenlit these terrible, TERRIBLE films just to get that sweet endorsement cash.

  5. i was enjoying the article until i got to food fight, thanks chris!
    anime also does this a lot, i find it quite jarring when you see product placement in something thats animated.

  6. In a fantastically imaginative world like Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, all non-fantasy electronics are Sony hardware.

  7. I do remember the California Raisins in their original clay-mation form singing motown songs from when I was very little. Sad to see they were resurrected for that…
    I really thought Adam Sandler would stand atop this list… AMAZED that someone could actually out do him in lazy product placement to the max. You cannot defend him anymore, you just can’t.

  8. I’ve never seen Foodfight! and was barely aware of it’s existence but I almost want to watch it now. That animation is the stuff of nightmares.

  9. wow… I don’t know why I have never noticed or even thought about product placement in animated films. I mean DUH, why wouldn’t it be in there? I don’t know how I had my blinders on all this time to all these obvious things in my beloved animations.
    I love the hand drawn honey nut cheerios box in the Chipmunk Adventure.
    OMIGAWSH, I gotta’ go to my little sisters apartment and we HAVE to watch this together, like NOW! it’s been soooo long. X3
    love this article. shocking how in total denial I’ve been.

    1. Well, that was sort of the point of this article. Product placement is so noticeable in animation it rarely ever happens. When your medium thrives on caricature, exaggeration and heightened reality, a boring ass real-life product takes a steaming dump on cartoons’ entire reason for existing. The Lego Movie being a notable exception…

  10. This was a great list. Probably one of my favorite Top 7’s in recent history. No idea why, but the whole thing tickled and intrigued me so much.

  11. I think I may have to pass if Foodfight becomes a Monday Night Movie. I like you guys, but my doctor warned me that if I take one more viewing of Foodfight to the gut, I’ll die. It can’t be helped.

  12. I HAVE to see Foodfight. My body is ready. Also, Adam Sandler will be visited by the ghost of Foot Lockers’ passed. Oh wait, this is a Hanukkah movie? Nevermind than.

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