Apple Inc. is making news today by offering to sell movies on iTunesthe same day the DVD of the film hits store shelves, as a way fans can take the movie home with them as soon as possible.
Now, Disney-Pixar is coming up with a way fans will be able to take a piece of the upcoming animated film "WALL-E" with them as well, thanks to the newest member of the Disney consumer electronics' family. It's a real world, actual robot based on the lead character of the film.
FYI: WALL-E stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class.
We got a chance to take an exclusive first look at this latest toy, and it is very cool indeed. We'll show it to you on Friday's "Closing Bell," so stay tuned.
So what is this new toy? The technology inside it almost betrays it as a "toy," since it's really a wonderland of innovation: ten motors, sensors, a nifty wireless controller. Chris Heatherly, Disney Toy's vice president of technology and innovation, tells me, "We tried to make him as realistic as we possibly could."
Catch the irony there? Trying to make an animated character as "realistic" as they possibly could. In short order, they succeeded. The robot will go on sale in the fall at Toys "R" Us, and run $189. More electronic friend than toy, you'll be able to call WALL-E from across the room, and he'll "hear" you, turn to you, and come towards you. Sensors embedded in his shell use obstacle avoidance software so if he starts to run into something, he'll see it, sense it, and back off.
And just like in the movie, this real-world version is loaded with emotions, showing happy, scared, excited, sad. He's even got his own built-in jig that he dances to. His expressive, electronic eyes are tiny little screens that blink and move and contribute to the emotional connection you'll have with him.
The technology has really never been available at this price point before, and also seizes on three key components: A hit movie, big-time innovation, and Disney's historical connection to robotics and animatronics. Look no further than the "It's a Small World" ride to see what I'm talking about.
The new toy also continues a trend at the Magic Kingdom that I first told you about last year: Disney's huge push into consumer electronics, enjoying widespread success with Hannah Montana branded cell phones, cameras and MP3 players, as well as other gear in connection with "High School Musical" and "Pirates of the Caribbean."
All of this electronics merchandising becomes a key way for the studio to extend the brand's shelf-life way beyond theater runs and TV episodes, both of which can be fleeting. This division, populated by "Toy"morrow engineers, is one of Disney's fastest growing revenue generators.
It's a neat gadget, and a a kind of back to the future legacy from Walt Disney himself.
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