Sunday, July 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Big-nose puppy line a charmer

The Tennessean

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From McDonald's to Monopoly, these dogs are fetching a few fans.

They've got soulful eyes, teeny-tiny bodies and humungous wet noses that look ready to reach out and nudge you.

You might have spotted them peering from T-shirts or the stuffed-animal shelves of toy stores.

A collection of unusual puppy photographs that took Japan by storm four years ago has been landed in the middle of American mainstream culture. Known as "Artlist Collection: The Dog," the franchise features more than 70 canine breeds shot with a wide-angle lens, making their heads look huge and their bodies small.

"Who doesn't like a cute little puppy? And when you put it in a perspective where the head is so big and the body gets smaller, it's even cuter," says Al Kahn, chairman and CEO of 4Kids Entertainment, the company that licenses the puppy pictures outside of Asia.

The Dog hit Japan in 2000 as a collection of eclectic postcards. The 100,000-photo library quickly became a franchise, appearing on calendars, T-shirts and other accessories, and pulling in more than $300 million in sales.

The puppy products migrated to the United States over a year ago in the form of clothes and stuffed animals, sold first in department stores and later in mass retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart.

The Dog was even awarded its own version of Monopoly.

The distorted dogs have sold well but have flown mostly under the mainstream radar. Word of mouth and minimal advertising have propelled the phenomenon so far.

"The Dog isn't based on a TV show, so people would only see it if they walked into a retailer," said Carlin West, senior vice president of 4Kids Entertainment.

That started changing this spring when McDonald's put miniature versions of 12 breeds of The Dog in its Happy Meals.

Now kids are wearing the toys clipped to their backpacks and adults are seeing the photos emblazoned on Happy Meal boxes.

With 42 companies planning puppy products — everything from bedding to Christmas ornaments to pet treats to candy — The Dog is getting more exposure than ever.

Retailers say the puppies have proven highly adoptable.

"We haven't seen them just blowing off shelves, but they're a fairly consistent seller," says Tracy Neddo, a manager for Toys R Us, which carries several sizes of plush toys.

"We've got pugs, Shih Tzus, bull terriers, dachshunds, Shetland sheepdogs, beagles, labs."

Although The Dog hasn't incited a frenzy of Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh! proportions, West called its nearly $60 million in U.S. sales "excellent." It may not be all the rage, but The Dog is no flash in the pan either, she believes.

"Puppies never go out of style."

And feline fans, worry not. Keep your eyes peeled for The Cat, which is already in stores in stuffed-animal form.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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