My Little Pony Trots Out Big Fun for Girls - and Adults

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When it comes to epic entertainment, girls are finally getting their due.

Girl power is a huge draw at theaters: The "Hunger Games" movies have earned more than $1.5 billion in theater grosses and another $297 million in U.S. DVD and Blu-ray sales for producer Lions Gate (LGF), according to "Divergent," starring Shailene Woodley as a rebel leader fighting against an oppressive authority, earned $266 million in worldwide grosses despite awful reviews.

But the battle goes beyond teens and tweens. Young girls want adventure too, and no company is cashing in on the trend more than Hasbro (HAS) and its megahit franchise, My Little Pony.

The Toy That's Spawned a Movement

"It's enormous," comic book artist and writer Katie Cook said during an interview at Denver Comic Con. "I signed 12 copies for a 9-year-old boy yesterday, and we got into a debate about one of the characters. In less than two years, it's become [comic book publisher] IDW's best-selling stuff."

In November 2012, IDW sold an estimated 86,400 copies of the first issue of "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" to retailers, making it the 90th best-selling comic book that year. Only issue 100 of "The Walking Dead" sold more among independent titles -- and that book beat everything else, with more than 350,000 copies sold.

On screen, Hasbro Studios has aired four seasons of the animated TV show to its distinct channel, The Hub. Netflix (NFLX) has every episode available on-demand, plus several related specials. Millions of girls and adult men -- uber-fans known as "bronies" -- are tuning in and then buying toys to extend the experience. Hasbro's sales of girls merchandise rose 26 percent last year, surpassing $1 billion for the first time. Category sales rose another 21 percent in the first quarter.

Bye-Bye, Barbie?

In an April call with analysts, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner talked about the strength of the company's brands aimed at girls: "The girls business across the board is very strong. We're really seeing that both My Little Pony core as well as Equestria Girls as an additional line is very positive to the brand and additive overall," he said.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%In the meantime, the invitation for Mattel's (MAT) most famous playmate, Barbie, seems to have gotten lost in the mail. Worldwide sales of Barbie products have declined by double digits in three of the last four quarters, including a 14 percent drop in the most recent quarter -- the same quarter in which Mattel started selling a Barbie modeled after Tris from "Divergent."

Mattel's stock is down close to 13 percent over the past year versus a near 19 percent gain for Hasbro over the same period.

The message? Entrepreneur Barbie needs a new round of funding. Or at least something else to engage girls who'd rather follow the adventures of Fluttershy and her pony pals.

Girl power is alive and well, no doubt. But sometimes, a little safe, smart fun is all it takes to unleash a blockbuster.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Netflix at the time of publication. You can follow him on Twitter @milehighfool. The Motley Fool recommends Hasbro, Lions Gate Entertainment, Mattel and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Hasbro and Netflix.

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