Why Disney's Big This Holiday Season -- and Next Year, Too

Los Angeles Premiere Of Walt Disney Animation Studios'
Rich Polk/Disney/Getty Images

There will be plenty of companies vying to be big winners this critical shopping season, but it's hard to find one that's as well positioned as Disney (DIS).

The family entertainment giant turned heads last week when the National Retail Federation's annual survey showed that Disney's "Frozen" franchise has unseated Mattel's (MAT) Barbie as the toy purchase of choice for girls this holiday season. While 17 percent of parents of young girls plan to buy a Barbie product, 20 percent will be snapping up Frozen merchandise. This is the first time in 11 years that Barbie isn't on top of the annual survey.

Disney has been milking the multimedia success of "Frozen" since last November's multiplex debut: It has parlayed the animated feature with its catchy soundtrack into theme park attractions, traveling shows and even a stint on ABC's "Once Upon a Time" prime-time television series. However, the real gold mine will come this year in the form of a fresh slate of playthings featuring the movie's princess sisters, Anna and Elsa.

Barbie rang up $1.2 billion in sales for Mattel last year. One can only imagine what "Frozen" will do this time around.

Getting the Last Laugh This Season

It's not just "Frozen" that's heating up for Disney.

"Big Hero 6" was last month's second-biggest winner at the box office. Ringing up $167.2 million in domestic ticket sales placed it just behind the third installment of the "Hunger Games" in November. More than 20 million people saw the movie in the U.S. last month, and the seasonal timing of the release should translate into superhero-size sales of its related toys.

That's not all. Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" is this year's biggest theatrical winner, taking in $331.9 million at the domestic box office. Disney spent roughly $4 billion to acquire Marvel five years ago, and the comic book giant is the gift that keeps on giving.

Guardians of the Galaxy isn't as prolific as X-Men, Spider-Man or The Avengers, but it's just another Marvel property that's turned into cinematic gold. The movie will hit the DVD, Blu-ray and digital delivery market on Dec. 9, making it a logical holiday gift for teens and older audiences.

It's a Small World but a Big Opportunity

Disney doesn't mess around. It rang up nearly $4 billion in consumer products revenue in its fiscal year ending in September, 12 percent ahead of the prior year. A lot of that comes in the form of licensing revenue, so the actual sum of Disney-branded consumer products is actually a lot greater than that.

As big as Disney may seem now, it's only about to get bigger. Disney has also spent billions to acquire Lucasfilm, and its first big payday will come next December when "Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens" hits theaters as a no-brainer blockbuster of 2015. You can be sure that a new wave of related toys will accompany its holiday release.

There's also the possibility that Disney's classic princesses will get a boost come April when "Cinderella" becomes the latest of Disney's timeless features to be updated in a live-action theatrical film.

There's going to be a lot of Disney in Santa's gift bag, and that bag is only going to get heavier next year.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Mattel and Walt Disney and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Want to make 2015your best investing year ever? Check out The Motley Fool'sone great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.