Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) is joining forces with DreamWorks Animation (NYSE: DWA) for an interesting experiment. If it works, the retailer will get a stronger hand in merchandise tie-ins and a jump on its rivals, while the studio might gain a new way to promote its films.

DreamWorks' movie How to Train Your Dragon will enjoy an exclusive licensing and promotional arrangement with Wal-Mart. The pact even gives the retailer a say in designing the merchandise that will accompany the film's release. Roughly 95% of Dragon-related goods will be available exclusively in Walmart stores, although the eventual DVD release won't be part of that arrangement.

Wal-Mart will go all-out to hype the film. It's erecting splashy displays of 20-foot long Viking ships in some stores, and co-financing movie theater ads that show a dragon stopping by its local Walmart. In other words, the retailer will help create a bunch of buzz for the movie. If Dragon roasts all rivals at the box office, Wal-Mart hopes that folks will snap up a ton of related merchandise at its stores.

Movie tie-ins and licensing deals are nothing to sneeze at. Disney (NYSE: DIS) excels at this, as does its new acquisition, Marvel. The halo of merchandise surrounding blockbuster, kid-friendly franchises like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Disney princesses, and so forth can bring in big bucks.

DreamWorks may miss out a little bit by partnering exclusively with Wal-Mart to the detriment of other retailers, but Wal-Mart's gigantic size and massive customer base surely makes that risk worth DreamWorks' while.  

Of course, backfires happen. Although the Lions Gate (NYSE: LGF) film Akeelah and the Bee enjoyed critical praise, it performed poorly at the box office, making Starbucks' (Nasdaq: SBUX) hand in marketing it a wasted effort back in 2006. Then again, Starbucks didn't have nearly as much skin in the game as Wal-Mart does with Dragon.

Shareholders might fear that if the movie flops, Wal-Mart will have wasted a lot of money and time on the effort, and marooned a flotilla of unsold Viking-related products on its shelves. We'll have to see whether the company's massive size gives it the same advantage in marketing films that it now enjoys in moving merchandise.

Does this plan for big-screen success put fire in your belly, or are you wishing someone in Bentonville had slain this beast before it got started? Let us know in the comment boxes below.

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Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.