Disney Accused of Stealing 'Zootopia' From ‘Total Recall’ Screenwriter

Posted 2017/03/23 0 0

A veteran screenwriter filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday accusing Disney of stealing his idea for the hit animated film “Zootopia.”


Having taken the Oscar for Best Animated Feature this year and brought in more than $1 billion globally at the box office, Zootopia is now in a very different type of arena, the courts. Gary Goldman, an established screenwriter with credits that include Total Recall and Big Trouble in Little China, filed a lawsuit in federal court this week against The Walt Disney Company, alleging the studio’s 2016 hit Zootopia was based on his own project, also titled Zootopia.

“Although The Walt Disney Company rigorously enforces its copyrights, it has developed a culture that not only accepts the unauthorized copying of others’ original material, but encourages it,” Goldman alleges. “Instead of lawfully acquiring Goldman’s work, Defendants said they were not interested in producing it and sent him on his way. Thereafter, consistent with their culture of unauthorized copying, Defendants copied Goldman’s work.”

A Disney spokesman flatly rejected the claim.

“Mr. Goldman’s lawsuit is riddled with patently false allegations,” the spokesman said. “It is an unprincipled attempt to lay claim to a successful film he didn’t create, and we will vigorously defend against it in court.”

In 2009, Goldman was working with Disney executive Brigham Taylor on a project called Blaze. By that time, Goldman had further developed his Zootopia project and pitched Taylor on his idea. Goldman gave Taylor copies of his character descriptions, illustrations, and treatment, and Taylor said he would approach the studio’s animation departments to review the project.

According to Goldman, shortly thereafter, Disney put into development its own Zootopia project, but did not compensate Goldman for any of his work.

To prove a copyright claim, a plaintiff must show ownership of the work claimed to be infringed upon, substantial similarity between the protected work and the infringing work, and that the defendant had access to the protected work. The guild registration could prove ownership, and the pitches to Hoberman and Taylor could prove access. Most copyright cases, though, hinge on whether works are “substantially similar.”

Goldman claims that both the “Goldman Zootopia” and the “Disney Zootopia” address the themes of prejudice, self-definition, and whether individual goals can be obtained in a diverse society, using the metaphor of diverse species.

Goldman hired an animator to develop characters, which he alleges are strikingly similar to those in Disney’s “Zootopia.”

In interviews, “Zootopia” director Byron Howard has said that the germ of the film was planted in 2010, when he and Nathan Greno, his “Tangled” co-director, pitched Disney Animation boss John Lasseter on several ideas involving talking animals.

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