Hollywood Docket: Writer Tries to Reanimate 'Zootopia' Lawsuit Against Disney

Plus, Walmart ends its insurance fight over the crash that killed comedian James McNair and left actor Tracy Morgan in critical condition.
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The writer of Total Recall says Disney stole his concept for Zootopia — and, after his initial complaint was dismissed for not detailing enough similarity between his work and the hit animated film, he's taking another shot at his lawsuit and isn't holding anything back.

Esplanade Pictures opens its amended complaint with a laundry list of Disney favorites that it alleges were stolen.

"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," writes attorney Gary Gans in an amended complaint filed Thursday. "They did it with The Lion King when they copied Osamu Tezuka’s Kimba The White Lion. They did it with Toy Story when they copied Jim Henson’s The Christmas Toy. They did it with Monsters, Inc. when they copied Stanley Mouse’s Wise G’Eye. They did it with Up when they copied Yannick Banchereau’s Above Then Beyond. They did it with the Frozen trailer when they copied Kelly Wilson’s The Snowman. And, they did it with Inside Out when they copied Frederic Mayer’s and Cedric Jeanne’s Cortex Academy, among other sources."

Here, though, the question is whether Disney used Gary L. Goldman’s copyrighted works after he twice pitched, on behalf of Esplanade, a franchise that included "a live-action component called Looney and an animated component called Zootopia."

In July, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald found that Esplanade hadn't shown enough substantial similarity between Goldman's work and Disney's. Specifically noting that a grizzly bear is not the same as a water buffalo, especially when one is unclothed and the other is in an elaborate costume. The judge also noted that he couldn't fully assess the alleged copying because Esplanade "failed either to attach the allegedly infringed materials to the Complaint, or to describe them in sufficient detail to permit the requested analysis."

So, this time Esplanade attached as exhibits Goldman's treatment, a Zootopia DVD and script and a list of similarities in character traits, plot structure and sequence, among other things. The reanimated complaint also points to at least one occasion in which a Zootopia character, fox Nick Wilde, was depicted without clothes and delves deep into the anatomy of the anthropomorphized characters. For example, while Goldman's squirrel protagonist Mimi and Disney's rabbit Judy may not be the same species of rodent, they each "have eyes with pupils which are larger than the rest of the characters in the respective ensembles, connoting innocence or naivetee."

Gans argues that feature films are never created "fully formed" and it's common for a project to come out of the development process with fundamental changes having been made to the initial draft. "Yet the addition of creative input at various stages of a project, which happens en route to every motion picture, does not negate the creative origins of a work or override the rights of the first author," he writes. "However thick the gloss may be that Disney painted over the Goldman Zootopia, it is Goldman who was the original author and creator of the work starting 16 years before the movie’s eventual release." (Read the amended complaint in full here.)

Disney attorney Daniel Petrocelli chalked up the first complaint as the latest in "a long history of plaintiffs coming out of the woodwork after a motion picture has achieved critical and financial success to claim credit — and proceeds — where none is due." When he responds to this filing, there's little doubt his arguments will be equally colorful.

In other entertainment legal news:

— The estates of Truman Capote, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway and Arthur C. Clarke and their publishers just scored a major win in a copyright infringement suit against two authors. In January, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and the estates' trustees Swedish author Fredrik Colting and his Moppet Books over unauthorized children's adaptations of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Old Man and the Sea, On the Road and 2001: A Space Odyssey. A New York federal judge on July 31 granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability on all nine counts of copyright infringement — and flatly rejected Colting's fair use defense. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff has not yet ruled on whether the infringement was willful, and intends to issue a memorandum explaining his decision in detail.

— A California federal court has tossed a nuisance lawsuit arising from the Pokemon Go app. Jeffrey Marder sued last summer The Pokemon Company, Nintendo, which co-owns the Pokemon franchise and developer Niantic after he noticed strangers lingering outside his home in an effort to catch the augmented reality creatures. "The Court expresses concern about the amount- in-controversy allegation in the complaint, which the Court finds to be too conclusory and threadbare to satisfy minimum subject matter jurisdiction requirements," notes U.S. District Judge James Donato on his own motion. The plaintiffs have until Aug. 28 to amend their complaint with facts to show they meet the minimum threshold of $5 million in aggregate damages required under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005

— Apple has settled a dispute over its use of the Jamie xx song "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" in an iPhone 6 commercial. Jerome Lawson, the lead singer in the a cappella group The Persuasions, whose voice was sampled in the song, sued the digital giant in January. He had claimed the use of his voice in the ad violated his right of publicity under California law. The parties reached an undisclosed settlement, and the court Tuesday dismissed the matter with prejudice.

— Walmart has resolved an insurance fight resulting from the deadly 2014 crash in which a truck driver hit a Mercedes limousine bus carrying Tracy Morgan and others, leaving the actor in critical condition and killing comedian James McNair. Both Morgan's and McNair's family reached settlements with the retailer in 2015. Now Walmart and Ohio Casualty Insurance Company and liberty Insurance Underwriters have settled their dispute over who should have to foot the bill for what the insurers described as an "exorbitant settlement." Questions were raised about whether Morgan was at fault for not wearing a seatbelt and whether Walmart adequately evaluated the effect of the crash on his career, which resulted in an effort to depose the actor.

His attorney Benedict Morelli sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement Tuesday about the dispute and the settlement. “I fought these depositions to the end because they were wrong: plain and simple," says Morelli. "We had no dog in the fight. There was no risk that Tracy could have any money clawed back from this settlement. But I refused to allow the insurance companies — after years of collecting high premiums — to intimidate and harass my clients simply because they didn’t want to pay up. At the end of the day, we were successful in blocking the depositions and with this settlement, there’s no chance that Tracy will have to testify on this matter.”

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