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Disney is being drawn into a new venue in its legal battle with a writer who claims Zootopia is based on his ideas, after a complaint was filed Tuesday in L.A. County Superior Court.
Esplanade Productions first sued Disney in March, claiming Zootopia ripped off the work of Total Recall writer Gary L. Goldman. He says he pitched his idea for a franchise, also called Zootopia, to Disney in 2000 and 2009. Disney has argued that the works aren’t substantially similar.
U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald in November agreed, dismissing Esplanade’s copyright infringement claim with prejudice. “The similarities between Goldman’s work and Zootopia are not many or ‘striking’; they are few, random, and superficial,” he writes.
Much of Fitzgerald’s decision focuses on the fact that Zootopia is set in an anthropomorphized cartoon animal universe while Goldman’s work focuses on a live-action animator who created a series called Zootopia about the teenage struggles of zoo animals.
Fitzgerald found the claims for breach of implied-in-fact contract, breach of confidence and unfair competition would be more appropriately evaluated by a California judge, and dismissed those claims without prejudice to Esplanade pursuing them in state court. (Esplanade is still pursuing an appeal of the copyright claim dismissal.)
Now a 54-page complaint filed Tuesday is reanimating the fight. (Read it in full below.)
Esplanade claims Disney explored several genres for Zootopia, including film noir, before settling on a buddy cop story and the film is a hybrid adaptation of Goldman’s work.
“Disney adapted the small-town human creator of Zootopia, who goes to the big city to fulfill his wild ambition in the field of animation, into a cartoon character, Judy, who goes to the big city with a similarly wild ambition, to succeed as a cop,” states the complaint. “And, Disney used Goldman’s concept for Zootopia as ‘a metaphor for life and for America,’ where ‘an animal can be whatever he wants to be.’ Thus, Esplanade is informed and believes that Disney did not create its Zootopia from scratch but, rather, used Goldman’s materials as the basis for its movie.”
Esplanade is seeking damages and an injunction barring Disney from using any elements of Goldman’s Zootopia.
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