Copyright: jagcz / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: jagcz / 123RF Stock Photo

The Walt Disney Company claims there was no monkey business in creating the Oscar-winning animation film Zootopia and has moved to dismiss writer Gary L. Goldman’s lawsuit for copyright infringement.  Goldman, an author whose credits include Total Recall, Next and Minority Report, filed suit in March and alleges that Disney copied the themes, settings, plot, characters and dialogue of Goldman’s live action film and television series titled Looney which Goldman pitched to Disney in 2009.  Goldman also claims Disney’s purported exploitation of Goldman’s work constitutes unfair competition and breached an implied contract with Goldman that any story ideas or components submitted to Disney would remain confidential.

Goldman alleges that he is no stranger to Disney.  According to Goldman, in 2007, he was hired by Disney to write a screenplay for a Marvel project then known as Blaze.  Goldman claims that Disney executive Brigham Taylor oversaw this assignment and also received Goldman’s subsequent pitch of Looney in 2009 at which Goldman says he orally presented the themes, plot, settings, synopsis, and provided copies of character descriptions and illustrations for the proposed franchise.  Goldman asserts that Taylor at first reportedly demonstrated interest in Looney, but Disney ultimately declined the project.  Goldman now alleges Disney copied his work in the 2016 blockbuster Zootopia.

In response, Disney told the Hollywood Reporter the lawsuit is an “unprincipled attempt to lay claim to a successful film [Goldman] didn’t create.”  Specifically, Disney says the components and characters of Zootopia bear little similarity to Looney.  For example, Zootopia’s female lead character is a rabbit named Judy Hopps dressed as a police officer, whereas Goldman pitched a naked squirrel named Mimi.  Additionally, the male lead of Zootopia is a fox named Nick Wilde who wears a green dress shirt and tie, while Goldman’s male lead is a clothesless hyena named Roscoe.

On a broader note, Disney argues the differences between Looney and Zootopia are self-evident.  Looney is a live action work featuring a human protagonist who creates a cartoon world of animals while Zootopia is a wholly fictional world solely populated by animals.  Additionally, Zootopia’s dialogue runs approximately two hours yet Goldman could only identify one sentence of Zootopia that matches the dialogue in Looney.  Finally, Disney noted Goldman’s failure to attach a copy of Looney’s synopsis, treatment or copyright application to his complaint, essentially foreclosing the court’s ability to conduct a side-by-side comparison of the works.

Goldman seeks to enjoin Disney from producing derivative works based on Zootopia, including further display and distribution of the film.  Goldman also seeks actual and punitive damages.  Given that Zootopia reportedly grossed over a billion dollars at box offices worldwide, it seems unlikely that Goldman will settle on the cheap if his complaint survives dismissal.