Gary Goldman joins the ranks of writers and wannabe filmmakers whose copyright claims against creators and studios typically crumble in the face of legal scrutiny. But unlike many of the amateurs who have come before him, Goldman has a lengthy and respected track record in the film industry. He wrote the Arnold Schwarzenegger SciFi film “Total Recall,” and “Big Trouble in Little China.” He produced the Steven Spielberg-helmed “Minority Report” and in 2007 wrote the screenplay for a Stan Lee project called “Blaze.”
Goldman sued Disney and its affiliates in Federal Court through his company Esplanade Productions, claiming the studio rips off artists as part of a corporate practice that has “generated tremendous profits.”
“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,” the lawsuit states, adding: “They did it with Zootopia, too.”
Goldman says that some of Disney’s greatest hits, including “The Lion King,” “Toy Story,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Frozen” and “Inside Out” owe their existence to other works.
Disney denies it.
“Mr. Goldman’s lawsuit is riddled with patently false allegations,” a Disney spokesperson said Wednesday. “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.”
Goldman registered his franchise, also titled “Zootopia” at the copyright office in February. By then “Zootopia” had taken the box office by storm, as one the biggest hits of the summer of 2016.
Goldman says he pitched the project to Mandeville Films 17 years ago. After Mandeville passed, Goldman waited nine years to present the material again, after working on the Disney project, “Blaze.” He says he pitched his franchise to Disney executive Bingham Taylor in 2009, giving him character descriptions and illustrations and an outline of the story. Goldman’s version of “Zootopia” included live-action elements.
Disney passed, but Goldman says its animation company went on to make a derivative and substantially similar animated mystery about a bunny police officer and con artist fox.
“The Disney ‘Zootopia’ copies substantial elements of that cartoon world, calls it ‘Zootopia,’ and uses substantially similar settings, characters, dialogue, mood, pace, artwork, and, although differing superficially, plot points and story structures, to express substantially similar themes,” according to the 37-page complaint.
Goldman says Disney copied some dialogue from his work “virtually verbatim,” and his character designs and artwork.
In side-by-side illustrations in the complaint, Goldman attempts to show that Zootopia’s bunny heroine Judy resembles his squirrel Mimi, and Zootopia’s fox conman Nick resembles his hyena Roscoe. Although the species are different, the characters are “visually similar” and share character traits, Goldman says.
With a worldwide gross of $1 billion, “Zootopia” was the fourth largest box office hit of 2016.
Goldman seeks punitive damages for copyright infringement, breach of implied contract, breach of confidence and unfair competition. He is represented by Jeffery McFarland with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.