Disney stole Oscar-winning animation Zootopia, writer claims in US lawsuit

Lawsuit claims Walt Disney Co copied Oscar-winning blockbuster animation Zootopia from producer Gary Goldman.
Cinema still from Zootopia.
Cinema still from Zootopia.PHOTO: WALT DISNEY STUDIOS

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co was sued on Tuesday by a longtime Hollywood screenwriter and producer who accused the studio of copying its Oscar-winning animated blockbuster Zootopia from his work without permission.

Gary Goldman, whose credits include the 2012 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall and the 2002 Tom Cruise film Minority Report, filed his copyright infringement lawsuit in the United States District Court in Los Angeles.

He said Disney replicated, sometimes "virtually verbatim", the themes, settings, plot, characters and dialogue, as well as the title, of his Zootopia concept, which he had pitched to the studio in 2000 and 2009.

Disney and its affiliates embrace "a culture that not only accepts the unauthorised copying of others' original material, but encourages it", the lawsuit said.

"They did it with Zootopia, too, when they copied Gary L. Goldman's Zootopia."

In a statement, Disney said: "Mr Goldman's lawsuit is riddled with patently false allegations. 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."

Zootopia has grossed more than US$1 billion worldwide since its release a year ago, and last month won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

The film explores bias through the comedic story of a rabbit, voiced by actress Ginnifer Goodwin, who leaves her rural hometown to join a big-city police force in an animal metropolis where prejudice and fear divide residents.

Byron Howard, the film's co-director, said in accepting the Oscar that the development of Zootopia had begun about five years earlier, "in hopes when the film came out it would make the world just a slightly better place".

Goldman, through his company Esplanade Productions Inc, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, including from merchandise sales, reflecting what he called Disney's "wanton, deliberate, malicious, and willful misconduct". Jeffery McFarland, a lawyer for Goldman, declined additional comment, as did an outside spokesman for Goldman.

The case is Esplanade Productions Inc v Walt Disney Co et al, US District Court, Central District of California, No. 17-02185.