One of last year's biggest hits at the box office was Disney's animated blockbuster Zootopia, which crossed the $1 billion worldwide threshold and became the second highest-grossing original movie of all time, albeit a distant second place behind James Cameron's Avatar ($2.7 billion). Today we have word that Zootopia might not be an original movie at all, with a screenwriter named Gary Goldman filing a lawsuit against Disney, claiming the studio stole an original idea he had that he reportedly pitched to the studio twice. Gary Goldman has a number of major writing credits to his name, including the cult classic Big Trouble In Little China and the original Total Recall.
The Hollywood Reporter reveals that the screenwriter pitched his project, which included a live-action movie component entitled Looney and an animated movie called Zootopia. The writer pitched this franchise two separate times to Disney, in the years 2000 and 2009, with the writer even providing artwork for characters he created, that are seen side by side with the characters in Zootopia. Here's an excerpt from the lawsuit, filed by Esplanade Productions, Inc. in California federal court today.
"Twice, in 2000 and 2009, Goldman, on behalf of Esplanade, pitched Defendants his Zootopia franchise, which included a live-action component called Looney and an animated component called Zootopia. He provided a treatment, a synopsis, character descriptions, character illustrations and other materials. He even provided a title for the franchise, Zootopia. Instead of lawfully acquiring Goldman's work, Defendants said they were not interested in producing it and sent him on his way. Thereafter, consistent with their culture of unauthorized copying, Defendants copied Goldman's work. They copied Goldman's themes, settings, plot, characters, and dialogue, some virtually verbatim."
The lawsuit alleges that Disney has a track record with ripping off other stories, which were used in The Lion King, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Up and Inside Out, among others. Gary Goldman has worked for Disney in the past, with the lawsuit revealing he was hired by the studio in 2007 to write the screenplay for a movie called Blaze, based on a Stan Lee comic book. The comic book legend allegedly told the writer that, after he completed his work on the project, he was his "favorite writer." The lawsuit states that Gary Goldman first pitched his Zootopia in 2000 to former Disney executive David Hoberman, who responded favorably to the writer's pitch, but ultimately declined. In 2009, he tried his pitch at Disney once again, while he was working on Blaze.
"At the time, Goldman was working on Blaze with Brigham Taylor who, Esplanade is informed and believes, was Walt Disney Pictures' Executive Vice President of Production and Development at the time. Because Goldman had this existing relationship with Taylor, Goldman offered to pitch the Goldman Zootopia to Taylor on behalf of Defendants, and Taylor accepted Goldman's offer. On or about February 12, 2009, Goldman met with Taylor at Defendants' offices in Burbank, California."
The lawsuit alleges that Disney then began to craft their own Zootopia project based on Gary Goldman's work. The lawsuit, filed by lawyer Jeffrey McFarland from the prominent law firm Quinn Emanuel, accuses Disney of breach of implied contract, breach of confidence and unfair competition. A Disney rep responded by stating that the lawsuit is, "riddled with patently false allegations," and they plan on defending the lawsuit "vigorously" in court. Gary Goldman is seeking an injunction plus monetary damages, which included punitive damages that could be quite substantial, considering Zootopia grossed over $1 billion worldwide. While we wait for more updates regarding this lawsuit, take a look at the illustration provided in the full lawsuit, which shows Gary Goldman's characters side-by-side with the Zootopia characters.