After nearly two weeks of mulling the issues, a Los Angeles judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a writer who sued the Walt Disney Co., alleging the animated hit film “Zootopia” was premised on his ideas.
Superior Court Judge Kevin C. Brazile on Wednesday granted a motion by Disney attorneys to toss “Total Recall” writer Gary Goldman’s suit, which was filed in February 2018, alleging breach of implied-in-fact contract, breach of confidence and unfair competition.
Brazile heard arguments May 27 and said at the time he was leaning toward dismissing the suit, but added he wanted to take the case under submission and review the issues before issuing a final ruling.
Goldman and his company, Esplanade Productions, alleged Disney looked at many genres for “Zootopia” before deciding on a story that was an adaptation of the writer’s thinking.
“With respect to similarities, it is undisputed that Disney used the identical word `Zootopia’ that Goldman created, which is remarkable because it is a made-up word that had never been used before with a creative work,” Goldman’s lawyers stated in their court papers.
The similarities do not end with the word “Zootopia” itself, Goldman’s lawyers argued.
“The parties used it in remarkably similar ways as the central concepts for their respective projects about anthropomorphic animals living in a modern, diverse society called `Zootopia’ that each examine the validity of the utopian ideal that an animal can be whatever he wants, no matter its species,” Goldman’s lawyers stated in their court papers.
Goldman, in a sworn declaration, described how he came up with the word “Zootopia.”
“In thinking about a society of free animals who choose to work at a zoo for a living, the word `Zootopia’ occurred to me,” he said. “I believed I had invented the word and I thought it was a very catchy title for a zoo-themed franchise; so catchy in fact that I did not even want to say it to my kids, lest they might repeat it to others.”
But the judge said during arguments that he did not think it was “much of a creative leap” to create the word “Zootopia” out of the words “zoo” and “utopia.”
In their court papers, Disney attorneys argued that if ever a case was ripe for dismissal, the Goldman suit is an example.
“Plaintiff wasted three years serving thousands of discovery requests, deposing over a dozen witnesses and investigating every aspect of Zootopia’s development,” the Disney lawyers wrote. “In fact, the uncontroverted evidence shows how Byron Howard of Disney Animation independently created the `Zootopia’ title in July 2012.”
No one at Disney animation working on “Zootopia” ever heard of Goldman before he sued, according to the Disney attorneys’ court papers.
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