Disney is being SUED over Zootopia!!!

Ace Attorney Style “OBJECTION!”, with members of ZNN, drawn and colored by Sendrax and Quirky-Middle-Child

Yes, you read that title right.  Disney is being sued for allegedly copying the work of Gary Goldman, the writer of such hits as Total Recall and Big Trouble in Little China, and turning it into the Zootopia we know and love.  Esplanade Productions Inc., the company which represents Goldman, filed the lawsuit to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California this morning.

An official Disney Spokesman responded to the lawsuit, saying:

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.

Well, Disney has the lawyers to defend Zootopia in court, but ZNN is here to defend it on the internet!  You can find the article in The Hollywood Reporter that brought this matter to our attention here, and you can read the full legal complaint here.  The real meat of the case begins on Page 9, titled “Factual Background”.

At the moment, we don’t know if the U.S. District Court will actually take this case or throw it out, but in my opinion it’s unlikely to get very far.  Why?  I’ll explain after the break.

In my personal opinion, this complaint is absurd for many reasons:

First, Esplanade claims whole character archetypes as being unique to Goldman’s pitch, and that the word “Zootopia” (a portmanteau of “Zoo” and “Utopia”, which is hardly a difficult name to come up with) was copied from Goldman as well.  We know the latter to be false, as Disney was required to change the movie’s title in the UK and other foreign markets to Zootropolis due to copyright issues with actual zoos and other businesses named “Zootopia”.

Secondly, the pitch in question seems to be far too similar to the final product.  “But wait, isn’t that evidence in favor of their lawsuit?”  Not exactly.  Take a look at the Character Illustrations they present in the complaint, side-by-side with the characters we know from Zootopia.

At a quick glance, they do look a little similar.  But let’s take a step back and think, “How many of these characters were in the previous iterations of Zootopia?”  A quick look at the evolution of Zootopia’s characters, as seen in The Art of Zootopia (by Jessica Julius), as well as other sources, tells quite the story.


I think it’s very clear that the characters evolved and changed quite a lot over time.  The fox-and-rabbit dynamic we got was consistent throughout most of the pre-production, but Nick and Judy (once they were named that, rather than Jack and Skye) changed from action-spy heroes, to film noir detectives, to a cops-and-robbers dynamic.  The role of main character was primarily on Nick throughout most of production, but they changed it to Judy with only a few months left before release.  Characters like Gazelle, Finnick, and Clawhauser survived many of those early iterations, but Chief Bogo, Mayor Lionheart, Yax, Flash, and a majority of the other characters in the film did not exist until much later in the game.

My point is, the script for Zootopia was rewritten over and over again, and each one was very different.  The early sketches bear only passing resemblances to the final product, which is how animated films work.  They’re fluid, constantly changing and evolving.  A character that started in one role can, and usually does, end up playing an entirely different one by the end of production – if they survive at all.  (R.I.P. Old Goat Meter Maid).  And it’s not just characters that do this: settings, plot points, narrative structure… all these things evolve over time as it goes on.  None of them are as they began.

But hey, if Goldman and Esplanade want to claim that they had pitched a movie to Disney back in 2009 that is practically identical to the Zootopia we see today, without ever undergoing massive changes (and even including near-identical lines), then they are certainly free to do so.

However, to me, the final nail in the coffin is this: if Goldman was working on developing a franchise around his “Zootopia” concept, which he claims to have worked on for nearly a decade (2000-2009), then I have to ask: Why did neither he, nor Esplanade Productions, register the collection of art and other concept materials with the United States Copyright Office until February 10, 2017? (p.11, paragraph 34)

If a line of questioning like that isn’t brought up in court, I will be very surprised.

That’s my two cents on the matter.  I’m not a lawyer, and this isn’t ZNN’s legal opinion.  We bring you the news, not the law.  Ultimately, this matter will have to be settled by a judge and/or jury in the State of California.

I’m Andy Lagopus, and remember, even if you’re in a court of law…

Try Everything!


  1. The cover art this time is quite a special image for me, and those members in it. Drawn during October by our wonderful artist Sendrax, and colored by Quirk. It's a finale to a fantastic journey of an RP we had in ZNN headquarters. Who knows, maybe we'll finally finish that little secret project of ours.
    Anyways, from left to right we've got: Berserker, Nathan, Raphael, Dominic (me), Tom, and Steam.

  2. I'm going to copy/past a comment I made on Reddit about this…

    I appear to be late to this party, but I feel like I should weigh in. Having now read the actual brief, it's hard to me to believe Goldman's claims are legitimate. This is mainly because most of the claims that form the basis for his case are so vague as to be impossible to take seriously. His description of the similarities in the settings is laughable: the description he provides would readily describe almost any anthropomorphic fiction or film that takes place in an urban setting that mirrors the 21st or late 20th century. The character similarities are often a massive stretch visually (Bellwether and Judy's analogs look nothing like them, in my opinion), and the fact that he often has to describe multiple characters to vaguely capture some of the general traits possessed by one character in Disney's version does not amount to much.

    Character and thematic tropes are extremely common across film and television. You can't just say, "I had a sex symbol in my version of the film; they had a sex symbol in their version of the film. They copied me!" But so many of the supposed similarities among the characters seem to boil down to just that — the presence of broadly similar character archetypes in both versions of the film.

    The plot details he discusses aren't much better. For instance, consider this statement about the crisis at the end of act 2 in both versions of the film: "…the crisis results in their having to leave unfinished an important but problematic project unfinished." That claim is almost surely true. Why because almost every protagonist in any film has an "unfinished" but "important" project at the end of the second act. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much point to the third act: the purpose of the third act in almost any film is to finish (or at least try to finish) whatever project was jeopardized by earlier events.

    If Goldman's account of the events were true, I just feel like he could come up with something more substantial to build his case. That fact, in conjunction with the weird timing of the events (i.e., not filing this lawsuit in 2015 when similarities would have been apparent, not copyrighting his characters until very recently), makes it extremely likely that this is just a cash grab. Or an attempt to discredit Disney out of spite.

    • I've also read the brief and I'm inclined to agree.
      The one caveat I'll add, however, is that while Disney's Zootopia started out as a spy thriller with very little in common with the movie we got in the end, the changes made during production might have been influenced by what Goldman had spoken of before there was even an actual idea for the film. That still doesn't justify the lawsuit though, because, as you said, the vast majority of "similarities" are extremely broad both in scope and application. I mean, replace the people and aliens for animals and you could make similar claims about Lilo and Stitch!

    • Slightly tangential… this is the reason why Studios and their employees are forbidden to provably read fanfiction.

      Key word is "provably". E.g., logging in with one's Google account as leaving a non-anonymous comment (or "kudos" in AO3).

  3. "The lawsuit does not state how much damages Goldman and his company, Esplanade Productions, are seeking. He is asking a federal judge to block Disney from future “Zootopia” projects until the case is resolved."

    so in other word disney will not get involved for zootopia future then, im surprise that this best animated movie were actually idea from "certain people" but not get included official from Disney. x_x

    Ugh, whats gonna happen eventually …..!?!?!?

    • No need to worry, Disney is one of the biggest entertainment companies on the planet, owning little things like Marvel and Star Wars to name a few. They of course have massive high powered legal talent. This is just a plot to get some money out of Disney, since I doubt Goldman actually wants to take it to court. This is a common tactic, get something that looks like evidence together, sue then offer to settle out of court to make the whole thing go away. It's really more akin to Poker then Law

  4. Having read the article and the complaint, I can't help but feel Mr. Goldman is just doing some gold digging, probably a desperately considering he hasn't been on the radar for over two decades. He's just looking for easy money.

  5. I'm calling it!
    The guy will lose and everyone in the Zootopia fandom is going to say "Boo, you stink!", and also "You haven't been on the face of the earth for two decades!".
    So our little lesson is:
    Don't. Sue. Disney!
    You (and your lawyers) will get you butt kicked by their lawyers because they are a BIG company!

  6. Greedy gold-diggers, all it is…if anything, this may end up just bringing more publicity to Zootopia. Never even heard of Goldman until this came up, doubt I'll hear much about him afterward either…

  7. Nice to see that Goldman was so upset with this supposed copyright infringement that he sues them little more than a year after it's release. With only one very loose piece of actual evidence to back the whole thing up. Even if what he says is true, I imagine Disney gave us an improved version. Because we all know that fox and bunny clearly don't share the same natural enemies/unlikely friends value that a hyena and squirrel share. Jesus.

  8. Haha, the first thing I thought of when I read this was "if by some miracle (or would that be an anti-miracle?) this guy was to win, would that mean we would have to stop shipping Judy and Nick, and start shipping Mimi and Roscoe?" Of course, I wasn't being serious, which I suppose goes to show how seriously I'm taking this suit.

  9. I don't know why, but this whole thing has made me super depressed now. It's just one of those moments where you almost find out like something you're in love with has been a lie all along.

    That's not to say I'm fully believing everything Goldman is claiming, but reading the lawsuit itself, he does seem to make a rather compelling argument. The characters argument seems like BS since most of them look remotely nothing alike, though their mannerisms and personalities are similar enough. Then there's of course the title of "Zootopia" being thought up by him, and the various themes explored in both versions.

    On the other hand, I am a bit skeptical that he only filed a copyright for it a month ago, and waited over a year after the film's release to file the lawsuit (then again, it can take a while to gather evidence and get good lawyers). The other thing is that Disney has used anthropomorphic animals in humanised societies for decades, including Robin Hood (1973) which Byron Howard cited as a major influence on Zootopia. Nick looks much more similar to Robin (green attire and all) rather than that hyena who Nick was supposedly based off.

    I honestly don't know who to side with in this case to be honest, if it did turn out Disney did steal Goldman's idea, I'd never be able to appreciate Zootopia the same way again. On the other hand, Total Recall is a classic, but how much of that did Goldman write compared to Dan O' Bannon and Ronald Shusett? This whole thing raises too many questions that I don't like to think about.

    • I too had this moral questions in my head for a good little while. I even took a good hour walk in the Canadian spring air, talking to myself about the whole situation (it was so cheesy now that I think about it). I had the exact same concerns you did in your last paragraph. I thought Zootopia would be ruined for me. But through my walk, and watching the film again, I realized I still love it just as much. This is the thought I use to comfort me. It would be unfortunate if the idea was stolen, though I have my doubts about this whole thing. But the movie we got is still good. Perhaps someone who deserved credit didn't get it, though I have my doubts. Now we can add, in a somewhat awkward way, someone else in the list of people we should thank. The Disney animators still made the wonderful animation. The people in charge of the world still made it what it is. The voice actors still gave wonderful performances that fleshed out the characters. Byron Howard and Rich Moore still directed hundreds of people in the right direction. The only people at possible fault are the screenwriters. But even then, the script is still obviously somewhat different than what Goldman had. Especially change in character species and probably some personality traits. As said by others, if they used Goldman's script, it was probably when they changed the Tame Collar storyline last minute. But just remember this, you, me, and all of us here fell in love with the Zootopia we saw released. We fell in love with Nick and Judy, not Mimi and Roscoe. As I have said before, unless the supposed script Goldman wrote for Disney is pretty much exactly like the version we got, than I imagine Byron, Rich, and Jared gave us an improved version of the film. Don't let some stupid case like this take the love you have for the film away from you, love it for the reasons you love it, if not so much it's originality anymore. Though I still have MAJOR doubts about Goldman's side. Hope this cheers you up, and sorry if it feels like I'm intruding on your own business.

  10. To me, there are just too many red flags within Goldman's argument.
    1: If he did pitch the idea of Zootopia back in, what was 2000? 2009?, then why didn't he trademark it back then?.
    2: The characters don't really show much (if any) resemblance to the characters we see in the movie today.
    3: If he wanted to prove that Disney really did steal his work, he would have brought something more tangible than a character sheet, like a script or a storyboard or something.
    4: As mention by Andy. The concept of Zootopia changed over the course of it's development, it looks like it started out as a James Bond style spy movie then it changed into some kind of dystopian film noir movie then it changed into the cop and robbers movie we see today.
    5: And the biggest red flag I have for Goldman's argument is…..why did he wait like 5 years before he said or did anything. I mean the movie was in development for 4 years, the trailer came out in 2015, the movie was out in 2016 and it won an Oscar not to long ago. So…why the wait?
    Now I'm not the kind of guy who would defend a company no matter what but I have to admit that there is just too many red flags in Goldman's argument that I can't really take him seriously.

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