Plagiarism (noun): the process of taking someone else’s work and passing it off as one’s own.
Synonym: usurpation, copying, counterfeiting.
Pixar’s creative force is most impressive, but as is the case in any artistic environment – an exceedingly sizeable one what’s more – coming across two similar storylines is highly likely. This is an opportunity for some to accuse Pixar of plagiarism and sue the company. Who came up with the idea first? Such is the work of the courts. Here we will show you a few examples.
Pixar / Dreamworks : the confrontation.
When Steven Spielberg decided to set up DreamWorks Animation, two animation studios were then to come up against one another.
The first struggle started in 1998 between Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and DreamWorks’ Antz. Two films about insects were released within a month, with Pixar’s coming out after Dreamworks’. Here are their plots:
“A Bug’s Life”: As is the case every year, the grasshoppers come and collect what Princess Atta’s anthill owes them. Flik, a hare-brained inventor, will put the harvest in jeopardy. He decides to go and get help. But he is unaware that the mercenaries he thinks he has found are actually a circus troop.
“Antz”: Z-4195, a worker ant, is in love with the beautiful Princess Bala. Being a mere number among the billions that make up his colony, he stands no chance of catching the eye of the lovely-looking insect. He nevertheless asks his best friend Weaver, a soldier ant, for help to get closer to the one he loves. This is how, by a quirk of fate, he unknowingly interferes with the Machiavellian plan devised by the ambitious General Mandible who quite simply wants to liquidate the colony so as to model one after himself. Z soon finds himself leading a revolution.
We do, however, know that animated features take around three to four years to materialize, so the two projects did come about at the same time. Who came up with the idea first?
In 1988, Disney was working on Army Ants, in which a peace-loving worker ant teaches his colony important lessons on their very militaristic way of thinking. In the summer of 1994, Joe Ranft and Andrew Stanton drew on one of Aesop’s fables to write the screenplay for A Bug’s Life. John Lasseter showed Disney the screenplay in August. On the same day this announcement was made, Jeffrey Katzenberg, the studio head of Disney, resigned from the company to go and co-found…DreamWorks. Lasseter and Kaztenberg were friends and used to visit one another in their respective offices. Lasseter was delighted to see another animation studio working on computer-generated imagery. When he saw the screenplay for Antz, the relationship between the two men became strained, especially as both films were due to be released the same year.
“We were just cannon fodder in his fight with Disney.” (John Lasseter).
Katzenburg then made Disney and Steve Jobs an offer: if they delayed the release of A Bug’s Life (which was supposed to come out at the same time as The Prince of Egypt, also by DreamWorks), he would stop filming Antz. Disney turned the offer down and DreamWorks denied the whole affair ever happened. Katzenberger managed to release his film before Pixar’s and generated $171 million in gross revenue. A Bug’s Life broke this record figure with $363 million.
Both films feature the same world but do have not the same style, and the story lines are different (despite the main character rebelling against others so as to bring about some change in society). Pixar went in for a cartoon style, ants that were not very lifelike and varied scenery, whereas Dreamworks chose a serious tone and dark and unvaried scenery (subterranean scenes mainly).
Nemo, Oscar and Pierrot.
2003 and 2004 were the years Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Dreamworks’ Shark Tale were respectively released.
“Finding Nemo”: Ever since his wife died, Marlin, a clownfish, is very protective of his son Nemo. The latter does nevertheless not think twice before swimming up to a boat regardless of the scuba diver who will capture him. Along with Dory, a forgetful fish, Marlin will brave the ocean looking for Nemo.
“Shark Tale”: Oscar, a young and talkative fish who is also an inveterate liar, unwillingly witnesses the death of a dangerous shark. He takes advantage of the situation to pass himself off as a great shark hunter. But he is unaware that the shark in question was Don Lino’s son, Don Lino being the head of the shark mob.
This time, plagiarism is not the word to be used here because the films have nothing in common save the ocean, and the visual styles are inverted compared to the previous films. Pixar made a film that was far more true to life whereas DreamWorks ventured into the realms of caricature and cartoonishness.
Once again, Pixar won hands down by making $867 million at the box office whereas the DreamWorks release went unnoticed and grossed $367 million.
Despite this conflict, Pixar was not safe from plagiarism. Franck Le Calvez, a French writer, filed a suit alleging counterfeit against Disney because of his book entitled Pierrot the Clownfish (Pierrot le poisson-clown).
In 1995, Franck Le Calvez dropped a screenplay off at the SACD (“”Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques” or “Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers”) for an animated film featuring a clownfish. Confronted with his failure to find a production company, he decided to publish it as a book in 2002. One year later, however, Pixar released Finding Nemo.
“Pierrot the Clownfish”: Pierrot the clownfish lives a happy life with his parents and Rose, their protective anemone…until the day Liona the scorpion fish comes along. Driven away by Rose, Liona has vowed to get his own back and eat the clownfish family. Pierrot has to show courage to get away from him. Fortunately, Pierrot is helped along the way by kind fish he meets during his adventures. Along with his new friends, he discovers that lovely surprises lie in store for him.
What is most disquieting is the beginning of these two stories. Both of them are set inside an anemone where a child loses one of his parents after another fish has attacked them. The rest of the film then differs. As part of his complaint against Disney, Le Calvez demanded that the consumer products – that in his opinion drew heavily on his character– be withdrawn from sale
“We have also found the same supporting characters, such as a surgeon fish
and a cleaner shrimp.” (Frank Le Calvez).
Many booksellers refused to stock Le Calvez’s book after the film was released, accusing him of having plagiarized Disney’s work. Disney, for its part, stated that Pixar’s film was an original work.
“The allegation is totally baseless – “Finding Nemo” is a work that belongs to Pixar and Disney and an independent creation.” (Disney).
On April 20th, 2005, the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris (Paris Court of First Instance) dismissed Le Calvez’s case, having ruled that the stories looked the same but were not similar. He was furthermore ordered to pay €38 000 in damages.
1995 was Pixar’s year when they released Toy Story. Yet that film too was plagiarized.
Dingo Pictures is a German company that knocks off animated classics. After having already copied The Lion King, Bambi and other Disney features, it took on Toy Story.
“Toy Story : Once Andy leaves his room his toys come to life. During his birthday party, each toy fears he or she will be replaced. Except Woody, as the cowboy is the little boy’s favourite toy. Except that the last gift to be opened will change all that: Buzz Lightyear soon becomes the number 1 toy.
“Toys” : Al by themselves in a child’s bedroom, the toys are feeling ground-down. A little boy is given a brand new toy for his birthday, one that soon takes over from Pino, who was the little boy’s favourite. Pino then decides to leave and never come back.
These stories are very similar to one another. However, while Pixar has an outstanding visual style, such is not the case for Dingo Pictures. The drawings are rough, the perspectives are not taken into account and there are many continuity errors.
Brazilian Pixar knock-offs.
Vídeo Brinquedo (Toyland Video) is a Brazilian company that distributes Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks rip-off works. Several films made by the animation studios with the hopping desk lamp have thus been cloned.
Ratatoing is based on Ratatouille:
The chef of Rio de Janeiro’s most refined restaurant is…a mouse. Everyone wants to find out Chef Marcell Toing’s secret, Toing who finds his ingredients thanks to three mice.
Os Carrinhos (The Little Cars) strongly draws on Cars :
Warm your engines up and get ready to experience Rodopolis, a town where cars think and talk like people. Everything about this place revolves around speed and racing is the only thing on everyone’s mind.
Robozinhos (Tiny Robots) draws its inspiration from WALL-E:
In the distant future, the people of Earth have been replaced by robots. These robots have several tasks and duties to perform. Trank, a very outdated robot, lives in New Iron. But when the city leader comes up with a horrendous plan to rule the planet, Trank is the only robot who can stand up to him.
Dr. Crumb finds a magical stone that turns his house into a hot-air balloon. This discovery enables the doctor and his companions to go on a long journey. Jean-Pierre, a criminally-minded man, hijacks them. The group will nevertheless have to get out of trouble without the magic stone.
As is the case with Dingo Pictures, though Vídeo Brinquedo does it using computer-generated imagery, the animation is rough and the textures are not very elaborate. The company even outstripped Pixar by coming up with sequels for Os Carrinhos, none of which fortunately are anything like Cars 2.
The french version of Up.
When Pixar released Up in 2009, some French students from ESRA (the “Ecole Supérieure de Réalisation Audiovisuelle”, a French film school) saw great similarities between this film and the short they had made for the end of the academic year in 2006, entitled Above then Beyond.
Some shots are indeed similar between the short and the feature film, and the idea of the flying house is exactly the same. On the other hand, the screenplay for Up was written in 2004-2005, that is to say two years before the French short. In 2004, the character of Carl Fredricksen had already been thought up, which proves that the character was created before the one invented by the students at ESRA. In 2006, Pixar presented a piece of artwork depicting a house wedged between two buildings.
It is easy in the film industry to come across numerous films that are similar regarding the screenplay, yet they are not all necessarily instances of plagiarism. Some creators seize the opportunity to press charges for the tiniest or most fortuitous resemblance, with the hope of making money with a lawsuit.