Caveat Animator (guest post by Brozik)
[A woman] has filed a lawsuit claiming that Disney’s animated film about [a princess, her magical sister, and their talking snowman] took elements from her 2010 autobiography…. Court documents [include] a list of 18 “Frozen” elements that [the woman] claims were plagiarized directly from her book. These include both stories having two sisters, a village, betrayal, open doors/gates, and a “moon setting.” – CNN Money
I’m afraid that this woman is going to lose her lawsuit. I say this as not just an attorney once admitted to practice law in two states and before four federal district courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, but also someone who has sued Disney five times for the same thing, to wit: blatant mining of my personal experiences for material to use in their wildly successful movies without asking my permission or compensating me in any way. To date, I have yet to win a lawsuit, or to have my professional license reinstated, but as long as Disney keeps using my life as inspiration for its animation, I will keep demanding satisfaction—and injunctive relief—in court.
It’s partially my own fault, I’ve been told. In or about 1988, when I finished writing Book One of my memoirs—A Tearjerking Volume of Startling Brilliance—I mailed a photocopy of the unpublished manuscript to Disney’s then-president Jeffrey Katzenberg, although I confess that I don’t remember why. But imagine my surprise when I first saw The Little Mermaid in 1989. On the very first page of my work, I mention that I am a Pisces (the Fish), that for religious reasons I don’t eat crabs, and that I like to sing in the shower (that is, under water)!
It was immediately obvious to me that I was singlehandedly responsible for the start of what would become known as the “Disney Renaissance.” According to one source, The Little Mermaid had total international box office earnings of $211 million, of which I got not a penny. Instead, I had to shell out some of my own money to seek justice, which I also did not get.
Had my original lawsuit (Doe v. Disney I) not been dismissed with prejudice, I would have been able to simply add claims and allegations to that action rather than be required to commence an entirely new suit after the theatrical release of Beauty and the Beast. In Doe v. Disney II, I accused Walt Disney Feature Animation of misappropriating a vignette from my memoir for use in a second blockbuster film: When I was nine or ten years old, I went to my local library to take out a book; the librarian told me that the book I wanted was already being loaned to another patron, so I borrowed instead a book I’d read before but had enjoyed enough—and forgotten enough about—to read again.
Anyone who has seen Beauty and the Beast even just once, even if it was back in 1991, will recall that something very similar happens to Belle in the very first scene of the movie proper, more or less setting the entire plot of the film in motion, and yet I did not get even an “additional story by” credit. Book Two of my memoirs—Ingest. Entreat. Adore.—features an excerpt from the transcript of a deposition of a former Disney animator (an “in-betweener,” I believe he called himself), the only person who worked on Aladdin (1992) who was unable to have the subpoena I’d served upon him quashed, conducted at a pizzeria near my home.
The most telling portion of the excerpt is as follows:
ME: When you were working on “Aladdin,” were you ever told where the story came from?
HIM: I don’t recall specifically, but I’m pretty sure I understood that the movie was based on the Arab folktale of Aladdin and the magic lamp from “One Thousand and One Nights.”
ME: Have you ever read this “One Thousand and One Nights”?
ME: So then it’s possibly that the basis of “Aladdin” is in fact not this book that you’ve never read but rather my own life story, isn’t it?
ME: No further questions.
The allegations of my fourth lawsuit—Doe v. Disney IV—were perhaps the most straightforward of all: In 1977, I saw a science-fiction movie called Star Wars, which I enjoyed very much and the plot of which I described at length in my memoir, for the benefit of anyone who has not had the pleasure. There can be no question that someone at Disney read my description of the plot of Star Wars, because the exact same plot was used in The Lion King (1994). I believe I even read once that some actor provided a voice for both movies… and yet my complaint was dismissed and I was sanctioned!
Because of certain unfortunate circumstances, I was unable to sue Disney again until 2007, by which time Walt Disney Feature Animation had changed its name to Walt Disney Animation Studios, no doubt as a measure to attempt to avoid liability for wholesale theft and exploitation of my life scenarios. Notwithstanding this transparent tactic, I managed to serve process on the corporate pillager as soon as I discovered that some of my notes for Book Three of my memoir—tentatively titled “The Great Mouse Invective,” which I am currently writing and which will detail the unfortunate circumstances alluded to earlier—were missing from my home office. In these notes, I recounted an adventure in which, accompanied by a talking donkey, I rescued a beautiful princess from a castle tower surrounded by lava and guarded by a dragon, only to discover that while the princess is beautiful during the day, at night she turns into an ogre (but that was just fine with me because I am also an ogre). Alas, Shrek was a DreamWorks movie, and so Doe v. Disney V was tossed out immediately.