Walt Disney Co has taken three Chinese firms to court over concerns local animation “The Autobots” copied elements from Disney’s own hit movie “Cars”, as the US firm looks to protect its drive into the world’s second-largest economy. Disney is making a major push into China with the recent opening of a $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai, its first on the mainland, while its animated movies including “Zootopia”and “Big Hero 6” have been big box office hits in the country.

The iconic US firm, however, faces tough competition in the market from local theme park developers, popular Chinese animations as well as counterfeits from merchandise to fake Disney hotels. Chinese authorities have promised to give Disney “special” trademark protection.

 “The Autobots” drew ire from netizens in China when it was released last year, with some pointing out similarities with Disney’s 2006 film “Cars” starring Owen Wilson and its sequel in 2011. “Cars 3” is penciled in to be released next year. “Lots of people online have talked about plagiarism, but it seems from the legal side that the matter is quite clear – at root there is no plagiaristic behavior,” said Zuo Jianlong, the director of “The Autobots.” If you put the two films side-by-side to compare them, then you will know they are completely different.”

The iconic U.S. firm, however, faces tough competition in the market from local theme park developers, popular Chinese animations as well as counterfeits from merchandise to fake Disney hotels. Chinese authorities have promised to give Disney “special” trademark protection.

A report from Shanghaiist brought the posters and stills of both films and put them side-by-side to show how close the imagery of both movies are, particularly their characters.

The first movie from the “Cars” franchise was released from a partnership between Disney and Pixar in 2006 and was followed by a sequel in 2011, both of which feature the voice of Owen Wilson as the red race car, Lightning McQueen.

Meanwhile, “The Autobots” follows the story of K1 and K2, both of whom are also race cars.
Copying, borrowing, infringing, remixing, spinning, and blatantly ripping off the work of others, for whatever you can get for as long as you can get it, has a long and storied history, even in American animation. When Walt Disney himself started producing theatrical animation in the 1920s, studios routinely “borrowed” characters and gags from each other, and Disney was no exception. If you believe some artists, the Disney Company has borrowed ideas as recently as Frozen. But the eternal case that The Autobots represents — which is that of China’s ascendant animation industry as a creator (or copier, depending on your choice of words) of cartoons rather than just a manufacturer of them — is going nowhere but up. As the sector increases in power and influence, the potatoes, even those as small as The Autobots, won’t be looking so small anymore to American studios.

Keywords: Copying, borrowing, Copyright infringement, Walt Disney, Cars, The Autobots, China