Disney’s shady ways

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2009 at 4:44 pm

While browsing through the streets of New York, my friends and I stumbled into the Disney Store on fifth avenue. Yes, we’re all grown-ups, but I think everyone can relate to a feeling of nostalgia that envelops you as you are greeted by familiar toon characters. Mickey and Minnie for sure, the Disney Princesses, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Lion King…the list goes on. So I was intrigued when I came across an article exposing Disney’s shady ways. Despite its lovable, timeless characters, Disney never had a squeaky clean image as a result of complains by former Disney producers. But because Disney is such a massive empire, allegations of plagiarism would never hold in court even though there are pretty damning evidence of similarities. A broader issue is how to distinguish between inspiration and plagiarism. As the article noted, there are cultural differences as to the definition of plagiarism, and artists copy others all the time. What is plagiarism in art?

The most notable case of “inspiration” is featured in The Lion King. The movie was produced in 1994 after much hype. Though it didn’t take long before people noticed keen similarities between the newly produced movie and Osamu Tezuka’s 1965 cartoon series, Kimba the White Lion. The similarity doesn’t just stop at the names (Simba v. Kimba) and the choice of animal. This website compares remarkably similar screenshots of both works. The story, side-characters, and even the style of the movie (serious plot lines interrupted by happy song-and-dance numbers) seem to mirror the Japanese series.



Kimba, the white lion

Kimba, the white lion

All those similarities can be passed as inspiration if only Disney would admit that they took a look at Tezuka’s work. Disney, however, has stated that they had no knowledge of Tezuka or his work. Tezuka never took Disney to court because of “his misplaced love for the company.” Since the artist passed away, there is virtually nothing that can be done about this case of plagiarism.

Scene from The Lion King

Scene from The Lion King

Scene from Tezuka's series

Scene from Tezuka's series

Disney apparently never rid of its copying ways, however. A few years ago, a French author claimed that Disney had copied from his Pierrot Le Poisson Clown to create the beloved Nemo. The case was taken to court, though considering the lack of hype, the French author either lost the case or settled out of court. Read about the story on MSNBC.

It is essential to keep giant companies such as Disney in check. Though artistic integrity is at stake, everything seems to become muddled by the politics of power and money. Ultimately, the responsibility is handed to the audience; get over the initial disappointment that the creators of our childhood friends aren’t as heroic and inspirational as we hoped to be, and always look with an objective eye. There’s always more to the story.


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