Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Frozen" Lawsuit by Makers of "The Snowman"

The Snowman
A scene from "The Snowman."
The Snowman lawsuit against Disney. You have to figure that when a movie makes a billion dollars that some folks will examine everything about it to see if they could perhaps get just a teenie weenie slice of that enormous pie.

Well, that has happened with the Walt Disney animated feature "Frozen." Last summer, in June 2013, Disney released a trailer for "Frozen" which was eagerly anticipated. In fact, even we posted about it (about halfway down that page, a page to which we later added).

It was a great trailer and helped to build interest in "Frozen." The trailer concerned Sven the Reindeer and Olaf the snowman messing around and ultimately bonding over a carrot. Here is the trailer again as we originally posted it:

So far, so good. The only bad thing you can say about this trailer - now that we all have seen "Frozen" - is that it might mislead viewers into thinking the entire film is about Olaf, Sven and, well, Olaf's nose. No sight of Anna or Elsa or anyone else, no princesses, no ice palace, no sisterly rivalry - nothing.

Taken by itself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this trailer. However, in Hollywood, things are never taken by themselves if they resemble something else and if they make a billion dollars. There just so happened to be a short animated film that was released a few months before this "Frozen" teaser trailer was released that was, well, similar. The short was called "The Snowman," and you may watch it here:

The Snowman from Neil Wrischnik on Vimeo.

"The Snowman" is a fine animated short and, had we known about it, we would have posted it here in its own right. Neil Wrischnik and Kelly Wilson created "The Snowman," and they had submitted it to a bunch of lesser-known film festivals. So, "The Snowman" was hardly unknown, at least to people who follow the film festival circuit very closely - which you can expect professional animators to do.

"The Snowman" Film Festival Appearances:
  • San Francisco International - Honorable Mention
  • Santa Barbara International
  • Animation Block Party - New York
  • Palo Alto International
  • Green Bay International
  • Films Streams
  • Claremont 5 Film Festival
  • Prescott Film Festival
So, "The Snowman" did get around.

The Snowman
A scene from "The Snowman."
The bottom line: Kelly Wilson, one of the creators of "The Snowman," feels that the teaser trailer for "Frozen" took the liberty of "borrowing" the theme of "The Snowman." Note the many similarities, with animals tussling over a carrot and then one ultimately getting it back. Wilson brought suit against Disney in March 2014 for copyright infringement.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, or perhaps someone at Disney was under the gun to churn out a trailer and had no ideas of their own until they remembered seeing "The Snowman" and liking what happened in that short. The point is, there are a lot of possibilities.

There's no need to hash this out or try to conclude anything. Feel free to watch "The Snowman" and the teaser trailer and compare them for yourself. It's in the courts now and it's only about money, the separate works will stand on their own.

Update: Disney failed in two attempts to get the case thrown out of court, so it finally settled this suit. It notified U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria that a settlement was reached on June 10, 2015. Settlement terms were not disclosed.


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