Too Much “Let It Go” and Not Enough “I’m Sorry”? Disney’s Frozen (2013) Teaser Trailer Is The Definition of Plagiarism On Screen

Christmas is getting nearer, and I hope everyone is excited! People are probably also excited about Disney’s Frozen II, and, for those who do not know, I want to draw attention to the plagiarism case below, concerning the Frozen (2013) teaser trailer (the first video below) and the short animation titled The Snowman by independent animators Kelly Wilson and Neil Wrischnik (the second video below – access by following the link since it is imossible to watch it on wordpress)). This case was settled out of court in 2015. I previously talked in my review of Frozen how the animation relied heavily on the conceptual story and character vision from Hans Christian Andersen’s tales (which is fine), as well as on the romance from Anastasia (1997) (which is also ok), but it seems that, from the very beginning, the Frozen franchise was off to a start that involved blatant stealing and zero acknowledgement. At the preliminary hearing, Judge Chhabria ruled that “the sequence of events in both works, from start to finish, is too parallel to conclude that no reasonable juror could find the works substantially similar“. With the world’s most creative brains at Disney/Pixar headquarters, they still could not come up with their own concept for a teaser trailer. The similarities are painfully evident, and if Disney did not think so, they would have battled it in court, rather than settling for an undisclosed sum to be paid to Wilson and Wrischnik. And, Wilson and Wrischnik were paid by Disney.

17 thoughts on “Too Much “Let It Go” and Not Enough “I’m Sorry”? Disney’s Frozen (2013) Teaser Trailer Is The Definition of Plagiarism On Screen

    1. Yes, this case really surprised me because it came from such a big studio, and there was not even an attempt made to make the story slightly dissimilar, they are more similarities than differences, that is for sure. The odd thing is that Frozen is not about any Snowman (not primarily), so on that basis it is doubly coincidental that the teaser should include a snowman fighting for his carrot in the middle of a frozen lake.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Somebody slipped big time. I understand it’s hard to be original and I think we all subconsiously “borrow” from our childhood, our teenage years, anything that really moved us seeps into our subconsious and synthesises into something “new” in the present. But for a major study to make the mistake is unusal.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. This is certainly an interesting case so good on you for bringing it up. I don’t really agree with a settlement being an admission of guilt on Disney’s part, I’m sure they know they are going to get a number of these and probably have funds set aside just to settle these disputes. If you have the change why not even risk losing more money and hurting your reputation by letting things escalate further. With the same logic the Snowman directors knew they didn’t have a case so they just took the money, if you knew it was copyright infringement why would you take less money right?

    Honestly, this is a close one, because you can’t copyright the framework of a concept it has to be the expression of an idea and most of the similarities come from just how limited the concept is. The concept is “snowman tries to retrieve nose before an animal eats it” so you can’t own that just like “spy gets captured by a villain who reveals their secret plan” or “awkward teen goes on a date at a diner”. In any of these concepts there’s bound to be similarities, with the snowman one you can’t change much, you can’t change the setting to the rain-forest or make his nose an eggplant really (I mean you can but nobody expects you to).

    I think the case would have more involved trying to prove that a Disney animator or someone at Disney had access to the short film seeing it at a film festival or online and therefore were aware they were ripping it off. It’s strange because this is almost unrelated to the movie, and people have definitely lost copyright cases for doing less. I don’t know, maybe I certainly wouldn’t put it past Disney but I don’t think this is the best case to argue that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your argument also sounds fair, but if this is not one of the best examples of plagiarism regarding any two animations that reached to a trial stage (sort of) then I do not know what best example of this kind of plagiarism should look like – only maybe two videos that are identical? In fact, this is one of the most shameful examples I know that came to a trial stage and then parties settled out of court.

      I think you are right about the limited concept, but the limitation of it also means that it must be even more of a coincidence that two people came up with the same idea. I mean look at these two videos – for me it is the same story – virtually the same video – only Disney had more budget to make the visuals more appealing and introducing a reindeer. I also do not wholly agree that the stolen concept was merely “a snowman trying to retrieve nose before an animal eats it”. What about the lake? As the setting? The story takes place at the same location. What about the ending? Animals helping each other? I can go on. It is the aggregation of similarities that shocks me and not this limited concept as such.

      I do follow these kinds of cases from time to time and I know that in most cases productions do not even bother – cases are being easily dismissed and the majority settle for the big studios. Here, the situation was completely different for once and Disney must have known it was in trouble. The judge ruled TWICE in favour of Wilson and Wrischnik at thr preliminary hearings – that means they had a relatively strong case, enough to bring Disney down on this point. Disney is rich enough to settle out of court – so it did just that. Goodness, Disney/Pixar employees could not even deny they were at that festival where they saw the short, because they were in fact there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh without deniability Disney almost certainly loses then. I agree with you that this is very identical, I still use devil’s advocate argument of limiting concept to why those elements are similar. I don’t think a frozen lake is too far of stretch to be associated with a snowy forest setting, and its inclusion is to a tension mechanic. Say I have two versions of a story where It’s two people Christmas shopping and they’re both trying to buy the same item. Is it not fair that both involve a crowded mall, with both people starting at opposite ends and pushing and showing there way to get it, only to have a comedic twist that some third person buys it first. That description alone is too general to really say that’s enough, the problem with this example is that they’re both incredibly short that there’s not a lot of creative expression to make a solid decision. Is a snowman skiing down a slope versus a snowman dissembling and catapulting themselves much of an artist difference?

        Overall, this definitely highlights how Disney certainly isn’t as perfect as they’re made out to be, and is definitely and interesting case in copyright. Again thank you for sharing and discussing.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. A limited concept is a good argument, but, as I said, by looking at the two videos overall, including the characterisation (the same timid, but friendly and open Snowman), feel and the details, substantial similarity can be deduced moving beyond the general description and setting you described. The two videos appear to be the product of one mind. If I knew nothing about them, I would have thought that the crude video was done by Disney as a mock trial, on which they then build their second, more elaborate version. That conclusion is virtually inescapable for me – or maybe I have not watched enough Snowman videos in my life 🙂 The external element here is that Disney had no need to make its teaser about a Snowman and its carrot because it is not the point of Frozen and their teaser does not present any of the main characters. Why then they settled on this little story? Maybe because they spotted it elsewhere and found it funny and adorable. Anyone would.

          The pleasure was mine. I enjoyed discussing this issue with you, thank you!

          Liked by 2 people

  2. I didn’t even know there was a plagiarism case associated with Frozen. So let me get this straight, they can throw that settlement money to those animators of The Snowman, but they still won’t admit to rampantly stealing Kimba the White Lion when they made The Lion King even to this day? The irony is too strong.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It truly is. I don’t blame for for feeling that way especially after I watched Kimba and researched the plagiarism controversy a few years ago. The sad part is that The Lion King stole more. They took South African singer Solomon Linda’s song “Mbube” with the plagiarized version known as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Check out the Netflix documentary The Lion’s Share about that issue. Disney trademarked “Hakuna Matata” which is cultural appropriation against the Swahili-phone parts of Africa. That is totally respectful to 90 million speakers and 5 different countries where it has official language status (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC). Yes, I was being sarcastic in the last sentence. They even stole from Petite Noir’s La Maison Noir long-form music video with Beyonce’s “Spirit” music video for the (not) live action remake. This is pure insanity!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I did not know all these details about the music, thank you very much for bringing all this to my attention, and I will certainly check out the videos you mention. It seems that Disney’s conduct is much more shameful than I originally thought. Disney. Actually only recent I watched this video about what is going on on their Disney cruise ships, including assaults against minors where the company does not even both to call the police afterwards. I know these issues are incomparable, but it DOES shed light on what kind of an organisation this is – profits first and at all costs and no matter how many minorities or “insignificant” people they tread over.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. No problem. I didn’t know about these facts until last year which blew my mind. The Hakuna Matata trademark came to my attention weeks after finding out I’m part Congolese when I found out from a Kenyan YouTuber who was righteously ticked off (Swahili is her first language). Finding out about the music and cultural appropriation aspects was eye-opening as well as it saddened me finding out about those truths. Definitely check out those videos and issues.

            Are you serious about the cruise ships? WOW! This is infuriating, but I’m not surprised since I’ve heard stories of pedophilia and sexual assault at their theme parks. It’s maddening that this company gets a free pass for so many things that no one else would get away with.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes, Disney, they do think they are “Gods” because so many people “worship” their creations, and they think they can do whatever they want without paying any consequences. They are also rich enough to buy off or shut any mouth that has a criticism or complaint. Sorry for the crude language, but I really think it is such.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. THANK YOU! I’m glad I’m not the only person who sees this. I could legitimately picture them saying [read this in Scar’s voice for full effect]: “We’re Disney! We can do whatever we want!”.

                Don’t worry about that. You were on point there.

                Liked by 1 person

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