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Filmmaker claims Disney Frozen trailer rips off her work

Amateur filmmaker Kelly Watson is suing Disney, claiming the trailer for Frozen is "substantially similar" to her short film The Snowman, released in 2010.

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It's the animation world's take on David versus Goliath, with an independent filmmaker suing Disney for allegedly copying her work in its teaser trailer for the most financially successful animated movie ever made, Frozen.

Kelly Wilson lodged her claim with a Californian court this week, alleging that Disney's teaser trailer, released in June 2013, was "substantially similar" to the short film The Snowman, released in 2010.

At the centre of a lawsuit ... <i>Frozen</i>'s Olaf.

At the centre of a lawsuit ... Frozen's Olaf.

Ms Wilson was producer of The Snowman and co-director of the four-minute 31-second short with Neil Wrischnik.

"The Frozen teaser trailer is substantially similar to The Snowman, and it is almost identical to the original elements of The Snowman, including, but not limited to: the plot, themes, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, characters and sequence of events," Ms Wilson's complaint states.

The suit also alleges that Disney "had access to ... The Snowman prior to the creation of Frozen" and that Disney "copied a substantial portion of The Snowman and used it as the Frozen animated trailer".

While claims of copyright infringement are common in Hollywood, this one has several aspects that set it apart.

To the casual eye, there are indeed many similarities between The Snowman and the teaser trailer for Frozen – similarities that, Ms Wilson observes, that have been widely noted by ordinary observers". She cites examples of blog posts and a video review of the Frozen teaser on YouTube that point to the similarities.

Though her film was created using 2D computer animation software and the teaser trailer used 3D animation software, the central character (unnamed in The Snowman, known as Olaf in Frozen) is strikingly alike.

Perhaps anticipating a defence of "well, he's a snowman, and all snowmen look alike", Ms Wilson points to the uncharacteristic characteristics of the character in both works: "Both snowmen are portrayed with a thin body and heads larger than their bodies – contrary to traditional depictions of snowmen."

Each loses his carrot nose; each fears said carrot nose is about to be eaten by an animal; each is ultimately reunited with its vegetable proboscis by an act of generosity on the part of the animal.

Oh, and there is skidding across a frozen pond in both works.

Also notable is the fact that the teaser trailer is a standalone work that bears little relationship to the events of Frozen itself.

Ms Wilson claims she has solid grounds to believe Disney was well aware of the existence and nature of The Snowman.

In 2011, she says, she shared the stage at a film festival with an employee of Disney subsidiary Pixar, where each talked about their respective work after their films had screened.

Between 2009 and 2012, Ms Wilson claims she submitted her film (as both a work in progress and a completed work) to Disney on four occasions "as part of job applications". Her co-director also submitted the work to Disney as part of a job application in 2010.

Ms Wilson is seeking a slice of Disney's profits on the film, plus an unspecified amount in punitive damages, and acknowledgement that Disney has infringed her rights.