Ever thought you were seeing double? It seems both Chinese cinemagoers and representatives of Disney/Pixar had much that feeling when they got a look at 2015 animated movie ‘The Autobots.’
From the title alone, film fans would be forgiven for expecting it to be related to the ‘Transformers’ franchise, but in fact it’s a bald-faced rip-off of the ‘Cars’ series, as will be immediately evident from the briefest glance at the poster art below.
Naturally, Disney/Pixar’s lawyers got on the case, and on Thursday a court in Shanghai ruled in favour of the animation giants against the makers of the Chinese copycat cartoon.
As reported by Chinese site Sansheng (and translated into somewhat rough English by Google), the defendants Xiamen Blue Flame Film and Television Animation Co., Ltd., Beijing Basic Film and Television Culture Media Co., Ltd. and Shanghai Juoli Media Technology Co., Ltd. were found guilty of copyright infringement.
Xiamen Blue Flame have been ordered to compensate Disney/Pixar to the tune of 1 million yuan (approx £116,600) whilst Beijing Basic and Shanghai Juoli must between them pay 35 million yuan (approx £4.08 million) in damages.
Critics and audiences in China were quick to point out the obvious similarities between ‘The Autobots’ and the ‘Cars’ movies, with some audience members unsurprisingly taking their children to see it in the belief that it was a new entry in the series, only to be faced with a cheaply made imitation.
However, in summer 2015 ‘The Autobots’ director Zhuo Jianrong refuted claims of plagiarism, telling CNN that his film was “original” and “independent,” stating, “I know of the movie ‘Cars’, but I have never seen it. I don’t even know the names of its characters.”
The director argued, “Aren’t the cars you see in the street similar?… If somebody else looks like you, does that person violate the laws?
“We hope people can be more tolerant, as Chinese animation just started not long ago, and is nowhere near the Hollywood productions. I can only say we learned from Disney, but we would never copy.”
Clearly, not everyone agrees.
Intriguingly, a sequel to ‘The Autobots’ is penciled in to hit Chinese cinemas in summer 2017, although the court ruling would seem certain to cast some doubt over that.
For those who prefer the real thing, Disney/Pixar’s ‘Cars 3’ opens in UK cinemas on 14 July 2017.