Property: A Buggy Topic in the Film Industry

It is not uncommon to go to the movies, watch a film, and feel like the film you’re watching reminds you of one you have seen before. As Janet Wasko explains in his article Financing and Production, ’50 percent of Hollywood’s films are adaptions’ (Wasko, 44), which in the scheme of things, is a lot.  Reasons for these similarities in material can play on factors of economic success, cultural significance and ownerships rights. Adaptions are different from taking the actual concept of a different film, though. This was the case with Dreamworks’ Antz (1998) and Disney Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998). The creation of Antz was purely based on a man’s need to get back at Disney Pixar. This leads me to question things about property and ownership of concepts within the film industry.

Antz-A-Bugs-LifeIn short, these two animated films tell the story of a misfit ant breaking free from its colony in order to choose his own destiny. It’s fair to say that a lot of copycat movies are purely coincidental, or though they have similar premises, are presented in a completely different way. Antz and A Bug’s Life were not coincidental under any means, though. These ‘concepts or script ideas sometimes are initiated in-house or within a major studio’ (Wasko, 48), and in this incidence, the idea was created by Disney Pixar.

When Antz was starting the production process, A Bug’s Life, which was going to be called Bugs at the time, was far into the production aspect of the film (Rabin, 2015). Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was expelled from Disney, and then hired at DreamWorks Animation, took the idea of A Bug’s Life from director John Lassetter (Rabin, 2015). A Bug’s Life was the property of Disney Pixar: a ‘form that someone has a legal right to develop to the exclusion of others and which may form the basis of a motion picture’ (Wasko, 44). At one point in the production, Katzenberg attempted to blackmail Pixar in the agreement to stop the production of Antz if Pixar would chose to not release A Bug’s Life, which Disney Pixar refused (Rabin, 2015). Due to this, the production of Antz started to move quicker, in order to release it at the same time as A Bug’s Life. In the end, A Bug’s Life made $162,798,565 in box office. (A Bug’s Life, 1998). Antz came in second with a gross of $90, 646, 554 (Antz, 1998).


This story led me to question the sincerity and copyright protection laws of the film industry on both ‘published and unpublished works’ (Wasko, 44). Why wasn’t Disney Pixar able to put foot down, and claim their own property that both parties knew was rightfully Disney Pixar’s?  Yes, the  tone and visual style of the films were different, but it’s the copying of the concept that leads to concern. Wasko goes on to explain that, ‘copyright can be described simply as a form of protection provided by law of authors of original works of authorship’ (Wasko, 44). But, if there’s no protection on almost identical concepts, where is the line between an original and copycat film?


Rabin, Nathan. “Antz Beat A Bugs Life to Theaters, but Still Became an Also-Ran.” The Dissolve. Pitchfork Media Inc., 2015. Web. 03 Oct. 2015 (Rabin, 2015)                                                                       

“Antz.” IMDb., Web. 03 Oct. 2015. (Antz, 1998)                                               

“A Bug’s Life.” IMDb., Web. 03 Oct. 2015. (A Bug’s Life, 1998)          


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